Multi-million dollar native title claim settled in Esperance

AFTER years of negotiations, the Federal Court of Australia formally handed down on Friday its determination that the Esperance Nyungar people hold native title rights for an area of about 27,000 square kilometres of land surrounding Esperance.

The formal recognition of Nyungar native title rights was made with the full consent of all the parties with a registered interest in the same area, including the state government, the shires of Esperance and Ravensthorpe and a number of mining and petroleum companies.

The positive determination will result in the Esperance Nyungar community receiving an annual income stream based on 25 per cent of the annual rental for exploration tenements, a direct funding package of $2.55 million over five years and a land package with an estimated value of approximately $24 million.

Encompassing a chunk of land equal to the size of Israel, the native title claim was first filed in 1996, with the Goldfields Land and Sea Council representing the claim on behalf of the Esperance Nyungar people.

Australian law recognises that native title exists where Aboriginal people have maintained a traditional connection to their land and waters and where acts of government have not removed it.

Native title was first recognised by the High Court of Australia in 1992 with the Mabo decision, which overturned the 'terra nullius' concept that Australia did not belong to anyone when British settlement commenced in 1788.

Native title applies to crown land only and does not impact on freehold.

WA Attorney General Michael Mischin and Minister for Regional Development and Lands Terry Redman attended Friday's special federal court determination, which was held at the Esperance Civic Centre.

"Apart from the signing over of pieces of land to the Nyungar people so that they can exercise their traditional rights over certain areas, I wouldn't think that there would be any significant effects on other users."

Mr Mischin said the claim had been the subject of intensive negotiations between the group and the state government since 2011 following a lengthy period of evidence gathering.

Agreement: Minister for Regional Development and Lands Terry Redman signs the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) in Esperance on Friday.

Agreement: Minister for Regional Development and Lands Terry Redman signs the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) in Esperance on Friday.

"The claimant group is made up of Nyungar families who identify the Esperance town area and the wider coastal and inland region as their traditional country," he said.

The determination would empower Nyungar people but also provide certainty for all land users about who holds those rights and how they are going to be exercised, the Attorney General said.

"In this particular case, the Government and the native title holders have reached agreement on an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) which provides certainty to all land users in the Esperance region, including the native title holders," he said.

Mr Mischin said the grant was for non-exclusive land rights. Under the ILUA, mineral exploration would use streamlined processes, without compromising Abor iginal cultural practices.

Government departments will also be able to carry out low impact works under the ILUA and individuals and community groups will be able to obtain licences for a range of temporary activities.

Mr Mischin said he did not expect the native title determination to have any significant impact on land use by the wider non-indigenous community.

"Apart from the signing over of pieces of land to the Nyungar people so that they can exercise their traditional rights over certain areas, I wouldn't think that there would be any significant effects on other users," he said.

The Esperance Nyungar and state govern ment ILUA is the first such agreement to be reached in WA, with several other similar agreements currently being negotiated across the state.

Shire of Esperance president Malcolm Heasman welcomed the native title determination and the signing of the ILUA.

"We are proud to support the process and look forward to working with the Nyungar community and state government in the implementation of this agreement," he said.

"We hope this determination will help to provide clarification regarding future questions of native title for the entire Esperance community."

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