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Landmark “Right to Trade” decision

Posted: Fri, July 01, 2016

The Federal Court has recognised the rights of the Rrumburriya Borroloola people (the traditional owners of Borroloola and members of the wider Yanyuwa group) to exclusive possession over vacant crown land in the town, and to take and use resources for any purpose including commercial purposes – a so-called “right to trade”.

1 July 2016
The Federal Court has recognised the rights of the Rrumburriya Borroloola people (the traditional owners of Borroloola and members of the wider Yanyuwa group) to exclusive possession over vacant crown land in the town, and to take and use resources for any purpose including commercial purposes – a so-called “right to trade”.

The case was heard by Justice John Mansfield over 10 days earlier this year. He handed down his judgement yesterday.

“This is a landmark native title decision,” said Joe Morrison, CEO of the Northern Land Council which ran the case on behalf of the native title claimants.

“This is the first time native title rights of this nature have been recognised in the Northern Territory,” he said.

The right to trade was opposed by the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments, which argued that native title rights were not of a commercial nature.

The Rrumburriya Borroloola people presented a rich diversity of evidence dating back to trade with the Macassans prior to British settlement.

In his judgement, Justice Mansfield said that the transactions with the Macassans were sensibly described as transactions of a commercial kind.

He concluded that the Macassan visitation to the Gulf country, dating from at least 1780, involved the activities of trade, barter or exchange of a commercial kind.

“We hope that this decision will encourage the Northern Territory Government in the future to recognise Indigenous commercial native title rights so that Aboriginal people can get on with their lives and not have to be tied up in protracted court cases to prove their inherent and ancient rights,” Mr Morrison said.

The traditional right to take and use the resources of an area is not to be limited to the resources actually used at the moment of sovereignty in 1788.

NLC contact: Murray McLaughlin 0429 153 363