Primary producers who have battled drought and flood along with continually challenging economic conditions have been dealt yet another blow with a Federal Court ruling against a pastoral holder who applied to upgrade her tenure to freehold.
Creevey Russell Lawyers Principal Dan Creevey said the refusal by Justice John Reeves in the Federal Court to grant an order by Sophie Pate that native title did not exist over her cattle property near Carmila in North Queensland was “another nail in the coffin for primary producers” and should be appealed.
“Just when you thought it can’t get any harder for primary producers, the Federal Court has cast a shadow over the ability to obtain a determination that native title does not exist over country, and therefore the ability to freehold that property,” he said.
Mr Creevey said Ms Pate sought to upgrade her tenure to freehold and commenced a non-claimant application seeking an order native title did not exist over her property.
“The application was not contested and there wasn’t a native title claim filed in response, with the applicant arguing the court could infer no native title existed on her land,” Mr Creevey said.
“But Justice Reeves ruled even though the application was unopposed, the applicant must prove on the balance of probabilities that native title did not exist. He found to make an order that native title did not exist would be contrary to the objectives of the Native Title Act 1993.”
Mr Creevey said the Reeves judgment has foreshadowed a view on the Native Title Act which may result in a failure of the application no matter how strong the evidence that native title does not exist.
“The Court arrived at a conclusion in the Pate case that a negative determination of native title would prevent any future application for compensation against the State for loss of native title rights and would be contrary to the objects and purposes of the Native Title Act,” he said.
“The concern arising from this is that someone, somewhere may have an unexercised native title claim but that granting an application for a determination that native title does not exist will forever prevent that right being exercised.
“This is despite a section in the Native Title Act which provides expressly for the reservation of compensation claims against the state when non claimant application provisions are utilised.
“At the moment the Court has only expressed a qualified view on the state of the law but if that view is confirmed, freeholding of any country where native title has not been extinguished will not be on option.
“The opportunity to persuade the Court of a contrary view should not be missed but will require the joining of forces to promote a favourable outcome.”
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