Developments have recently occurred in the Geraldton and South West native title settlements. In-principle agreement has been reached for the Geraldton settlement, while a further hearing in the judicial review proceedings relating to the South West settlement has been listed for November 2019. Land users with interests in these regions should follow the progress of the settlements.
Geraldton and Mid-West native title settlement
Last week, the WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs announced in a media statement that in-principle agreement has been reached for a native title settlement over approximately 48,000 km2 in the Geraldton and Mid-West region.
The settlement relates to the Yamatji Nation, Hutt River, Mullewa Wadjari, Southern Yamatji and Widi native title claims. The terms of the settlement, which are currently confidential, are proposed to be recorded in an Indigenous land use agreement, the Yamatji Nation Southern Regional Agreement (Settlement ILUA).
The Settlement ILUA is expected to provide recognition of traditional ownership, land and economic benefits for the traditional owners, an agreed Aboriginal heritage regime and traditional owner involvement in land management.
June 2020 is the target date for the settlement to take effect. The current timetable for resolution of the Federal Court proceedings proposes the following milestones:
- December 2019 – claim group meetings to authorise the Settlement ILUA
- 7 February 2020 – completion of execution of the Settlement ILUA and consent determination
- 10 February 2020 – lodgement of the Settlement ILUA with the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) for registration
- 10 May 2020 – anticipated date for the NNTT’s decision on registration of the Settlement ILUA
- 20 June 2020 – anticipated date for ‘conclusive registration’ of the Settlement ILUA, assuming no objections to registration or judicial review applications in respect of the registration decision
- 21 June 2020 – Federal Court orders from the consent determination take effect.
South West settlement
The South West settlement is yet to take effect, pending the resolution of the applications seeking judicial review of the NNTT’s decision to register the six Indigenous land use agreements. 2020 is the current estimated date for the settlement to take effect.
Those applications, lodged in December 2018, were partially heard by the Full Court of the Federal Court in late May this year. The grounds of review broadly related to alleged defects in the Indigenous land use agreement authorisation processes.
At the hearing, the applicants obtained leave to raise an additional ground arising from the recent decision in Northern Land Council v Quall  FCA 989. That decision related to the delegation of a representative body’s Indigenous land use agreement certification function to its Chief Executive Officer. This final ground is currently listed for hearing on 25 November 2019.
Timing for the ultimate resolution of the settlement will be affected by the time taken for the Full Court’s decision to be delivered, the outcome of that decision and the exhaustion of any further appeal processes.
By Melanie Debenham, Senior Associate, and Emily Wilson, Senior Associate, Perth