EXCLUSIVE: Australia’s longest running land claim finally settled

Australia’s longest running land claim – the Kenbi land claim across the Cox Peninsula on the western side of Darwin Harbour – has finally been settled, 37 years after it was lodged.

As exclusively revealed by the NIT, Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles announced  the agreement between Traditional Owners, the Northern Land Council, the NT Government and the Commonwealth in Darwin on Wednesday afternoon.

The compensation package hands over 52,000 hectares into Aboriginal hands, with 13,000 hectares of that to be granted as freehold. And 20 percent of that land in the north-east of the claim area will be granted to the Larrakia Development Corporation.

Northern Land Council CEO Joe Morrison said it was a day of great celebration and for the first time Aboriginal people would be directly involved in any future expansion of Darwin on the Cox Peninsula which he believed was “inevitable”.

He said that while negotiations over fishing arrangements had been “complicated and complex” a final agreement was a “good compromise” that allowed Aboriginal people to go about their business while dealing them into any further development that would bring wealth-creating opportunity and jobs.

“This will allow them to dream big,” he told the NIT.

It also means that all Northern Territorians will have permit-free and on-going access to visit and fish around the Cox Peninsula, a popular destination for many Darwin residents and tourists.

Other aspects of the package include;

• Granting of Karu Park – this is the previous site of the Retta Dixon Home, and will be granted as a Crown Lease in Perpetuity at no cost to use as a public park

• Granting of a 3.03 hectare East Arm industrial lot, with a capital value of $6.06 million (ex GST) for development. This land will be granted as Territory freehold

• The NT Government will give preference to those who propose to partner with Aboriginal organisations for the development of Crown land in the Darwin area as long as they provide tangible training and employment for Aboriginal people in financial and commercial management, project management and civil works.

• Partnering in a residential land release development opportunity at Farrar West incorporating an estimated 220 lots.

The squatter shacks along the peninsula will remain, with owners offered a 5 + 5 lease agreement which will be managed by the Northern Land Council.

The Kenbi claim was lodged in 1979 under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act but has encountered hurdle after hurdle over four decades.

The last sticking point at the centre of negotiations between various parties was the clean-up of asbestos, pesticides and heavy metals that have been dumped on the peninsula since World War 11, where many parts of the land claim area were used as defence posts, communication bases and maritime facilities.

In 2009, the parties signed an in principle agreement to begin examining a remediation project which would pave the way for the clean-up of the area and stimulate jobs and investment.

The NIT understands there will be significant Traditional Owner participation in the clean-up of the waste to which the Federal Government has already committed $32 million. It will more than likely be overseen by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency who in turn will be contracting local ranger groups and others to help in the rehabilitation of the land.

The Kenbi Ranger group, funded by the Indigenous Land Council, is expected to be front and centre in any job  opportunities that will arise from the agreement.

The Northern Land Council has been arguing for years that the remediation work should not have held up the claim, and that the land should have been given back immediately.

“This is truly an historic day and secures the future of Darwin for generations to come. It also provides the family groups involved with real benefits. These benefits will open up new economic opportunities as well as preserving their cultural ties with the land,” Mr Giles said.

Tony Barrass

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