Indigenous Law - Amendments to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Rights Act

by Eddy Neumann

On 1 July 2007 far reaching amendments came into force in relation to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and all Local Aboriginal Land Councils. This followed a review process which commenced in 2004 focussing on structures, governance and land dealing matters.

The most important amendments to the Act are:

1. Important New Membership Provisions

  1. Members can lose right to vote for non-attendance
  2. New provisions re entitlement to membership and Appeals

 

2. Changes to decision making process of Local Aboriginal Land Councils

  1. Election of a Board with a two year Term

Each Council must have a board. Members of every LALC are required to elect their first Board for their LALC by the 30 September 2007 and thereafter each two years. The current elected officials will remain in place until the election of the new Board.

Failure to elect a Board within three months may lead to the dissolution of the LALC by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

Within six months of being elected, each new Board will be required to undergo training on LALC operations including governance principles, the rules of the LALCs, the role and functions of Board members and provisions in the Act relating to non-compliance.

    b.  Appointment of a Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”)

 

All LALC’s will be managed by a CEO who will be responsible for the day-to-day management functions of the LALC. The CEO is to be appointed by the new Board no later than the 31 December 2007.

    c.  Right to vote

LALC members who do not attend at least two meetings of the LALC within a 12 month period will lose their right to vote in Board elections.

3. Community, land and business plans

All LALCs are required to develop and implement community, land and business plans, which must be approved by the NSWALC no later than the 31 December 2008.

The plans are to contain information on the LALC’s strategy for the acquisition, management and development of land and other assets. There must be consultation with members and persons with a cultural association with land in the Land Council area.

4. Community Benefit Schemes

A community benefit scheme is the vehicle in which LALCs can provide benefits to their community such as education, training and scholarships, funeral funds, childcare and aged care.

All community benefit schemes must be included in the LALC’s community, land and business plan and be approved by the LALC members and by the NSWALC.

Prior to approving the scheme, the NSWALC is required to consider whether the scheme will prevent the LALC from being able to meet its debts as and when they fall due.

5. Social Housing Schemes

Social Housing Schemes are to be included in the community, land and business plan of the LALC. All LALCs must gain approval from the NSWALC to operate existing and new proposed housing schemes by the 31 December 2008.

The NSWALC is not allowed to approve a social housing scheme unless it is satisfied that the income from the scheme will be sufficient to meet the expenses of the scheme as well as the likely impact of the scheme on the financial situation of the LALC.

6. Increased powers of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs

The powers of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs have been increased by the amendments to the Act.

The Minister can now appoint an administrator to a LALC if they are of the opinion that funds or other property of the LALC have not been properly applied or managed.

If the Minister is of the belief that a LALC is in danger of failing, they now have the power to appoint an advisor to advise and assist the LALC and to report to the NSWALC.

The Minister can now make an order to dissolve a LALC on the following grounds:

  • it has less then 50 members or the membership of the LALC is in significant decline.
  • it is unable to elect the required number of Board members for 3 months.
  • it cannot pay its debts as and when they fall due.
  • it has been found by an investigator or administrator to have ceased to function.

The amendments to the Act are aimed at increasing the transparency and financial management of LALCs and increasing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs powers to realise this aim.



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