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Native title agreements double with Torres Strait determinations


The national total of native title applications settled by negotiation has doubled with a series of agreements ratified in the Torres Strait this week.

At sittings on islands in the Torres Strait on 6 and 7 July 2000, the Federal Court formally recognised the native title rights of the people of Dauan, Mabuiag, Poruma (Coconut), Warraber, Masig and Damuth Islands. The Court proceedings were followed by traditional celebrations.

The agreements bring to ten the national tally of agreed determinations that native title exists, with nine of them in Queensland. There have been a further five contested court cases on whether native title exists, four of which found that it does.

The six Torres Strait applications were settled after two years of mediation by the National Native Title Tribunal. The Federal Court orders this week formally ratified the native title agreements under Australian law.

Tribunal President Mr Graeme Neate congratulated the Islanders on achieving formal recognition of their traditional rights to land in Australian law, and commended all the parties involved for their persistence with the negotiation process.

"These agreements demonstrate that, with goodwill and a willingness to recognise various rights and interests, native title applications can be resolved by agreement," said Mr Neate.

"Mediated agreements show how the recognition of native title is going to work on the ground, and are a firm basis for ongoing harmonious relationships."

"In the Torres Strait, for example, we have agreements that recognise native title rights alongside the needs of Telstra and Ergon Energy to maintain infrastructure. In some cases, the traditional access rights of neighbouring Papua New Guineans are recognised."

"There will be some native title applications for which Court action is necessary. But the vast majority of the remaining 535 native title applications around Australia can and should be settled through mediation."

Mr Neate said there were now twice as many native title outcomes achieved through mediation as through litigation.

"I am confident the negotiation trend will continue as more people realise that native title is now part of the legal reality of this country, and the key to resolving native title issues is through good faith negotiations."