26 September 2023

Audit finds Aboriginal claims missing the boat

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Cover artwork: Forces of Nature by Lee Hampton – Koori Kicks Art

A performance audit into three Agencies’ administration of Aboriginal land claim processes has found they failed to establish the resources required for Government to deliver land claim processes in a coordinated way.

In her report Facilitating and administering Aboriginal land claim processes, Auditor-General Margaret Crawford said she examined the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC).

“Neither DPC nor DPE have established the resources required for the NSW Government to deliver Aboriginal land claim processes in a coordinated way, and which transparently commits to the requirements and intent of The Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW),” Ms Crawford said.

“Delays in determining land claims result in Aboriginal Land Councils being denied the opportunity to realise their statutory right to certain Crown land,” she said.

“Delays also create risks due to uncertainty around the ownership, use and development of Crown land.”

Ms Crawford said DPC had not established governance arrangements to ensure accountability for outcomes under the Act, and effective risk management.

She said DPE lacked clear performance measures for the timely and transparent delivery of its claim assessment functions.

“DPE also lacks a well-defined framework for prioritising assessments,” the Auditor-General said.

“Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) have concerns about delays, and lack of transparency in the process.

“Reviews since at least 2014 have recommended actions to address numerous issues and improve outcomes, but limited progress has been made.”

Ms Crawford said the database used by DPC (Office of the Registrar) for the statutory register of land claims had not been upgraded or fully validated since the 1990s.

She said DPE had some activities underway for the transfer of claimable Crown land to LALCs, but “still lacks a clear, resourced strategy to process over 38,000 undetermined claims within a reasonable time.”

Ms Crawford made 10 recommendations including the establishment of an education program about the Act for State Agencies and the local government sector, an interagency program for land claim processes, and the implementation of a 10-year plan that increased the rate of claim processing.

The Auditor-General’s 74-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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