With the internal disputes within the Yindjibarndi native title claim group in the Pilbara and the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr in the Kimberley – regarding, respectively, a proposed land access and mining agreement with the Fortescue Metals Group and the construction of an offshore gas processing plant at James Price Point – intra-Indigenous conflict in the native title realm has recently been thrust into the spotlight. Such disagreements are not new to native title, as the system has stimulated heated debates on many different levels from the outset, and by its nature contains the seeds of discord between and within claim groups. Conflict has long been a concern within the native title sphere – there is a wealth of useful material that focuses on ways of managing and minimising disputes between and within claim groups, and participants in the system often emphasise the importance of Indigenous unity.
This article, taking a specifically legal perspective, focuses on those conflicts about rights to specific areas of land and waters that are manifested in claims which overlap each other. The article does not dispute that conflict under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (‘NTA’) may cause profound difficulties to claimants and requires sensitive management. However, it also notes that conflict is unavoidable in any system of property law, as valuable rights capable of legal recognition will always be the subject of competing claims. It is suggested that the inevitability of conflict needs to be more widely acknowledged in a native title context.