Gumatj clan leader and former Australian of the Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu will seek up to $700 million in compensation over the Commonwealth’s decision to compulsorily acquire his land for bauxite mining.
Dr Yunupingu will today lodge a compensation claim in the Federal Court.
It’s expected the Gumatj will seek up to $700 million in compensation for the acquisition of land and extinguishment of their Native Title rights when mining leases on their land were granted to Nabalco in 1969.
“The Yolngu people opposed the mine and the way it was forced on our community from the outset,” Dr Yunupingu said.
“We were an independent, autonomous people when the Crown, and then the Commonwealth came and acquired our rights.”
The case is set to centre around Section 51, Paragraph 31 of the constitution, which states the Commonwealth has the power to acquire property, but only “on just terms”.
The Gumatj will argue the Commonwealth failed to act on just terms when that land was acquired.
It’s the same argument used by fictional character Daryl Kerrigan in the cult Aussie film The Castle, when he successfully opposed the compulsory acquisition of his house to make way for an airport runway.
But the stakes in this real-life case are far more serious, with legal experts predicting it could set a new record for Native Title compensation.
The case will rely in part on the High Court’s historic decision earlier this year in the Timber Creek compensation case.
In that case, the High Court upheld a federal-court decision to award $2.5 million in compensation for the extinguishment of Native Title on about 1.3 square kilometres of land at the tiny Northern Territory community. In a landmark ruling, about 50 per cent of the damages were awarded for spiritual harm felt by traditional owners when they saw sacred sites on their land destroyed.
ON JUST TERMS
While the Gumatj claim differs from the Timber Creek case in that it predates the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, the Gumatj are expected to make a similar claim about spiritual harm felt when Nabalco destroyed sacred cultural sites on the Gove Peninsula.
Dr Yunupingu is expected to give evidence to the Federal Court next year about the pain he felt when he saw those sacred sites being destroyed.
He spoke of this pain when he foreshadowed this compensation claim during a speech at this year’s Garma Festival.
“They have damaged whole lot of dreamings, and dreamings that were important to Aboriginal people,” he said.
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