On 7 February 2020, the Federal Court of Australia recognised the native title rights of the Yamatji People in a special hearing in Geraldton, Western Australia.
The hearing marks the conclusion of an intensive two-year negotiation process and five-years of mediation to address claim overlaps, resolving two-decade old native title claims in Western Australia’s mid-west, covering 48,000 square kilometres.
The hearing proceeded as scheduled, with an overlapping native application filed at the last minute, dismissed by the Federal Court on 6 February 2020. The hearing was attended by several hundred people, including both the State and Federal Ministers for Indigenous Australians.
MPS Law has represented the Widi native title claimants and assisted the Traditional Owner Negotiation Team throughout the negotiations with the State of Western Australia.
The associated native title agreement, which has been confidential until now, is the new yardstick for agreement making with First Nations. The mutual commitments are ground-breaking. Examples of innovation include:
- An outcome that sees the recognition of native title rights as well as benefits that are usually reserved for alternative settlements, like land hand back of over 150,000 hectares and joint management of over 450,000 hectares of conservation land;
- Agreed heritage management processes;
- Allocation of water to traditional owners for use or trade;
- Ability to partner with government on key projects and decision making that impact Yamatji people;
- Using best practice standards for self-governance, including redefining the use of charitable trusts;
- Economic development opportunities like business incubation units, residential development opportunities, tourism development, strategic economic development land, and revenue streams from mining activity; and,
- The way the agreement was considered by native title claimants.
The compensation settlement sum of over $400 million dollars is significant, and fully resolves the State of Western Australia’s native title compensation liability. Pursuant to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) native title holders are entitled to compensation, in some circumstances. Native title compensation is a relatively under-developed area of the law, and the resolution of compensation liability is positive outcome. However, it is the intangible commitments that will likely have the most significant, longer term, impact.
This outcome is testament to the success of mediation and what can be achieved by agreement making. Several years ago, the region was a hotpot of claim overlaps, some claims were unrepresented and there were instances of non-compliance with Court orders. However, claim groups worked to unite and committed to negotiate, and have now shown compromise to reach a just outcome.
In submissions to the Federal Court, MPS Law Principal Michael Pagsanjan acknowledged the tireless work of many, including clients:
Thank you to my clients, the Widi Mob, and the traditional owner negotiators and native title claimants.
It has been an honour to be on this journey with you.
You have strong leaders in your community, including the Traditional Owner Negotiating Team, the named Applicants and your working groups. You should acknowledge these leaders. They walk in the footsteps of many elders who walked before you but did not have the opportunity to celebrate today’s recognition, which is that you are the right people for country, you have the right to look after your country, and that recognition will not be taken away from you, or from your future Yamatji leaders.
For more information, contact Michael Pagsanjan (email@example.com).