Rights to feral animals, resources and bushfire control considered in NT native title case

A native title case being heard in the Federal Court today could have significant, ongoing implications for the Northern Territory cattle industry, and has some pastoralists seriously worried.

Native title NT court case key points

Key points:

  • Case covers several NT pastoral leases
  • Native title holders want right to access feral animals
  • Pastoralists looking for their rights to be defined

The Federal Court is considering several questions, including what rights native title holders have over the management and use of feral animals on a pastoral lease, the extent of their right to take resources for any purpose, and if a two-kilometre exclusion zone around a station homestead should exist.

The outcome of the case will also potentially determine if around 80 native title consent agreements already in place across NT cattle stations could be renegotiated.

The case covers seven pastoral leases in the Top End; Nutwood Downs, Lorella Springs, Hodgson River Station, Powell Creek, Helen Springs, Banka Banka East and Banka Banka West Stations.

Some of these properties are owned by some of Australia’s biggest cattle producers, including Consolidated Pastoral Company, S Kidman and Co, and North Star Pastoral.

Rights to feral animals considered

The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) is taking part in the case as a passive intervenor and is lending support to the pastoral properties involved.

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NTCA CEO, Ashley Manicaros said the responsibilities of native title holders and pastoral lease holders needed to be clarified.

“The issue for discussion is that the pastoral lease holder actually has responsibility within their pastoral lease to manage things like feral animals,” Mr Manicaros said.

“So we will just have to wait and see what the court rules on, based on the submissions being put forward as to what rights exist and to whom.

“It also comes back to the issue of commercialisation of feral animals and who has responsibility for that.”

ABC Rural understands the Northern Land Council, on behalf of traditional owners, has argued that ownership of a pastoral lease does not give cattle producers exclusive rights to commercially exploit the area.

Native title holders are pushing to be recognised with the right to access feral animals for any purpose, but has not extended that argument to unbranded cattle, ABC Rural understands.

Existing consent agreements for native title rights in the NT have included a two-kilometre exclusion zone around the homestead on cattle stations, but native title holders in this case are asking for that exclusion to be reviewed.

NT Cattlemen want certainty

NTCA CEO, Mr Manicaros said the cattle industry would like to see certainty of their rights as pastoral lease holders defined by the case.

“The NT Cattlemen’s Association has done a lot of work in the [native title] consent agreement area, dating back to the Newcastle Waters agreement,” Mr Manicaros said.

“We have had more than 80 agreements put in place, and so, from our members’ point of view, it is important that we have a hand in [the case] and we are aware of everything being put forward.

“We would be happy with certainty; we would like to know where the consent agreements stand, moving forward.”

The NLC has been contacted for comment.

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