Legal development

New South Wales begins implementing Aboriginal Land Rights Act reform

Sunset with silhouette of trees

    Native Title Year in Review 2022-2023

    What you need to know

    • In November 2022, amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) came into effect. 
    • The amendments address Stage 1 of the three-stage reform process that was recommended following a five-year statutory review of the Act, which concluded in 2021.

    What you need to do

    • Keep an eye out for implementation of further reform by the new Minns Labor government.  

    Amendments address Stage 1 of reform process

    In November 2021, the NSW government released the 2021 Statutory review of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW).  The statutory review recommended three stages of reform of the Act:

    • Administrative and operational changes to improve existing structures and provisions to improve the administration of the Act and Aboriginal land councils (ALCs). 
    • Consultation on proposals to consider ways for ALCs to undertake land dealings subject to native title. 
    • Further consideration of major policy matters, aspirational reform of the Act and intersecting legislative frameworks and administrative matters. 

    In November 2022, the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment Act 2022 came into force.  The amendments address Stage 1 of the reform process and are intended to improve the operation of the Act.  

    We flagged this in our Native Title Year in Review 2021-2022 article, "Other matters to watch out for in 2022-2023". 

    Key amendments include: 

    • changes to land claim and land dealing provisions, aimed at clarifying administrative provisions and reducing burdens on local ALCs;
    • changes relating to both the NSW ALC and local ALCs to enhance good governance, align with similar provisions in the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) regarding office holders and staff members, provide greater self-determination and ease some administrative requirements; 
    • rewriting Part 10 of the Act in relation to conduct and disciplinary matters for officers and staff members of ALCs;  
    • updating how the Register of Aboriginal Owners is to be maintained; and
    • updating the Act's preamble to reference "waters" as well as lands to reflect the importance of water to Aboriginal people. 

    Where to from here? 

    In his second reading speech on the Amendment Bill, the then-Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Franklin indicated that Stages 2 and 3 of the reforms would be considered in the next Parliament.  

    The new Minns Labor government has not yet indicated its position on the remainder of the reforms proposed in the statutory review.  

    Author: Brigid Horneman-Wren, Lawyer.

    The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to.
    Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.


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