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Caught out

DESPITE the WA Government’s stated commitment to mediation in the settlement of Native Title claims, the northern Goldfields Wongatha claim is headed for the Federal Court next week.

A Government spokesperson said the February 19 date for the commencement of hearings had been set during the term of the previous Government and, due to the large number of respondents to the claim, mediation had not yet progressed far enough to ward off the hearings.

Parallel mediation between the claimants and the 300 respondents would continue in April and May, despite the February 19 opening statements and the claimant evidence hearings throughout March.

The State Government had not given up on consent determination, the spokesperson said, and believed the hearings had enormous potential to facilitate the next stage of mediation.

The Goldfields Land & Sea Council, which is representing the Wongatha claimants said the claim covering 184,000 square kilometres was the largest and most contentious claim in the region.

GLSC director Brian Wyatt said the claim had been a lengthy and complex process, with 33 original claims collapsed into one and the determination of 33 landuse agreements for industry access.

Mr Wyatt said the Wongatha claimants had shown themselves willing and able to reach agreements, and their preference was for a consent determination process, but they were facing expenses possibly in excess of $400,000.

A determination of Native Title for the claim area would mean legitimacy at the table, in determining what would be delivered by negotiation, Mr Wyatt said.

The GLSC is the Federal Government-appointed Native Title representative body for the Goldfields region, and as such is funded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission.

This week the Government announced a Native Title consent determination for the Karajarri people in the West Kimberley region.

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