High Court rules in favour of native title claim over mining lease

The High Court of Australia has ruled in favour of native title claims in a dispute over land rights in the Pilbara.

In 2007 the Ngarla people were granted native title claims over land in the east Pilbara, however disputes arose over whether existing, decades old mining leases negated the claims, according to AAP.

The claims covered around 10 000 square kilometres of land and water, and gave the Ngarla people non-exclusive rights to camp, hunt and fish as well as the right to be consulted about any plans to mine or develop pastoral land.

At the time Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation Simon Hawkins declared it a landmark win.

"What it's actually saying is that mining interests and pastoral interests are obviously leases, and tenements; they're not there forever and don't extinguish rights and interests," he said.

"So, that means when the mining activities ceases, which [they] will do at some point, the traditional rights and interests of the Ngarla people will then be able to be utilised fully again."

Although the Indigenous claimants were initially successful, with a ruling in their favour by the Federal Court in 2012, this decision was soon appealed by the West Australian Government.

Hawkins stated that this “issue, which is quite frustrating, is that the State Government has pursued this matter and actually caused a lot of litigation around an issue that actually should not have occurred this way”.

At the time National Native Title Council chief executive Brian Wyatt called for an end to the WA government's "wasteful and unnecessary" legal action against the rights of traditional owners.

"This has now been settled in law and should give a clear message to the state government that there is no need to fight these battles in the courts, wasting government resources on unnecessary pursuits," Wyatt said.

Now the matter has been settled in court, in favour of the native title rights.

Following the decision earlier this week Hawkins said "the courts had been clear all along that the native title rights did not prevent mining companies from doing anything they were lawfully allowed to do under their mineral leases”.

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