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 a Recognition and Settlement Agreement (RSA) 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.
Yes. This is the first Recognition and Settlement Agreement (RSA) 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 also includes 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 went into recognising the rights of the Gunaikurnai people since their native title claim was first made in 1997.
The RSA 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.
As part of the RSA, the Gunaikurnai people are able to undertake traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and gathering for traditional, non-commercial, domestic or communal purposes on public land. This can include 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 RSA does not provide the Gunaikurnai people with any commercial hunting, fishing or forestry rights.
As part of the RSA, the State and the Gunaikurnai have committed to negotiate a Land Use Activity Agreement. In the meantime, the future act regime under the Native Title Act will continue to apply to activities in the RSA area that affect native title rights.
Ten national parks and reserves in the agreement area have been, or will be, reclassified as ‘Aboriginal title’, which is 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 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 Minister and Secretary of the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action in September 2018.
Transfer of parks or reserves to Aboriginal title do not affect existing use and access which will continue to be managed under the relevant land Act.
The following areas have been, or will be classified as Aboriginal title and are 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.
Joint management means the State and Gunaikurnai people share responsibility for managing the agreed national parks and reserves.
The Gunaikurnai Traditional Owner Land Management Board has been established. The Board jointly manages the Aboriginal title sites within the agreement area, and developed a joint management plan with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to set the strategic direction for the land. The joint management plan, approved in September 2018, was subject to public consultation and final approval from the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water. It is also consistent with legislation and policies applicable to that public land reservation.
Joint management benefits 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 continues 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.
Jointly managed areas 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 draft a joint management plan. Access and use is dealt with through the joint management plan, which includes a public consultation process and is consistent with State 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).