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Breakthrough Native Title deal

THE nation’s largest ever determination of Native Title has been achieved in Western Australia with an agreement between the major parties involved including WMC Resources, the State Government and the traditional owners of the Ngaanyatjarra lands, which lie near the borders of WA, South Australia and the Northern Territory. The agreement, which covers 188,000 square kilometres of land, determines a substantial proportion of outstanding claims over the state’s central land mass, and follows a number of key agreements in WA. National Native Title Tribunal deputy president Fred Chaney, who helped facilitate the settlement, said the claim was settled by agreement from all parties, removing the need for a lengthy and expensive trial process. The area was originally covered by six claims, however these were combined into a single claim in April last year in order to fast-track the agreement. “An important advantage of the single claim for all parties is that it simplifies the governance arrangements over the lands. Had the six claims stayed in place there would have been six corporations with interests in the lands. This would have been a significant burden for Native Title holders, the government and miners,” Mr Chaney said. Within the determination, it is stipulated that WMC must involve the traditional owners in any future development decisions. WMC has a number of active exploration tenements in the region at its West Musgrave project. BHP Billiton, which recently acquired WMC, has also been historically cooperative in the Native Title process, with a number of community partnerships made in the region, a theme set to continue at its newly acquired interests, according to the company. “We are pleased with the outcome as Native Title rights have been recognised and our interests protected. BHP Billiton is committed to working with its host communities to work towards mutually beneficial outcomes,” BHP Billiton spokesperson said. Earlier this month the State Government announced a grant of $40 million to improve the backlog of claims on the state’s land. The historic determination also follows a land-use agreement reached last month between Argyle Diamonds, owned by Rio Tinto, and the Miriwung, Gidja, Wularr and Malgnin people. The Argyle participation agreement is the third Indigenous land-use agreement to be registered in WA. Queensland has registered 107, while the NT has registered 39.

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