Councils have a valuable opportunity to engage with local Aboriginal communities when developing the strategic land-use planning documents, particularly Local Environmental Plans (LEPs). Councils may carry out local environment studies to identify and focus on important issues such as the needs of Aboriginal people and the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage values. It is important that councils engage with their Aboriginal communities as early as possible in the process, allowing sufficient time for feedback to be incorporated appropriately.
It is important that Aboriginal owned land is not automatically viewed as environmental or community land. Identifying which land is to be protected for the preservation of Aboriginal culture and heritage is a decision for Aboriginal communities. LALCs and their members undertake an analysis of their land and determine what purposes the land will hold for them to achieve cultural, social and economic benefits for their communities.
Local government should work with LALCs prior to making decisions on zoning which may not be in alignment with the aspirations of the local Aboriginal community. It is recommended that councils work in collaboration with LALCs to develop a formal mechanism for Aboriginal communities to engage with this process.
Councils should also work in partnership with any LALC exploring the possibility of subdivision of Aboriginal lands. LALCs will need to obtain permission from the State body, the NSWALC, for subdivision. Councils can seek further information about subdivision of Aboriginal lands from the NSWALC.
Aboriginal heritage and its significance to Aboriginal people should also be addressed at the earliest possible stage of land-use planning. The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) recommends the preparation of Aboriginal cultural heritage assessments, in consultation with Aboriginal communities, to inform the preparation of draft environmental planning instruments. OEH is currently reviewing legislation for Aboriginal culture and heritage.
The Office of Environment and Heritage has prepared a Coastal Management Manual-Toolkit, a valuable resource of engagement principles and methods which can be applied to other parts of NSW.
It is important to note that good practice land-use planning applies equally to the location of municipal activities or facilities in relation to Aboriginal communities. These activities should be reviewed to avoid, minimise or manage existing conflicts. Some examples where conflicts have arisen include sewage treatment plants being built adjacent to an Aboriginal mission or waste management centres near Aboriginal villages.