$1.3b land rights deal approved

EXCLUSIVE Colleen Egan
Landmark agreement: The $1.3b land rights deal is expected to go ahead after votes in Perth and the SW. Picture: Nicola Kalmar/The Kalgoorlie Miner

The $1.3 billion native title deal between the State Government and Noongar people is expected to go ahead after meetings in the South West and Perth voted in favour of the landmark agreement.

An assembly in Perth on Saturday of about 350 descendants of the Whadjuk clan was the last of six meetings that resulted in majority "yes" votes.

South West Land and Sea Council chief executive Glen Kelly said the gatherings were sometimes heated and one was decided by just seven votes.

Mr Kelly said the agreement would usher in a new era of prosperity for Noongar people.

"We always knew for people it was going to be a painful process because what we're doing is putting a proposition for the future forward, but we haven't been through a healing process," he said. "But there are a lot of Noongar people with a lot of wisdom and knowledge and they held the day."

Mr Kelly said many Noongars found it painful to surrender their claims to native title, which was granted by the Federal Court in 2006 in a decision later overturned on appeal.

Under this agreement the State will make 12 annual payments of $50 million into a future fund to be managed by an independent trustee.

Another $10 million a year will provide administration for six regional corporations that will eventually get earnings from the trust for social, cultural and economic programs.

About 320,000ha, including 120 houses for an indigenous housing project, will be handed over and agreements to jointly manage national parks struck.

Mr Kelly said Saturday's meeting was almost derailed by tension over Premier Colin Barnett's plan to close remote communities in response to a Commonwealth decision to withdraw funding.

"We're supportive of the remote communities but that issue being live and the debate around the country made it very difficult for us," he said.

"People are pretty indignant about the way it's being handled and what it all drove was this huge mistrust of government and that undermined a confidence in our ability to make a deal with government that will actually stick and be honoured properly."

There were vocal opponents and claims on both sides that voting Noongars were intimidated and coerced.

The process, overseen by an independent returning officer, has to be ratified by the National Native Title Tribunal after a three-month objection period.

'We always knew . . . it was going to be a painful process.' " South West Land and Sea Council chief executive *Glen Kelly *