Consultation underway on handback of national parks to traditional owners

Tin City in the Worimi Conservation Lands on Stockton Bight. Photo: Steve Elgar, Stephen Keating and Hunter Valley Helicopters.

CONSULTATION is underway on the development of a groundbreaking new model for Aboriginal joint management of NSW national parks, which could see title to the entire estate transferred to Aboriginal owners over time.

The 4200-hectare Worimi Conservation Lands is managed by the local Worimi Traditional Owners, in partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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The Aboriginal-owned park is managed to ensure the protection of the natural and cultural values of the Stockton Bight landscape, while providing public access and promoting safe and sustainable recreational and commercial use.

Minister for Environment James Griffin said a new model could lead to the handback of title to all NSW national parks, which cover nearly ten percent of NSW, over a fifteen to twenty year period.

“Already, more than 30 percent of the NSW National Parks Estate is covered by joint management, but Aboriginal people currently hold title or native title to just over four per cent of it,” Mr Griffin said.

“Expansion of the joint management model in this way would be a historic step that no other Australian jurisdiction and few other countries, if any, have taken.

“This is putting Aboriginal land management and stewardship at the heart of our efforts to conserve our precious environment and care for Country.

“Expanding Aboriginal joint management will be a significant, practical step towards Reconciliation and Closing the Gap targets because it enhances opportunities for Aboriginal employment and businesses, while strengthening the role of Aboriginal people in decision-making, cultural heritage protection and park management.”

The consultation process is expected to take eighteen months and will involve engagement with Aboriginal communities and a broad range of stakeholders that have an interest in national parks.

Under a new model, the public will have continued access to national parks, and transfers of title would be subject to a long-term leaseback of land at nominal rent to Government.

A proposed model that involves enhancing Aboriginal employment and business opportunities will be released for public comment with a final model being considered by Government after extensive consultation.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Franklin said the NSW Government will be seeking input from Aboriginal people on how to make joint management arrangements work best for them.

“Developing a new model for joint management is one way to make meaningful progress on improving outcomes for Aboriginal people and communities in NSW,” Mr Franklin said.

“This is about reconnecting people to country, aligning with native title processes and integrating Aboriginal knowledge in caring for country in the way they’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years.”

By Marian SAMPSON

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