On 22 October 2010, the Federal Court recognised that the Gunaikurnai people hold native title over much of Gippsland.
On the same day, the State entered into an agreement with the Gunaikurnai people under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic). The agreement between the State and the Gunaikurnai people was the first to be made under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act.
The agreement area extends from West Gippsland, near Warragul, east to the Snowy River and north to the Great Dividing Range. It also extends 200 metres offshore. The determination of native title under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) covers the same area. Both the agreement and the native title determination only affect Crown land within this area.
The agreement outlines:
- transfer of Aboriginal title over ten national parks and reserves to the Gunaikurnai people to be jointly managed with the State
- rights for the Gunaikurnai people to access and use Crown land for traditional purposes, including hunting, fishing, camping and gathering, in accordance with existing laws
- funding for the Gunaikurnai people to manage their affairs and fulfil their obligations under the settlement
- an undertaking to develop protocols to recognise the Gunaikurnai people and strengthen the Gunaikurnai culture.
Does this agreement use the Traditional Owner Settlement Act?
Yes. This is the first agreement under this Act. The Act allows the State to make settlements out-of-court that recognise the rights that traditional owners hold over land. Under this Act, there is no need for traditional owners or the State to go to court to resolve native title issues.
In this particular case, the settlement will also include orders by the Federal Court recognising that the Guanikurnai people hold native title in the agreed area under the Native Title Act. This formal determination by the court is appropriate in this case because of the years of work that had gone into recognising the rights of the Gunaikurnai people since their native title claim was first made in 1997.
How will the agreement affect existing rights and interests on Crown land (for example, fishing, grazing and forestry)?
The agreement does not affect existing rights and interests on Crown land within the area, such as leases and licences. These rights and interests are protected for their full term. The agreement does not affect any rights or interests in relation to private freehold land.
What rights to natural resources will traditional owners have under the agreement?
As part of the agreement, the Gunaikurnai people will be able to undertake traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and gathering for traditional, non-commercial, domestic or communal purposes. This will involve recreational fishing and game hunting without a licence, as long as the Gunaikurnai people comply with relevant laws and regulations (including any catch limits).
These rights do not impact access for existing users of the area, such as recreational fishers and hunters. The agreement does not provide the Gunaikurnai people with any commercial hunting, fishing or forestry rights.
Will this affect business on Crown land?
As this is a transitional settlement, a Land Use Activity Agreement will not be finalised for 12-24 months. This will give the government, traditional owners and other stakeholders the opportunity to fine-tune aspects of how a Land Use Activity Agreement would work in Gippsland. In the meantime the future act regime under the Native Title Act will continue to apply to activities that affect native title rights.
Will there be any changes to national parks and reserves?
Some national parks and reserves in the agreement area will be reclassified as ‘Aboriginal title’, and then jointly managed with the State. Aboriginal title is the grant of Crown land to traditional owners for the sole purpose of joint management with the State. The traditional owners cannot sell or transfer the land, change its use or claim exclusive possession.
In all cases, the parks and reserves will continue to be managed under the same Act of Parliament by which they are reserved and subject to a joint management plan developed by the Gunaikurnai people and the State, and signed off by the Secretary of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
Transfer of parks or reserves to Aboriginal title does not affect existing use and access which will continue to be managed under the relevant land act.
What parks and reserves will be handed back to the Gunaikurnai people for joint management?
The following areas will be classified as Aboriginal title and subject to joint management:
- The Knob Reserve, Stratford
- Tarra Bulga National Park
- Mitchell River National Parks
- Lakes National Park
- Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park
- New Guinea Cave (within Snowy River National Park)
- Lake Tyers Catchment Area
- Buchan Caves Reserve
- Gippsland Lakes Reserve at Raymond Island
- Corringle Foreshore Reserve.
What is joint management?
Joint management means the State and Gunaikurnai people share responsibility for managing the agreed national parks and reserves.
A Traditional Owner Land Management Board of Gunaikurnai people and other representatives will be established. The board will jointly manage the ten Aboriginal title sites within the agreement area, and will develop a joint management plan with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning that will set the strategic direction for the land. The joint management plan will be subject to public consultation and final approval from the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water. It must also be consistent with legislation and policies applicable to that public land reservation.
Joint management will benefit both Gunaikurnai people and the wider community by recognising Aboriginal culture and knowledge, providing quality tourism experiences, improving public education and conserving, protecting and enhancing natural and cultural values.
The State will continue to carry out day-to-day management and maintain some core management functions, including fire management, catchment management (including designated water supply catchment areas under the National Parks Act 1975 (Vic)), coastal planning and prosecution.
Will access and use of jointly managed areas change?
Jointly managed areas will continue to be managed under the relevant public land Act under which they are reserved. Protections regarding existing use and access contained in these Acts and regulations will continue to apply.
Once the land is formally handed back and jointly managed, the State and the Traditional Owner Land Management Board will draft a joint management plan. Access and use will be dealt with through the joint management plan, which includes a public consultation process and will be consistent with statewide policy to maintain public access. Specifically:
- existing licences or leases within the joint management area will be protected – joint management will not impact on rights of existing lease and licence holders
- friends groups can continue to operate subject to the direction of the state who is the day-to-day manager (as is currently the case) as well as the Traditional Owner Land Management Board
- recreational fishing and hunting will be able to continue to the extent that they currently do (any changes regarding access to hunting and recreational fishing would be subject to a consultation process and approval by the Minister as part of the development of a joint management plan, as is currently the case).