Engaging with Local Aboriginal Land Councils in the NSW planning system

by | Aug 27, 2020

Stakeholder consultation is a vital step in any planning process. And reaching all stakeholders in a valuable and meaningful way requires knowledge and experience in the best engagement methods for each stakeholder. This is no different for Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) who have a unique and important role in land management and planning.

Local Aboriginal Land Councils

LALCs are established under the Aboriginal Lands Rights Act 1983. There are 120 LALCs across NSW, which is almost as many local councils across the State. Importantly, their boundaries may not align with cultural and traditional associations with Country, or local government boundaries.

The objectives of each LALC are to improve, protect, and foster the best interests of Aboriginal people and their members. LALC are autonomous bodies governed by Boards who are elected by their membership, and they have very wide-ranging functions to perform with limited resources.

Local Aboriginal Land Councils and the NSW planning system

There has been much research into the NSW planning system and the landholdings of LALCs, which has led to the establishment of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s Aboriginal Land Use Planning Team.  They are implementing a suite of important planning measures under the Aboriginal Community Lands and Infrastructure Program, which includes State Environmental Planning Policy (Aboriginal Land) 2019 to enable the preparation of development delivery plans for land owned by LALCs.

However, consulting with LALCs is also crucially important for all those planning projects that relate to land not in their ownership, but in which they may also have a strong interest. Whether it be a plan of management for Crown Land, a rural lands strategy, coastal management plan, development application or a planning proposal, engaging with LALCs must be approached in a way that ensures effective engagement. 

Five ways to ensure valuable & effective consultation with Local Aboriginal Land Councils

1.   Ask the LALC how they would like to be engaged

Traditional methods of engagement may not be the most appropriate way to engage with all LALCs. As their functions go above and beyond engaging on planning projects that may impact them, the best engagement method will differ based upon that level of impact. As an initial step in the engagement process  make contact and check in, before assuming their ability to fit in with an existing planning project engagement plan.  Consultation protocols and respectful language use will always depend on the preferences, make up and availability of the LALC involved.

2.   Be prepared to extend consultation timeframes

Each LALC is resourced differently and covers  a wide geographic area.  A LALC will be asked to have input to various projects across their area, at any one time.  Many LALCs don’t employ full time staff and rather rely on part time staff to perform multiple roles. For this reason, a LALC may not be effectively engaged within the standard planning timeframes typically and legislatively set for statutory and strategic planning projects. To ensure valuable engagement with LALCs planners must therefore make allowances in project timelines to extend the engagement period as and when required.

3.   Where possible, meet the LALC on site

There are several benefits on making the trip (no matter how far) to the site in question to meet the LALC, and other stakeholders for that matter. Standing on a site with the LALC allows a focus on the meaning of the physical space to the LALC, doesn’t require the LALC to travel to you and gives opportunity for multiple representatives of the LALC to be directly involved.

4.   Are there other Aboriginal community members that have an interest?

LALCs are not always the only Aboriginal stakeholder that needs to be engaged in relation to a planning project.  However LALCs will often be a conduit to other members of the local Aboriginal community where a planning project is underway. So always ask the LALC to indicate other Aboriginal community members you can get in touch with.

5.   Don’t forget to follow up & keep in touch

All engagement should be cyclic, so that the stakeholders can effectively participate and can be kept informed of milestones in a planning project – especially when planning projects can take some time to progress and impacts on any one stakeholder can change due to other stakeholder decisions.  This is no different for a LALC.

Wrapping up

The above measures aim to align the stakeholder engagement component of the NSW planning system more sympathetically with the structure, function and resource implications of LALCs.  This has the goal of:

 stimulating improved governance

/   creating an environment to openly share information and participate in story telling

/   empowering the LALC as a stakeholder in a multitude of planning projects across the State at any one time (not just planning in relation to sites that they own).

There are also some great resources available on Collaborate NSW which is an online resource for local government and Aboriginal communities working together.

If you have a project which involves engagements with Aboriginal stakeholders and you want to maximise your engagement, please contact Cinnamon Dunsford, Principal Planner to discuss your needs.

Steve Thompson Director Planning and Strategy

Steve Thompson

Director - Planning and Strategy

T   0419 700 401

E   steve@localeconsulting.com.au

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