Asia Minute: Indigenous People in Australia File Multibillion Dollar Claim

Dec 4, 2019

Indigenous leaders in Western Australia are seeking compensation from the state government for the loss of some of their traditional lands. The size of the claim would make it the largest legal case in the history of the country.

Aboriginal people in southwestern Australia say the state government owes them nearly 200 billion U.S. dollars. The case filed last week is complicated. Its roots stretch back for years, and it builds on prior court decisions.

Fourteen years ago, the country’s federal court recognized the Noongar people held what’s known as “native title” over a vast portion of West Australia — about 77,000 square miles. Under Australian law dating to the 1990’s, that means Aboriginal people have “rights and interests to their land that come from their traditional laws and customs.”

The Noongar people say their rights to that area in West Australia have been “extinguished” because it’s been used by the government — and for purposes ranging from agriculture and mining to residential and commercial development.

They say that has blocked their cultural connection to the land.

In March, the country’s High Court ruled an Aboriginal group from the Northern Territory should be compensated for economic and emotional damages at a rate of about 10,000 U.S. dollars per hectare for 170 hectares.

The case in West Australia involves nearly 20-million hectares, and attorneys for the group say they’re merely using the same formula — producing a figure roughly equivalent to the tobacco industry payment to governments across the U.S. in the 1990’s.