Wesley Fernando is a candidate in the forthcoming NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) elections to be held on October 31.
The Grafton man has taken leave from his administrative position at the NSWALC to contest the poll, which will elect a councillor to represent the north coast.
Mr Fernando said that, apart from the main issues on which he is campaigning, he hoped that his own life story might “inspire other young Aboriginal people to follow the same or similar path” and encourage Aboriginal communities to participate in the process.
“The ongoing issue in our community is lack of engagement,” he said. “On average we get around only 25 per cent of the eligible Aboriginal community voting – this is the reason why I would like to raise awareness.”
Mr Fernando is a Gamillaroi man from the northwest of the state; however, he has lived in the Clarence Valley since he was 13.
He said his experience working in an administrative role at the NSWALC gave him significant insight into land rights’ issues.
If successful he will represent the members of 13 land councils in the north coast region.
His main goal is to speed up the resolution of land claims throughout NSW.
“Having already worked with land councils, if elected I will have moved to the next level,” he said.
“The Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 was set up to compensate Aboriginal people for the loss of their land in NSW.
“There are 27,000 claims undetermined in NSW; claims can only be made on Crown land, and only if it’s not being used for an essential public purpose.
“Compensation is in the form of actual title over the land. For economic development purposes, the asset base [land] is something that can be used to derive income.
“Being a rep for the north coast, I would be sitting at the table influencing policy at a government level, with the support of Aboriginal land councils, addressing issues such as social housing, Aboriginal cultural heritage, health and local government policy.
“There are 120 local land council and the state land council – I want to see local Aboriginal land councils setting the strategic directing for the network.
“I want to help make positive changes.
“If people don’t vote for me, I still want to see them vote because that shows that land councils are important and an essential need in our communities.”
Mr Fernando, who said he experienced, “severe social disadvantage” when growing up, is currently studying the fourth year of a Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Newcastle.
“I left school in year seven; however, I wanted more and I went back to TAFE in Grafton and was inspired by the teachers that taught me,” he said.
“This launched my career in land rights and I have now dedicated my life to improve the lives of my people through the land rights system.
“I started at the Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council in 2001 as an administration officer; in 2009 I became the CEO, and then in 2012 I moved into the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
“I have worked with over half of the state’s land councils through the bottom half of NSW but also in the mid north coast and the north coast.”