A High Court decision to award over $2.5 million in compensation is an unprecedented win for native title groups across Australia.
On March 13th, the High Court of Australia delivered their verdict on the Timber Creek compensation claim after the Full Bench of the High Court sat in the Northern Territory for the first time last year.
The Ngaliwurru and Nungali native title holders claimed their rights were extinguished when the Northern Territory Government built infrastructure at and around Timber Creek during the 1980s and 1990s.
The original decision in Federal Court in August 2016 saw $3.3 million in compensation awarded to the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people: $512,000 for economic loss, $1.49 million for simple interest on the economic loss, and $1.3 million for cultural and spiritual loss.
After appeals to both the Full Federal Court and the High Court, the total compensation ended at $320,250 for economic loss, $910,100 for simple interest, and $1.3 million for cultural and spiritual loss.
Northern Land Council’s interim CEO Jak Ah Kit said it was important to note that the $1.3 million for cultural loss was upheld by all High Court and Federal Court judges.
“This important finding means that the spiritual connection of Aboriginal people to their country is paramount in Australian law – as it should be,” Mr Ah Kit said.
Ashurst law firm said while the total compensation was reduced, the compensation for spiritual attachment was maintained.
“The High Court’s decision marks the beginning of a new phase in the relations between native title holders and the governments and third parties that deal with and use native title land,” said Ashurst law firm partner Clare Lawrence.
Ashurst partner Tony Denholder also said the decision is likely to trigger compensation applications from many native title holder groups around the country who now finally have some clarity on how they might measure compensation owed to them for native title impacts.
Mr Ah Kit said the Northern Land Council welcomes the High Court judgment.
“This is a landmark decision which sets the rules and means that future claims can be negotiated without the expense and delay of litigation,” Mr Ah Kit said.
By Hannah Cross