Dunghutti & Compensation
The determinations of native title have been important milestones in the emergence of an effective right under common law native title. The first determination after the Murray Islands, in relation to lands of the Dunghutti people, occurred in April 1997. (Native Title Determination, Dunghutti people, Crescent Head New South Wales (NNTT ref# NC94/5)) The determination, over 12.5 ha. of land that had been earmarked for residential development, reflected an agreement reached by the Dunghutti with the local and state governments and other parties. They agreed that native title existed but had been extinguished over the area in question and was therefore subject to payment of compensation.
In this instance the Dunghutti received freehold value plus 50 per cent for special attachment. The method of arriving at the amounts were criticised and issues of compensation require further development in order to reflect what is lost by Indigenous peoples through acts that extinguish or impair native title. However, Mary Lou Buck, representing the Dunghutti, highlighted the benefits that can be gained from agreements to provide for the development of language, education, housing and cultural needs. (see Michael Lavarch and Alison Riding, 'A New Way of Compensating: Maintenance of Culture through Agreement', Land Rights Laws: Issues in Native Title, Native Title Research Unit, AIATSIS, Issues Paper 21, at p 7)
This determination, despite the agreement for compulsory acquisition was an important first step. Justice French commented:
'This is the first time a native title application lodged with the Tribunal has been successfully resolved and the first time a State Government has agreed to recognise native title on the mainland.' (NNTT PR 96/41 9 Oct 96)
The Dunghutti held their native title for six hours from the time the determination was handed down in the Federal Court until the time the government compulsorily acquired the rights.
Keywords: determinations, Dunghutti, Federal Court of Australia, French, Justice Robert, National Native Title Tribunal, native title claim, New South Wales, 1997
Author: Strelein, Lisa