Secret deal done on land at Byron
BYRON Bay business leader Ed Ahern has accused the State Government of secretly striking a deal to hand Crown land worth almost $100 million to the Arakwal people.
However, lawyers for the Bundjalung of Byron Bay Aboriginal Corporation (Arakwal), as well as Greens MLC Ian Cohen and Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham, say negotiations surrounding the proposed Indigenous Land Use Agreement have been completely transparent.
The claim covers parcels of land between Broken Head and Brunswick Heads, but exact locations will be revealed after October 19.
Mr Ahern, the president of Byron United, said the community had been left in the dark about the deal expected to be finalised this week.
"It's outrageous, these secret dealings," he said. "We don't know who is in charge or anything about the proposal. The secrecy is unsettling. No one knows the details of the land use, and that's the problem," Mr Ahern said.
Greens MLC Ian Cohen said there was no 'secrecy' and he was shocked by the slant in The Weekend Australian newspaper's article on the subject.
"The element of privacy seems to be a beat-up by those interested in preventing the Arakwal reclaim their own land," he said.
"I have had many dealings with the Arakwal in relation to the Broken Head caravan park. I have found them generous and co-operative, and they immeasurably add to the quality of culture in our community."
Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham was similarly surprised. "It seems that a story has been created not grounded in truth or fact," she said.
"I'm confounded by the secrecy claim. This has been in the media since 1998. All one needs to do is a Google search to bring up a wealth of information on the process since it began."
Ms Barham believes the agreements are groundbreaking in the native title field, and have been conducted with respectful commitment to the spirit of reconciliation.
"It is thanks to the commitment of the Government and the extremely hard work of the Arakwal people that such positive outcomes have resulted and will be achieved in the future. The national parks, employment and training opportunities, and a cultural centre amongst other things," she said.
The Star's investigations yesterday brought up detailed information on the formerly named Arakwal Corporation, incorporation details and membership lists, with full contact information which is publicly available.
According to a lawyer for the Arakwal people, Adam McLean, there is a great deal of misinformation being spouted by a vocal minority. He also referred to the claims of secrecy.
"In 13 years there have been hundreds of meetings where community members have had the opportunity to be informed of the progress of negotiations," he said.
"A detailed proposal for this latest agreement was outlined in a letter from the NSW Government to Byron Shire Council in 2002 which was attached to the publicly available agenda. The matter was also publicly presented by the NSW government."
Mr McLean also said, contrary to rumour, there was no claim on Clarks Beach Caravan Park and that public access to all lands, beaches and waters under the agreement is confirmed. A Department of Lands spokesperson said: "The ILUAs were signed by the Government of NSW and representatives of the Arakwal people on February 8, 2007 at Cape Byron. The ceremony was chaired by the mayor with a number of councillors in attendance. This followed a long period of discussion and negotiation with the Arakwal people and the State of NSW, led by the Department of Lands."