The Bega Valley Shire Council is being asked this week whether it wants to be a party to a historic native title claim that stretches the entire South Coast, Shoalhaven and Illawarra.
The South Coast claim was registered with the Native Title Tribunal in January this year, with those having an interest in its aims able to add their voice to Federal Court proceedings.
The claim is huge, covering about 16,000 square kilometres and the entire South Coast, from Bundeena in the north to south of Eden, west towards Braidwood and also extends three nautical miles into the ocean.
The claim does not affect freehold land, but does extend to national parks, state forests, council land and Crown land.
BVSC staff report in the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting that a successful claim has the potential to “substantially disrupt” the way Crown land – for which the council is custodian – and any associated assets are utilised by the community.
“Being party to the claim is the only avenue in which council can represent the community’s interests in the course of the court’s endeavour to make a determination,” the report for the August 8 meeting reads.
Council staff point out some financial impost if it chooses to be a party to the claim, including legal fees and staff time.
Depending on the claim’s outcome in court, there is also the potential for holders of native title to apply for compensation.
BVSC said it receives approximately $85,000 each year in leasehold revenue, with this funding reinvested back into maintaining Crown land assets.
“As such, the higher yielding Crown land assets are more exposed in the event a native title determination claim is successful and compensation is sought. Such compensation, if awarded, will impact on council’s ability to maintain service levels across its Crown lands portfolio.”
BVSC said the potential costs to council are therefore unknown and unfunded given “this is the first instance council has been informed of the claim”.
Wally Stewart, of Narooma, is one of the claimants and has previously spoken about the claim.
“Native Title gives us a voice and allows us to have a say in our country again,” Mr Stewart said after a historic gathering of the Yuin Nation in 2016 to discuss the claim.
“It’s not about taking away people’s property rights or extending our claim into people’s backyards.
“We want to live in harmony on equal base with all people.”
The council has until August 29 to indicate to the Federal Court whether it wishes to be a party to the claim.