The Waanyi High Court Challenge

In June 1994, with the support of CLCAC, the Waanyi People had lodged a native title claim over part of the Lawn Hill cattle station on which the Century Mine was planned.

The native title claim was not registered by the President of the National Native Title Tribunal on the basis of the extinguishing effect of prior pastoral leases granted in the area of the claim. The Waanyi People appealed that decision to the Federal Court on a number of grounds, including the procedural ground that it was arguable that native title co-existed with pastoral leases, whether or not those leases contained a reservation of Indigenous rights, and in those circumstances the NNTT did not have the power to reject the application. They lost their appeal by two to one.

Commonwealth Crest

Undeterred, the Waanyi People, then appealed the Federal Court’s decision to the High Court. Against the opposition of all State Governments, the Northern Territory Government, the Commonwealth and CRA, the Waanyi won. In February 1996, the High Court determined that the procedure adopted by the NNTT, which included receiving material and submissions from the State and CRA, was wrong and that the claim was arguable and should have been accepted.

Thus, although they had made a compensation offer to the Waanyi for the Century Mine which didn’t depend upon the Waanyi proving native title, at the same time, CRA and the Queensland State Government were involved in litigation to try and prevent the Waanyi from progressing their claim. Although this claim had important implications for the registration processes of the NNTT, it was also extremely important for the Waanyi People.

Winning this case allowed the Waanyi People to preserve the status quo pending determination of their claim and so continue to have the right to negotiate the Century Mine agreement.

Waanyi news clipping