More Land Rights Rulings in Australia

Friday, 21 March, 2014

More legal land rights issues have been addressed in Australia as the country's High Court ruled last week that mining leases do not extinguish Native Title rights.

Native Titles are given to indigenous Australians that grant them ownership of ancestral land. The new ruling means that mining leases from native land do not annul native titles, and are only valid for the life of the mine.

The ruling arose from a nuanced land dispute that grew from an ambiguous law:

“The High Court decision yesterday related to the Mount Goldsworthy iron ore mine in the Pilbara region, construction of which began in 1965. The mine, which has since closed, included a large open pit mine, a town of 200 houses, a shopping centre, school and other infrastructure. “

With such a large development on the land, Western Australia claimed that the native title to the land was redundant, but the High Court rejected this, claiming that the development breached the more narrow scope of a mine. Mining leases only give the leaseholders “limited rights to carry out mining and associated works”, i.e. mining towns are not allowed.

The decision appears to be an ambiguous favour for aboriginal Australians, for whilst it strengthens their land rights on the one hand, lawyers have warned that it could reduce the compensation they receive for mining activity on their land “because native title rights were only suspended and not ended permanently.”

The High Court ruling follows a Queensland State decision to grant landowners greater bargaining powers over mining companies, by giving them more time to negotiate leases.