An Aboriginal group has filed two compensation claims against the Western Australian state government for cultural losses on land that it granted to businesses including BHP Group, state broadcaster the ABC reported on Thursday.
The claims were filed in the Federal Court on Wednesday on behalf of the Tjiwarl people of the Goldfields Region for damage and loss of access to land as a result of acts by the Western Australian government and miners, the ABC said.
The acts include various mining projects in the northern Goldfields, groundwater licences for mines, the development of a highway and some pastoral leases, it said.
BHP’s Mt Keith nickel mine lies on Tjiwarl land. BHP signed an agreement in 2018 that provided native title compensation, and other financial health and employment support measures. BHP declined any further comment.
Greg McIntyre SC, a leading expert on Aboriginal heritage, told the ABC that under the Native Title Act, the State Government is solely responsible for any compensation claims.
“But it does have a power under the legislation to pass on any compensation which it may be ordered to pay by the court, to those it has granted titles to,” he said.
Australia recorded its first case of Native Title compensation a year ago when the High Court ordered that traditional owners from Timber Creek in the Northern Territory get $2.5 million for the loss of their rights, including a spiritual connection to the land.
“The High Court decision in Timber Creek settled general principles on how that compensation is to be assessed but that case only dealt with certain land grants and public works that wholly extinguished native title. The case left a number of important questions unanswered,” a government spokeswoman said.
The court case comes amid greater scrutiny of Aboriginal rights following the destruction of a sacred cave by Rio Tinto last month.
Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by David Evans