The Northern Territory Government has been ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the Native Title holders of Timber Creek, about 600 kms south-west of Darwin, in a landmark High Court decision today.
The High Court reviewed a 2016 decision by the Federal Court, which ordered the Territory Government to pay $3.3 million compensation for the extinguishment of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people’s Native Title rights.
Today’s decision upheld the Federal Court finding but reduced the amount of compensation the Territory Government has to pay to just over $2.5 million.
The decision relates to significant developments in the 1980s and 90s, including building infrastructure and public works in Timber Creek, which impaired or extinguished some of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people’s Native Title rights.
In total, the court heard the Northern Territory Government was responsible for 53 acts that affected Native Title rights at Timber Creek.
The original decision outlined that the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people were entitled to compensation valued at 80 per cent of the freehold value of the affected land, but that was reduced to 60 per cent upon appeal in the Federal Court.
Both the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people and the Territory and Commonwealth Governments again appealed the 2016 decision, this time in the High Court.
Although Ngaliwurru and Nungali people said the loss of their Native Title rights is worth the entire freehold value of the land, today’s High Court ruling reduced the compensation again, bringing it to 50 per cent of the land’s freehold value.
But the $1.3 million originally awarded by the Federal Court for cultural losses was also upheld in today’s decision, despite appeals from the Northern Territory and Commonwealth Governments, who argued the amount was ‘excessive’.
This was the first time the High Court has ruled on Native Title compensation in Australia. It is also the first time the High Court’s full bench has sat in the Northern Territory.
The decision is expected to set a precedent for future Native Title compensation cases.