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The battle over Western Australia’s largest Indigenous Land Use Agreement continues, as opposing sides consider suing the state government for spiritual damages.
Rangi Hirini

5 Feb 2020 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2020 - 11:41 AM

Lawyers and claimants in what could be the largest compensation case in Australian history are travelling throughout Noongar Country in Western Australia, consulting with the community over the next steps in the multi-billion dollar compensation case. 

The South West Native Title Settlement Indigenous Land Use Agreements, also known as the Noongar Native Title case, has been a controversial topic in the south-west of Western Australia. In 2015, the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) reached an agreement with the Western Australian government on behalf of the Noongar nation.

However, many Noongar people believed the agreement was invalid, claiming that a lot of people didn’t vote on the deal and a large number did not agree to surrender their land rights.

In October, the Full Federal Court found no errors in the Native Title Registrar of the agreement, moving the settlement closer to finalisation.

However, in December, a group of Noongar Traditional Owners lodged a $290 billion compensation claim for spiritual damages caused by the extinguishment of Native Title. 

The breakaway group is arguing that they’re unable to exercise their rights on Country.

Native Title lawyer Greg McIntyre SC, who isn’t involved in the compensation case, told NITV News he believed the case has limited chances for success.

“There is already a settlement agreement reached between the state and the Noongar nation…the state would plead that as a defence to any claims for compensation,” Mr McIntyre said.

“The other problem is that there has been a very large figure quoted as the claim, but what I read in the press about it, and that’s the extent of my knowledge, is that that figure has been arrived at without identifying what pieces of land would still be open to compensation claims,” he said.

A majority of Noongar Country has been impacted by post-colonial development or has been extinguished.

Mr McIntyre, who was one of the lead solicitors on the Mabo case, said it wouldn’t be hard to prove spiritual damages due to the decision of the High Court in the Timber Creek case.

In December, WA Premier Mark McGowan told the media he believed the amount of compensation was “pretty extreme.”

The state's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt has previously asked groups to stop their legal battles and accept the settlement. 

"I now call on them to stop the ongoing expensive legal indulgence and allow the Agreement to proceed so that the Noongar people of Western Australia can finally access the benefits they have been waiting for so long,” he said. 

"The State Government urges everyone to now get behind the Settlement to ensure that the flow of benefits can commence as soon as possible."

Later this week, on Country meetings will be taking place in Katanning and Northam. Meetings in Busselton, Albany and Perth have already been held. 

NITV News contacted Naomi Smith, the lead claimant on the compensation case, but Ms Smith said she did not want to comment at this time. 

'Blood money': Noongar community divisions delay native title settlement
The native title settlement was considered a 'victory' for the Noongar people, but some community members have refused to sign.