This morning Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will hand the title deeds to 51,152 hectares of land on the Cox Peninsula opposite the city of Darwin in the NT to the Larrakia traditional owners. That handover will mark the end of the longest-running Aboriginal land claim, which started in 1975 when the Larrakia — then perhaps the most marginalised traditional owners of any north Australian city — lodged their intention to make a claim for their traditional lands.
With the support of the Northern Land Council, and despite the trenchant opposition of the conservative Country Liberal Party — which held government in the NT up until 2001 — the Larrakia have now prevailed. You can read the long history of the legal fight here.
The Kenbi settlement provides for:
- 51,152 hectares to become Aboriginal land, to be granted to the Kenbi Aboriginal Land Trust. Communal title will be vested in the trust for the benefit of traditional Aboriginal owners, the Larrakia and Belyuen residents. Aboriginal land is inalienable – it cannot be bought or sold – but it can be leased with the informed consent of the traditional owners, who will also have a right of veto over mining and exploration.
- 10,766 hectares to be granted as NT freehold to the Kenbi Land Trust. It is designed to work similarly to Aboriginal land, and communal title will be vested in the trust for the benefit of the traditional owners, the Larrakia and Belyuen residents. The informed consent of traditional owners will be required for surrender or lease of the land. No permit system will apply, but the laws of trespass will apply because the land will be private freehold; and there will be no right of veto over exploration and mining.
- 1636 hectares to be granted to the Larrakia Development Corporation as NT freehold land. The LDC will be free to develop and sell this land as it sees fit, in accordance with planning and other laws.
In 2008 the High Court’s Blue Mud Bay decision determined that Aboriginal land extends to the low tide mark. The Northern Land Council and the Northern Territory Government negotiated a compensation package that allows permit-free access for people to visit and fish in the Cox Peninsula waters and beaches. The compensation package includes:
- Grant of a 3.03 hectare industrial lot on the railway corridor at East Arm. A 2015 valuation values the block at $6.3 million.
- Leasehold title over Karu Park, the previous site of the Retta Dixon Home. It will be granted as a Crown Lease in Perpetuity, to be held by the Larrakia Development Corporation.
- Preference to proponents who propose to partner with Aboriginal organisations for the development of Crown land in the Darwin area.
- A proposal for an entity nominated by the Larrakia Development Corporation to partner in a residential land release at Farrar West – incorporating 220 lots.
The following rights will be recognised as part of the settlement:
- Existing private uses on the Peninsula (squatters, mining tenements and others).
- Commonwealth Government uses (e.g., Charles Point lighthouse).
The 11 roads and tracks on the Peninsula will remain as Territory roads.
The NT Government says there are 33 squatters shacks located in the road corridors; they will be offered a 5 x 5 year lease or occupancy agreement which will be managed by the NLC.