Australia

Exclusive beach access for native title holders heading to High Court

A surfer and an Indigenous didgeridoo player are seen as part of a protest at Bells Beach south of Melbourne Source: AAP

The federal and Western Australian governments are heading to the High Court to test whether exclusive beach access should fall within native title claims.

A High Court appeal is set to test whether native title holders should be able to claim exclusive access to Australian beaches.

The federal and Western Australian governments are challenging a Federal Court ruling that recognises beaches and other waterways north of Broome within the Bindunbur and Jabirr Jabirr/Ngumbarl native title determinations.

Traditional owners, represented by the Kimberley Land Council (KLC), are opposing the appeal which will be heard across two days starting on Tuesday.

An initial Federal Court ruling in May 2018 included public access rights to beaches alongside the native title holders' rights.

Traditional owners challenged that aspect and their appeal was upheld in December.

View of the High Court of Australia in Canberra, Wednesday, November 13, 2019.
View of the High Court of Australia in Canberra, Wednesday, November 13, 2019.
AAP

It remains unclear what the exact consequences would be in the event of the Federal Court decision being upheld.

The KLC has suggested it could possibly mean members of the public requiring visitor permits for camping, fishing or other recreational activities, although such decisions would be at the discretion of the native title holders.

New Zealand introduced laws in 2004 preventing Maori traditional owners from seeking customary title to the foreshore and seabed.

The controversial laws, driven by former prime minister Helen Clark, were repealed by John Key's National government in 2011.

A verdict in the High Court matter is expected by mid-2020.

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