Historic $3.3m native title rights loss compensation in Timber Creek

The landmark decision, which determined how to award compensation, opens the door to similar claims being valued in the billions.

A federal court in Darwin on Wednesday awarded $3.3 million to the traditional owners of Timber Creek township land who have lost their native title rights.
 
The significant ruling – the first time in two dozen years since the Mabo decision wherein the federal court determined how to award compensation to traditional owners – stems from a 2011 lawsuit brought on behalf of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people who now stand to benefit from the compensation.
 
According to The Guardian, federal court judge John Mansfield ordered compensation of $3,300,261, including $512,000 for the economic value of the extinguished rights, more than $1.48m in interest, and another $1.3m for pain and suffering.
 
“We're very buoyed with the court's decision today, it's obviously a very important judicial decision to award compensation through native title and to allow that to proceed has been an immense opportunity for traditional owners around the country,” Joe Morrison, CEO of the Northern Land Council, told ABC.
 
According to the publication, the native owners secured a 2006 victory after a seven-year battle for native title in some parts of Timber Creek. However, the court said that those rights had been lost in some land due to acts by the Northern Territory and commonwealth governments.
 
For example, the NT government built a concrete bridge over the dingo dreaming site that runs through Timber Creek, noted ABC. Traditional owners said hurt them and caused bad omens among their people.
 
Furthermore, the site where the town’s water tank was built is along an important story line, locals have said.
 
“It's a very important step for native title claimants to pursue native title compensation and now we've got a formal decision recognised by the courts,” Morrison said.
 
The decision is not only significant because of the compensation award, it may be more important because it has offered a way to determine how to value the loss of cultural attachment to traditional land.
 
The ABC noted that the decision will boost the number of native title rights loss compensation claims. Ashurst partner Gavin Scott told the news organisation that the claims could amount to billions.
 
Timber Creak is just 23 square kilometres in size, a speck compared to the total area of land where resolution of native title rights had been needed.
 
“If you look at other similar native title determinations around Australia there's about 2.3 million square kilometres of country that's subject to native title determinations,” Scott said.
 

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