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HomeAustraliaFederal court decision paves the way for compensation to traditional Aboriginal owners

Federal court decision paves the way for compensation to traditional Aboriginal owners


Bombshell ruling could lead to traditional Aboriginal owners being compensated after land was cleared without their consent

A decision by a full Federal Court may have paved the way for compensation for traditional owners in the Northern Territory.

In 2019, the late Yunupingu, on behalf of the Gumatj clan, applied for native title to land on the Gove Peninsula, in the northeast of Arnhem Land.

At the same time, he filed for damages for the alleged effects on native title of certain executive and legislative acts from 1911-1978.

Yunupingu died in April and ceremonies to honor his life continue this week, following a public memorial last Thursday.

The Commonwealth argued that the damages case was legally flawed for a number of reasons, but the court rejected all those arguments, meaning the case can proceed.

Gumatj clan leader Djawa Yunupingu said the case revolved around the Commonwealth’s decision to allow mining on the Gumatj land in 1968 without their consent.

“The case symbolizes the tremendous contribution my brother has made to the development of law in this country for the benefit of all First Nations people,” said Djawa Yunupingu.

“It is a continuation of his life’s work, which began with the Bark Petition and the Gove Land Rights case, to have native title properly recognized as the core identity of all First Nations people.”

Yunupingu initiated the case in 2019 seeking damages under Article 51 of the constitution, which empowers parliament to legislate for the acquisition of property on equitable terms.

That means the Commonwealth can acquire land if they pay the landowner, for example when building highways.

The compensation is sought in respect of the land from which bauxite has been extracted since 1968, when the Australian Government entered into a lease with Nabalco on land within the Arnhem Land Reserve.

Djawa Yunupingu (pictured) said his brother would have been happy with the Federal Court’s decision

The mining deal is now held by Swiss Aluminium.

Other Yolngu clan groups, including the Rirratjingu people, have also laid claim to parts of the land in question, as well as the Gumatj.

Native title has yet to be determined.

Djawa Yunupingu said his brother believed all First Nations people were entitled to compensation in accordance with the constitution.

“Just like any other Australian when their sacred land is taken from them without their consent,” he said.

The implications of these findings are significant, potentially affecting all native titles in the NT acquired by the Commonwealth between 1911-1978.

“Although my brother did not live to see today’s verdict, he would have been pleased that the decision of the Federal Court recognized the fundamental right of First Nations People to equal treatment under Australian law.”

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