12 December 2014
Last updated at 05:45
Mike Ross: “This native title claim makes our historic ties to the land clear.”
Australia’s biggest native title claim – covering 14.6m ha (36m acres) of land and waters – has been lodged in a Brisbane court.
The claim – filed on behalf of nine traditional owners – refers to much of the Cape York peninsula in the far-north of Queensland.
The owners hope that by uniting their efforts they will avoid a long legal battle as was the case in the past.
Under the claim, any land development will require consent from the owners.
The Queensland government and private firms have been recently looking to open up the region to more mining and agriculture.
The claim was filed in the federal court on the behalf of the owners by the Cape York Land Council.
Mike Ross, the head of the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation and one of the claimants, said he hoped that Aboriginal people living in the area would be able to make decisions over ancestral lands.
“Coupled with the transfer of freehold, this native title claim makes our historic ties to the land clear,” Mr Ross was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.
Local indigenous people said they hoped the move would help them develop businesses in the area and reduce their welfare dependency.
Mr Ross added that the region had been under pressure from miners and other land developers.
The claimants are seeking “exclusive” native title – the highest form of rights in Australia. It requires full consultation with owners before any land development goes ahead.
In 2010, indigenous islanders in the Torres Strait celebrated Australia’s largest ever marine rights victory in the federal court.
Communities there secured ownership of more than 40,000 sq km (15,444 sq miles) of sea between the tip of northern Queensland and Papua New Guinea.
The court ruling means that ships, fishermen and other businesses are still able to operate in the waters, but indigenous groups must be consulted about future development.