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Ngurampaa Ltd v Balonne Shire Council & Anor [2014] QSC 146

Category: Case Law
Binomial Name: State of Queensland
Date: 3 July 2014
Sub Category:Case Law

State/Country:Queensland , Australia
Subject Matter:Land Use | Local Government | Native Title | Native Title - Extinguishment
Summary Information:

Between: Ngurampaa Ltd (Applicant) and Balonne Shire Council and Mr Andrew Cripps, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines (Respondents)

Judge: Philippides J

Jurisdiction: Supreme Court of Queensland

In Ngurampaa Ltd v Balonne Shire Council & Anor [2014] QSC 146, the Court rejected Ngurampaa Ltd's arguments to be excused from paying Council rates on the basis of a challenge the Australian Crown's acquisition of sovereignty over the land where the Euahlayi People's Republic is located. Philippides J emphasised that the acquisition of sovereignty is not justiciable in Australian courts.

Philippides J held that Ngurampaa Ltd was obliged to pay rates on their property to the local council.

Detailed Information:


Ngurampaa Ltd is a company which is solely owned by members of the Euahlayi Nation. Ngurampaa Ltd is the registered owner of a property called Currawillinghi Station, located within Balonne Shire Council and on the lands of the Euahlayi Nation.

Balonne Shire Council is a local government permitted to levy general rates on land under the Local Government Act 2009 (Qld).

Ngurampaa Ltd was charged rates on the land but failed to pay the rates. The Council subsequently launched proceedings to recover the rates. Ngurampaa Ltd argued that it did not need to pay the rates because the Euahlayi Nation has maintained sovereignty over the land where the property is located.

Magistrates Court proceeding

In the Magistrates Court, Nguarampaa Ltd argued that the Crown had not properly acquired the land in question meaning they did not need to pay the Council rates.

Nguarampaa Ltd contended that the Crown had not legitimately acquired the land, meaning the Council had no right to charge them rates. The Magistrate considered this question a matter for a higher court.

Having determined that there was no real prospect for Ngurampaa Ltd to successfully defend the claim, the Magistrate struck out the claim and awarded summary judgment in favour of the Council to recover the overdue rates.

Supreme Court proceeding

Rather than appeal the Magistrates Court decision, Ngurampaa Ltd applied to the Supreme Court for a stay of the Magistrate's order to prevent it from being carried out.

Ngurampaa Ltd also sought for the matter to be referred to the High Court of Australia and contended that there was a jurisdictional issue. This argument was rejected by Philippides J.

The Council made a number of arguments as to why Nguarampaa Ltd should be denied relief. 

The Crown's sovereignty is not justiciable in Australian courts

According to Philippides J, the crux of Ngurampaa Ltd's argument was that the Euahlayi People's Republic claimed sovereignty over the land in opposition to the Australian Crown. By making this challenge, Ngurampaa Ltd argued that Australian domestic laws do not apply to the Euahlayi People's Republic.

Philippides J viewed Ngurampaa Ltd's argument as facing 'an insurmountable difficulty' [13] for several reasons:

  1. Philippides J held that Britain's acquisition of sovereignty over the Australian continent is not justiciable before Australian courts according to Mabo v The State of Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1. This was affirmed in Coe v Commonwealth (1993) 118 ALR 193, where Mason CJ stated that the Mabo decision is 'entirely at odds with the notion that sovereignty adverse to the Crown resides in the Aboriginal people of Australia… [or that] there resides in the Aboriginal people a limited kind of sovereignty… [which entitles the] to self-government' [14]. Philippides J highlighted similar findings in Walker v The State of New South Wales (1994) 182 CLR 45 and Members of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v State of Victoria (2002) 214 CLR 422. As such, Philippides J concluded that a challenge to the acquisition of sovereignty 'cannot be sustained as a matter of law' [17].
  2. When the Crown claimed sovereignty over Australia, international law recognised that inhibited lands could be validly claimed by 'settlement'. Philippides J held that this meant it did not matter that both respondents did not possess any documents, contracts or treaties to show the Euahlayi People's Republic surrendered or ceded their land. 
  3. Upon acquiring sovereignty, the Crown also attained radical title over the land. Radical title gave the Crown certain rights over the land which could not be superseded by common law native title. Accordingly, Philippides J held that no native title rights exempted Ngurampaa Ltd from State legislation.
  4. Ngurampaa Ltd claimed that the land was invalidly acquired under the 'grants by deceitful fraud' doctrine. Philippides J considered this 'ancient' doctrine to be of 'diminishing importance' because it applied in the past where the King issued land grants [23]. Philippides J held that the doctrine did not apply in these circumstances as land grants are now made by statutory authorities governed by administrative law.
  5. Philippides J dismissed Ngurampaa Ltd's argument that 'a subsisting Continental common law' existed in Australia prior to colonisation [26]. The only common law that existed was English common law. Philippides J also rejected Ngurampaa Ltd's reliance on Commonwealth v Yarmirr (1999) 101 FCR 171. This case concerned a native title determination regarding seas and related waters and did not advance Nguarampaa Ltd's position in any meaningful way.

The applicant is an Australian corporation subject to Australian law

Philippides J held that Ngurampaa Ltd has its own legal personality as a corporation and is therefore subject to Queensland laws and liable to pay the rates levied by the council.

The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction or power to interfere with Australian law

Before the hearing in the Supreme Court of Queensland, the Euahlayi People's Republic filed an application in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to try and gain compensation at the international level.

Philippides J emphasised that only states can be parties before the ICJ. The Euahlayi People's Republic is not recognised as a state under international law and would not have access to the ICJ unless Australia consented to being party to the proceedings. There was no evidence of Australia consenting to the proceedings.

No proper basis for a stay has been shown

Philippides J held that there was no basis for a stay because the arguments submitted by Ngurampaa Ltd were without merit.


Ngurampaa Ltd's application for a stay was dismissed. 


Indigenous rights activist, Ghillar Michael Anderson, criticises the decision for relying on 'an expanded doctrine of terra nullius… to deny Euahlayi justice' (Anderson, 2014, 1). Anderson argues that Philippides J concluded that Ngurampaa Ltd faced an 'insurmountable difficulty' in an effort to maintain the 'status quo [rather] than dealing with justice' (Anderson, 2014, 2).

Anderson raises a number of points of contention in relation to the judgment. For example, he identifies that there are no legal agreements or documents to show that the Euahlayi people surrendered or ceded the land. Anderson argues that the States subsequently cannot prove the Euahlayi People's Republic rights over land were legally transferred to the Crown.

Anderson highlights that there is 'a true confrontation of two contesting sovereignties' in Australia (Anderson, 2014, 2). He characterises Australian courts as 'protectors of this questionable regime' (Anderson, 2014, 3).

Anderson concludes by calling for Aboriginal people assert their claim to sovereignty by making Declarations of Independence to try and establish rights and recognition under international law. 

Related Entries

  • Balonne Shire Council - Respondent
  • Ngurampaa Ltd - Native Title Applicant
  • Legislation
  • Local Government Act 2009 (Qld)
  • Native Title Act 1993 (Cth)
  • People
  • Andrew Cripps - Respondent
  • Case Law
  • Mabo v Queensland [No 2] (1992) 175 CLR 1
  • Commonwealth v Yarmirr (2000) 168 ALR 426 (11 October 2001)
  • Members of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v The State of Victoria [2002] HCA 58

  • References

    Ghillar Michael Anderson (17/09/2014) Expanded doctrine of terra nullius used to deny euahlayi justice

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