Yarmirr Sea Rights
Mary Yarmirr, on behalf the Mandilarr-Ildugij, Mangalara, Murran, Gadura, Munanga, Ngaynjahan and Majarram peoples, claimed rights and interests in the waters surrounding Croker Island in the Northern Territory in 1998.
The claim to rights over the sea had not been pursued in the original Mabo case and scope of native title in relation to the sea and sea resources had not yet been considered. However, the definition of native title in s223 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) included reference to rights and interests in relation to waters, although the right to negotiate does not extend to offshore places. (s24NA)
Justice Olney of the Federal Court, in Yarmirr v Northern Territory of Australia (1998) 156 ALR 370, recognised native title rights in relation to the sea. The rights and interests recognised under native title included non-exclusive rights to travel through, to fish and gather for personal (not commercial) purposes, without a licence, and to visit and protect places of cultural significance. In this case, native title was found not to include any exclusive rights of access or rights to the seabed, subsoil or minerals. However, the recognition of rights over offshore resources, and indeed an interest in the area may have implications for offshore resource developments such as gas and petroleum extraction. Other offshore resource industries such as fishing may also be affected by recognition of native title over seas, leading one pearling company to enter into agreement with native titleholders in Broome, Western Australia.
Keywords: Australian Court Case, determinations, Federal Court of Australia, Native Title Act (1993), native title claim, Northern Territory, sea claims, sea rights, Yarmirr, Yarmirr v Northern Territory (1998), 1998
Author: Strelein, Lisa