NEW SOUTH WALES: Councillor for the Mid-North Coast and our former Chairwoman BEV MANTON leaves NSWALC after four years at the helm. Following is a message she delivered throughout the NSW land rights network upon her departure.
As many would be aware the NSWALC election was held on August 6. It is a matter of deep personal regret that I was not re-elected as Councillor for the Mid-North Coast Region.
The reasons, I suspect, are numerous and a matter for a discussion on another day.
I just want to take this opportunity to extend a special thank you to each and every staff member of NSWALC before my term ends as both a Councillor and as Chairwoman.
It has been a privilege to work with each and every one of you over the past four years. I have no hesitation in saying NSWALC staff display a combination of professionalism, commitment and dedication all too rarely seen in Aboriginal representative organisations.
As you know the election of the outgoing Council in 2007 ended a period of more than three years in which the NSWALC was under the control of a State Government-appointed all-functions administration.
The induction of the nine-member Council heralded a new era for the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the land rights network at, possibly, the most crucial point in our history.
Council had to supervise the development and introduction of far reaching changes to the governance and representation structures and operation of land rights to further build capacity within our network of Local Aboriginal Land Councils.
We were also required to develop a range of community benefit schemes, oversee the implementation of a new land dealings system, build on the core business of land claims, seek to improve our control over our culture and heritage and build support both within and outside the land rights network for self determination.
Council also worked hard to consolidate NSWALC’s reputation as the most independent Aboriginal peak representative body in Australia.
I know politics is a fickle business but I just wanted to let you all know that my deep personal disappointment on Saturday night, and since, has been tempered by the legacy of the outgoing Council.
We worked throughout this term to ensure strong and effective independent advocacy for Aboriginal people in New South Wales.
NSWALC’s counsel is increasingly sought, and acted upon, at the parliamentary, political and policy levels both within and outside the land rights system.
Council has guided the management and performance of the Statutory Investment Fund-the economic engine of our self determination– through the worst global financial crisis in history.
Bev Manton with daughter Priscilla and brother Carl, during a special presentation to Carl at Karuah LALC earlier this year to recognise his long service to land rights.
In doing so, the fund has outperformed comparable State Government run investment funds.
A number of strategic decisions were also made to utilise the fund for the benefit of our people through Community Benefit Schemes.
Education Endowment Scholarship Fund
One of the most important was the unanimous decision of Council to establish the $30 million NSWALC Education Endowment Scholarship Fund.
More than 1900 LALC members and their families have since benefited from a scholarship.
Decent Living Conditions
Council also entered into its historic $200 million partnership with the State Government to provide joint recurrent funding for the operation, maintenance and monitoring of the water and sewerage infrastructure in more than 60 former Aboriginal reserves and missions.
This programme is paramount to protecting the health of the men, women and children who live there by providing them with decent water and sewerage services.
More than four thousand men, women and children now have access to better drinking water and sewerage systems as a direct result of this long term environmental health programme to improve the assets of more than 50 LALCs.
We have a number of other Community Benefit Schemes now operating or planned but we have never forgotten our core business of land claims.
A total of 15,580 had been lodged by NSW Land Councils since 1983 when the current Council came into office. The bulk had been lodged by NSWALC on behalf of LALCs.
A total of more than 35,000 land claims have now been lodged since 1983.
This means more than 20,000 land claims were lodged during the term of the current Council.
That’s more than the entire number of land claims lodged between 1983 and when the current Council came into office.
We also mounted a number of successful legal appeals against refused claims, including a High Court challenge, which has strengthened the ability of the land rights network to rightfully pursue land claims as the sole form of compensation now available to us for the dispossession of our land, culture and heritage.
Culture and Heritage
Council also worked vigorously on a range of cultural renewal initiatives.
It campaigned for the establishment of the long promised Aboriginal Heritage Commission and won a number of gains under State culture and heritage laws.
State legislation now acknowledges, for the first time, that freshwater and saltwater fishing is an imperative part of culture for our people without the need for a fishing permit or payment of a fee.
Building Capacity Within the Network
Council also worked with staff, LALC Boards, their staff, and LALC members to continue to build capacity within the LALC network– the backbone of the land rights movement.
That’s why we maintained core funding to all LALCs, despite some severe belt tightening within NSWALC.
NSWALC also worked hard to deliver governance training to all LALC Board members and worked to assist in the development and approval of LALC Community Land and Business Plans.
We also took on the hard issue of the future financial and operational sustainability of the network.
We promised to bring together LALC delegates from across NSW to attend two Statewide Conferences during this term, in addition to our regular Regional Forums.
Both were held. They provided a much needed opportunity to report on the work NSWALC and to showcase the work of LALCs.
Keeping in Touch With Members
We were also conscious of the need to communicate directly with LALC members.
For the first time ever, Council established a monthly magazine, Tracker.
The rights-based publication is direct mailed free to every member of a Local Aboriginal Land Council.
During this term Council consolidated the structure and operations of NSWALC and those across the network; we received unqualified audits for each of the financial years during this term and set a strong rights based agenda in our work at the United Nations, with the new minority Government in Canberra, and the new Liberal Government in NSW.
It will be up to the incoming Council to continue that work.
Their key challenge is to maintain NSWALC’s efforts to use the gains from land rights to continue to create inter-generational wealth and to continue to develop sustainable benefits which contribute to the financial, social and cultural needs and wants of Aboriginal people in NSW.
Our Land, Our Rights
We set out a comprehensive agenda for all members of the new State Parliament in our policy document, Our Land Our Rights.
It will be up to the incoming Council to decide how it wishes to take the policy positions in that document forward.
It is my fervent hope it will do so.
A lot of the work and achievements outlined in this message required Councillors to spend a lot of time out of their regions. None more so than myself, given the added responsibilities attached to my role as Chairwoman.
I suspect this cost me crucial support on Saturday. But, that’s politics.
I’m immensely proud of what has been achieved.
In closing, I’d like to thank all fellow Councillors on the outgoing Council for their support over the past four years.
I also congratulate all successful candidates from Saturday’s election and wish them all the best in taking NSWALC forward over the next four years.
They can be safe in the knowledge they will be supported by thoroughly professional and talented staff at all levels of the organisation.