A RECOGNITION and settlement agreement will potentially provide First Nations people unprecedented scope to co-manage waterways, roads and biosecurity across 35,859sq km of northwest Victoria.

The “expanded settlement package”, signed last October between Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes and the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples, builds on existing native title recognition to open paths to selfdetermination and economic independence.

The state government, Barengi Gadjin Land Council, which will administer the agreement – yet to be made public but seen by The Weekly Times – and local council chief executives met in the past fortnight to discuss the agreement’s operation.

It is understood the 10 councils involved – Mildura, West Wimmera, Northern Grampians, Southern Grampians, Buloke, Hindmarsh, Pyrenees, Yarriambiak, Horsham and Ararat – only received the finalised agreement last month and were not party to its creation. Under the agreement, councils are recommended to: PARTNER with BGLC when updating or creating water management strategies.

CONSULT with BGLC on road and roadside management and maintenance.

INVOLVE BGLC in all levels of biodiversity strategy and decision-making (both indigenous and introduced species).

SOURCE biodiversity and carbon offsets, and other environmental market services and products, from BGLC or other WJJWJ entities or businesses as a first preference.

EMPLOY appropriately skilled WJJWJ people and establish contracting and procurement processes to preferentially source goods and services from BGLC and other WJJWJ entities or businesses.

The agreement falls under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 and provides a framework for land and financial management packages and native title settlement claims.

The agreement transfers 12 national parks to be comanaged with the state government, echoing federal agreements already in place in parts of the area, including the Ranch Billabong in Dimboola and parts of the Ebenezer Mission in Antwerp.

It will also provide autonomy in land use for cultural practices, including more cultural burns and restoration of natural vegetation and open up cultural tourism opportunities.

BGLC did not respond to The Weekly Times’ request for comment by deadline.

In a previous statement, the BGLC said the agreement was a vehicle on the road to “our economic self-determination” to build a sustainable future for our people.

“And for our culture, traditional practices, and unique relationship to country to be recognised, strengthened, protected and promoted, for us and for all Victorians, now and into the future,” it said.

Municipal Association of Victoria president David Clark said the councils were “comfortable” with the majority of the document, but noted the self-determination principles woven into the agreement would alter how councils operated on several levels.

“There is quite a bit in this one that is not in the 2018 (Taungurung) settlement agreement, it is the natural evolution of these things, but we think it is still an open negotiation,” Mr Clark said.

“When it runs up against really clear regulations and policies we have around competitiveness, tenders and procurement we cannot just do it.

“The challenge is the state has made the agreement on our behalf, but none of us have any resources or spare cash,” Mr Clark said.

Mr Clark predicted the waterway management aspirations potentially signalled “significant issues coming” for landholders leasing Crown land along rivers.

While native title extinguishes at freehold boundaries, he said the so-called 20m rule that sets public purposes reserves a distance from the bank were a potential area for traditional groups to access management funding and place future carbon capture initiatives.

“You hope that we don’t get to the stage that every time a farmer wants to put a new crossover in to get to his farm that he has to get Indigenous approval, but that is the sort of stuff that will be coming I would think,” Mr Clark said.

Murra Warra farmer and National Farmers’ Federation vice-president David Jochinke, who was shown the agreement, said while locals supported the concept, the impact of the increased demands on local communities required explanation.

“We have been told that it is not what we might lose, but gain, under the agreement,”

Mr Jochinke said.

“But the problem is we haven’t seen it and the devil is always in the detail,” Mr Jochinke said.

“As a community we would like to be fully informed and engaged before any final decision is made.”

The stakeholder engagement process will continue throughout the year.

Meanwhile, in a strategy released last month, the Dja Dja Wurrung Group has asked to be involved in water management decisions and a share of water rights.

The Dja Dja Wurrung People signed a recognition and settlement agreement in 2013.

The state government did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.