The High Court has reduced compensation to Aboriginal Native Title holders from the remote town of Timber Creek in a ruling in favour of the Northern Territory government.
The original payout of $3.3 million in the Federal Court to the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people from Timber Creek was for economic loss, interest and cultural loss.
It has now been reduced to $2.9 million in the Federal Court and $2.53 million in the High Court over two appeals.
The reduction in the payout related to the High Court judges agreeing to reduce the economic value of the compensation to 50 per cent of the freehold value of the land, whereas the Timber Creek native title holder said it should be 100 per cent.
Timber Creek is a tiny town of about 250 people, 600km from Darwin near the West Australian border.
The NT government and Commonwealth appeal had argued the method to determine the costs was incorrect.
The case is considered a landmark one with implications for much larger native title compensation claims around the country and the level of compensation owed to Aboriginal traditional owners.
Indigenous man Chris Griffiths, whose late father Alan helped lead the court action and won a previous legal battle for native title in part of the town, said outside court last year the NT government had built infrastructure or tried to sell land for commercial development without consulting Aboriginal people.
"Indigenous people, my people, were practising their cultural protocols, forces and values in those places near Timber Creek," he told reporters.
"We are not trying to make trouble. We just want to make sure people understand how important it was.
"You can't remove the culture from the country it belonged to, where I come from. You can share it but they don't own it."
The NLC interim CEO, Jak Ah Kit, today welcomed the High Court’s judgment which awarded compensation of $2,530,350 to the Ngaliwurru and Nangali peoples – including $1.3 million for cultural loss – for the extinguishment of native title by NT Government grants of land since 1975.
“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.
“While the High Court reduced the Full Federal Court’s award of $2,899,446 – which itself reduced the original award by the trial Judge of $3,300,661 – it must be remembered that this is new law and each of these amounts were in the range of what is reasonable.”
“What is important is that the component of $1.3 million for cultural loss was upheld by all High Court and Federal Court Judges”, Mr Ah Kit said.
“This important finding means that the spiritual connection of Aboriginal people to their country is paramount in Australian law – as it should be. Today’s decision is the end of ground breaking native title litigation by the Ngarliwurru and Nangali peoples – the native title holders of the town of Timber Creek in the Victoria River District.”
“In some cases, especially where sacred sites have been damaged in the past, the amount of compensation could be quite substantial,” Mr Ah Kit said.
“But the first step will always be to try and agree to compensation without litigation, and the High Court’s judgment shows the way forward for collaborative outcomes.”
- with AAP
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