Aboriginal people in Western Australia seek £150bn over lost territory

Giovanni Torre
Australia has recognised the native title of the Noongar people over Perth and the surrounding area

Aboriginal people in the south west of Western Australia have launched an unprecedented compensation claim for more than £150 billion.

The Noongar nation filed the claim, which is equivalent to just under a quarter of Australia's annual GDP, against the Western Australian government on Friday for “spiritual damage” caused by the loss of their land.

Connection to the land is a fundamental element of culture, society and spirituality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations. 

Fourteen years ago the Federal Court of Australia recognised the native title of the Noongar people over Perth and the surrounding area. 

The State and Federal governments appealed the decision and in 2008 the Full Federal Court upheld parts of their appeal, but the court continued to recognise Noongar native title over 19.7 million hectares - an area almost five million hectares larger than England and Wales combined.

Despite the court recognition, the rights of the Noongar people to the vast majority of this land had been “extinguished” because it was used as government land, or for commercial, residential, agricultural or mining purposes.

Australia’s native title system is far more restrictive than similar nations such as Canada, the USA or New Zealand.

The figure of AUD$290 billion was determined by a High Court precedent set by a Northern Territory Aboriginal group, who secured $15,000 per hectare for 170 hectares of land in March this year.

Lead claimant Naomi Smith said the Noongar people had been struggling since British conquest, when they lost access to their land.

She said the claim seeks reimbursement for the end of their native title rights over almost all of their country. “It's going to be huge in regard to what Noongar people could do for our Noongar kids,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Her solicitor David Stevenson said it was “far and away” the largest claim made in Australia.

Noongar Elder Ben Taylor said that the dispossession of the Aboriginal people of the south west had caused “misery” to the Noongar people. “The loss of land, the loss of culture, the loss of our religion and everything,” he said.