Aboriginal communities in the Tweed Byron area have joined a statewide protest against the state government’s controversial plan to ban them from making land claims on coastal areas, including many longstanding claims.
The government’s coastal lands bill is currently before parliament and would retrospectively extinguish 1,800 claims yet to be determined, with a spokesman saying it aimed to protect the principle that beaches should not be owned exclusively by any one group or individual.
But the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) says the legislation is ‘racist’ and ‘scaremongering, while the Tweed-Byron Aboriginal Land Council (TBALC) says its repercussions could be enormous.
TBLAC chair Des Williams, who joined hundreds of protesters at the rally in Sydney yesterday, told the ABC that a number of land claims on the north coast could be ‘wiped out’ if the legislation went through retrospectively.
Land rights claims involve the NSW government returning unused crown land to local Indigenous groups, whereas native title is federal recognition of an Indigenous community’s pre-existing, uninterrupted ownership of an area,
NSWALC chairman Craig Cromelin told The Guardian the bill was ‘very misleading’ by suggesting coastal land claims would prevent non-Indigenous people from accessing the beach.
‘The two previous times beach frontage was granted under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, both times they were granted with an easement to allow public access,’ Mr Cromelin said.
He said the land council recognised the significance of waterfront land and Indigenous people had no desire to deny coastal communities access to the beach.
‘As Aboriginal people, we live in these communities, we’re a part of these communities, our kids attend the schools, we play football and sport, we associate in these general communities,’ he told The Guardian.
‘We’re telling the premier, don’t get scare-mongering people into thinking we’re going to lock things away.’
The head of the Darkinjung land council, Sean Gordon, said the government had granted coastal land claims 30 years ago ‘when they thought they were wastelands’.
‘Now they’re realising it’s pristine land and they don’t want blackfellas to have it,’ Mr Gordon said.
‘This government wants Aboriginal land rights to end. They want us to no longer be able to claim crown land,’ he told The Guardian.