The latest NSW Auditor-General’s report into Planning, Industry Environment has highlighted the rising number of unprocessed Aboriginal Land Claims under the Berejiklian Liberal State Government.

Despite an increase in the number of claims resolved, figures show there were 35,855 unprocessed claims at 30 June 2019, an increase of 2,403 claims or 7.2 percent from the previous year.

It also revealed there were 6,906 claims unprocessed from more than ten years after they were lodged.

Unprocessed Aboriginal Land Claims were highlighted as a high-risk issue that needs to be prioritised by the NSW Government.

The Department of Industry (DOI) highlighted three key reasons for the growing number of unprocessed claims, including:

  • Land claim legislation, which provides limited restrictions on new claims and often results in multiple claims over the same property
  • Limited Departmental resources to process and manage claims
  • The complexity of claim investigation and legal challenges to claims.

A key initiative by the Government to reduce the number of unprocessed claims is the development of Aboriginal Land Agreements, which allow for the settlement of multiple land claims.

Since 2016, the DOI has been working with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to prioritise land claims that provide economic, social or cultural benefit to Land Councils.

The DOI entered negotiations in nine locations, seven in 2017–18 and two in 2018-19, however, not a single claim has been determined to date in any of these locations.

Labor Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, David Harris, said the Government needs to allocate more resources to address the growing number of unprocessed Aboriginal Land Claims.

“The Auditor-General has been recommending actions to address the increasing number of unprocessed claims which under this Government continues to grow through lack of resourcing,” Mr Harris said.

“Undetermined claims remain a contingent liability for the Berejiklian Government and deprives Aboriginal people of potential economic and cultural opportunities.”

“It is time the Government properly resources the unit responsible for determining Aboriginal Land Claims to ensure the intent of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 is honoured and full benefits for Aboriginal communities [are] realised.”

There have been reports to Parliament since 2007 to address the increasing number of unprocessed claims, and at that stage there were only 8,922.

NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Don Harwin, was contacted for comment but did not respond by time of publication.

By Sarah Mozley