Native Title and Land Rights
The Native Title Act 1993 was enacted following from the decision made by the High Court of Australia in Mabo v Queensland (No.2) 1992. Native Title is the recognition by Australian law that Indigenous people have rights and interests to their land deriving from their traditional laws and customs. The Mabo No.2 decision rejected the notion of “Terra Nullius”; that is, that Australia was not occupied before European colonisation. The Mabo Judgement stated in law that Indigenous Australians have, due to prior occupation, ownership of land where Native Title has not been extinguished. In addition to confirming these rights, the Native Title Act seeks to establish a legal regime which respects Native Title rights.
It is important that local councils function in accordance with processes outlined in Native Title Act 1993. As government bodies, local councils are custodians of substantial tracts of land and carry out functions on behalf of the wider community, sometimes in areas where Native Title exists or may exist. Byron Shire Council is committed to addressing Native Title matters in its strategic, corporate and operational decision-making processes.
Council is dedicated to engaging with all the different Aboriginal groups with interests in land within its boundary. However, it is the role of the Federal Court and the National Native Title Tribunal to make decisions about the legitimacy of different claims and interests. It is not Council’s role to mediate in this.
It is important to recognise the difference between Native Title Claimants who are engaged in the early stages of the legal process and those such as the Byron Bay Bundjalung (Arakwal) People, who have progressed beyond the ‘positive determination’ stage. The Bundjalung Arakwal people have undertaken all of the legal steps necessary, via the Native Title process, to be recognised as Traditional Owners for parts of the Byron Shire. Their claims in the vicinity of Byron Bay and Broken Head have been settled through the negotiation of Indigenous Land Use Agreements (1, 2 and 3). One of their claims, the Byron Bay Bundjalung People 3 claim, is outstanding, and is currently in Court case management. The Claim extents to Brunswick Heads and along the Brunswick River to Durrumbul in the north, Jews Point through Newrybar in the south, Coorabell and the Koonyum Range in the west and approximately three nautical miles east of the mean high water mark.
Claims by other Bundjalung groups have been placed in the north, west and south of the Byron Shire region at different times. A claim by the Widjabul Wia-bal People, registered on 28 August 2013, covers the western portion of the Shire, approximatley west of Friday Hut Rd.
Further information about Native Title and regional claims can be acquired from the National Native Title Tribunal http://www.nntt.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx.