Thursday, 30 June 2005

Largest ever determination of native title

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, today congratulated the traditional owners of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands on their native title determination.

The Federal Court has recognise that the Ngaanyatjarra native title claimants hold exclusive possession rights over most of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, covering almost 188,000 square kilometres in the Western Australian central desert region. The claim stretches from the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve to the South Australian border.

“This is a historic determination, not only for the traditional owners of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, but also for the native title system,” Commissioner Calma said. “This is the largest determination of native title made to date, and has been reached through negotiation rather than litigation. All parties involved in this historic determination are to be congratulated. ”

The Ngaanyatjarra Lands native title determination was made by Chief Justice Black on 29 June in an on-country hearing held near the tri-state border of WA, SA and the Northern Territory. It comes after a long struggle for land rights by the Ngaanyatjarra traditional owners. Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjatjara people together fought for land rights in the early 1980s and, after the granting of land rights in South Australia, Ngaanyatjarra people broke away and started their own organisation to continue the fight.  Land rights have never been granted in Western Australia.

“The Ngaanyatjarra people have struggled for over 10 years to have their native title rights recognised in this claim. The recognition of their rights as traditional owners is important. This recognition gives Indigenous people the strength and the confidence to move on to build our futures and the futures of our children.” said Mr Calma.

The Commissioner said he is also heartened by the Prime Minister’s confirmation that the Australian Government does not seek to wind back or undermine native title or land rights.

“Legal rights ensure that meaningful negotiation occurs with Indigenous people and not simply consultation. The Ngaanyatjarra determination demonstrates what is possible through native title if negotiations are based on strong rights and mutual respect.”

“Positive and sustainable outcomes can only be achieved when all parties work together constructively – outcomes which enable Indigenous people to enjoy the social, cultural and economic benefits of their land rights ," Mr Calma said.

Economic development through native title and the federal government’s new arrangements are the focus of the 2004 Native Title Report . Commissioner Calma encouraged Indigenous people and communities to learn about the new arrangements being implemented by the federal government and to decide how they might engage with government to leverage funding to support economic and social developments on their lands.

The Native Title Report 2004, executive summaries and a media kit are available online at: www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/ntreport04/

Media inquiries: Diana Plater Ph: (2) 9284 9880

Last updated 30 June 2005.