On 25 September, several news sources reported WA deputy premier Eric
Ripper's comment that Martu claimants would "be very
disappointed" to have Rudall River National Park excluded from
their native title settlement the following day.
Mr Ripper blamed the national park's exclusion on the recent High
Court ruling in Ward (the Miriuwung-Gadjerrong case) that the vesting of
land in trustees for public purposes extinguished native title. This
ruling applied to another WA national park in Ward - the
"trustee" was the national parks authority. Rudall River is
2.5 times the size of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Even if it is covered by the Ward ruling, it is most inappropriate as
a matter of policy that areas of this size, remoteness and traditional
significance be treated as places in which Aboriginal interests cannot
exist for such technical reasons.
Mr Ripper's comment is disingenuous on two levels. First, his
government advocated for the 'extinguishment by vesting' ruling all the
way to the High Court, undeterred by its rejection at lower levels.
Second, if the state government is so worried about the unhelpful nature
of native title law, it can always look for another way to give the
For example, it could grant them an ordinary title to the park, or
introduce special land rights legislation for their benefit. Has it
avoided such alternatives because they could allow more genuine
'recognition' of Martu 'ownership', rather than the token recognition of
land use rights?
Rudall River National Park appears to have been created in 1977,
after the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act was enacted. In Ward,
the High Court ruled that, because such parks are not created on other
private land, native title holders should be paid compensation for this
discrimination. Wouldn't a land grant be better for the Martu than a
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