Native Title: Proponents: Australia
THE FIRM Allens maintains a full-service offering in native title and cultural heritage matters across Australia, acting for corporate, government and community bodies affected by these issues, and particularly for the proponents of major energy, resources or infrastructure projects. Recent work includes acting for Xstrata on its Wandoan Coal Project in Queensland's Surat Basin, for Rio Tinto Alcan on its alumina and bauxite projects in the Northern Territory, and for the Gladstone Area Water Board on its Gladstone to Fitzroy River Water Pipeline.
KEY INDIVIDUALS In Perth, Marshall McKenna has played "a prominent and effective role" in several key matters, and is regarded as having effected "a significant shift in terms of Allens' profile in native title negotiation and litigation." He commands "a lot of respect" as a lawyer "you can deal with and who gets to the point," and his litigation experience embraces Warden's, Supreme, Federal and High Court matters.
Team leader Ben Zillmann is well known and respected as a leading native title practitioner, and is particularly recommended to clients in the resources sector. He is equally acknowledged for his commercial insight as for his legal acumen, and also has especially noteworthy expertise on land access issues in Queensland.
THE FIRM Operating across Australia, and increasingly in India and Africa, Ashurst's native title group is one of the largest and best-respected in the country. The lawyers are fully conversant in every aspect of the practice area, and have a thorough understanding of energy and natural resources companies' commercial requirements. The team acts for high-profile clients such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Santos and Xstrata. Recent work highlights include acting for a consortium of 16 leading coal mining concerns on the development of the AUD4.2 billion Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal.
Sources say: "Ashurst is a top-end firm, and its lawyers deliver quality service in a timely manner."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Tony Denholder co-heads the practice and is hailed as "a market leader in native title advice." He played a key role in the team assisting Rio Tinto Coal Australia with resolving native title and cultural heritage issues arising from its AUD20 billion mine development programme in Queensland and New South Wales, and played a similar role for Hancock Coal on its AUD7.5 billion Alpha Coal Mine Project.
Fellow practice head Geoff Gishubl is described as "second to none" and "the standout rock star" of the practice area. Clients particularly value his extensive experience, "strong technical knowledge and grasp of on-the-ground realities." He recently advised Rio Tinto Iron Ore on native title participation agreements relating to its AUD8 billion operations in the Pilbara region, and acted for Cameco on the sensitive native title and cultural heritage issues arising from its Kintyre Uranium Project.
Jean Bursle is noted for combining exhaustive knowledge and a "strong technical grasp of the law" with a thoroughly pragmatic focus on securing positive outcomes for her clients, which include BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Rio Tinto Iron Ore and Cameco.
Gavin Scott continues to earn peer praise and has been active in several resources-related native title issues of late. He was joint lead partner advising the AUD16 billion Gladstone LNG Project joint venture on indigenous land use agreements and cultural heritage management plans, and also acted for Xstrata Coal on native title and cultural heritage matters affecting its AUD1.5 billion Balaclava Island Coal Export Terminal Project.
THE FIRM Operating from five offices in Australia, this large group is noted for its in-depth understanding of this practice area acquired through its lawyers' in-house experience at government bodies, indigenous organisations and commercial enterprises. It is consequently well qualified to provide practical and innovative solutions to complex problems, and has attracted an impressive array of blue-chip clients. The team is acting on native title and cultural heritage issues affecting the AUD35 billion Australian Pacific LNG Project and Adani's AUD10 billion Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project. Other highlights include advising various government departments on the AUD6.2 billion Abbot Point coal port expansion, and representing Chubu Electric Power in a due diligence review linked to the USD20 billion Ichthys LNG project, which raised new issues concerning offshore native title rights.
Sources say: "Clayton Utz possesses a great deal of knowledge and expertise over a wide range of relevant areas and provides a superior service. The legal advisers are particularly willing to listen to and respond to the preferred strategy of the client."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Group head Mark Geritz acts as lead partner on many of the group's standout matters, including recent work for Vale and Queensland Coal. Clients praise his "knowledge and incisiveness," along with his "ability to view issues from a wider project strategy perspective, which provides clarity to clients undertaking negotiations."
Darren Fooks is particularly well equipped to act on matters arising from resources projects. He recently advised QCoal on six mining lease issues, which the National Native Title Tribunal resolved in his client's favour.
THE FIRM Freehills' native title practice is national in scope, and is respected as a standalone group with dedicated specialists. Clients appreciate the team's efficient organisation, reliability and timely communication of important developments in the field. The group has a particularly good reputation amongst energy and resources clients, including BHP Billiton, Santos, Woodside and the Ichthys LNG project. It also handles a substantial amount of work for government clients, such as advising the Victorian Department of Transport on native title and cultural heritage issues affecting its AUD5 billion Regional Rail Link.
Sources say: "Freehills has got ahead of the curve by identifying and bringing in a number of young and enthusiastic partners and fielding an extremely strong team of energetic and competent lawyers."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Chloe Piper manages the practice and is regarded as a thoroughly safe pair of hands. Her recent work includes advising Woodside on the Browse LNG Project, and acting for the Kimberley Diamond Company on dealings with its indigenous stakeholders.
Recently made partner, William Oxby acts for a number of significant players in both the resources and energy spheres. He attracts praise for his "detailed, candid and unbiased advice," and for his "excellence in managing the interface between claimants and proponents."
THE FIRM This team combines expertise in native title and cultural heritage matters with a full understanding of major project deliverers' requirements, and advises in conjunction with specialists in related practice areas. It notably advises an increasing number of inbound investors from China, India and the USA on the native title and cultural heritage aspects of their Australian transactions. Recent highlights include advising BHP Billiton on the approvals and land use strategy for its AUD3 billion Bowen Basin metallurgical coal asset; acting for QR National on similar issues affecting its AUD2 billion rail project in the Galilee Basin; and advising the APA Group and AGL Energy consortium on its AUD500 million Diamantina power station.
Sources say: "A very professional, strategically minded and client-focused firm. The quality of their work is exceptionally high."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Joint head of practice Matthew Austin acts in many of the team's highlight matters. One interviewee comments: "He is very practical and proactive, he's able to simplify complex issues and focus on those that are key and critical, and he thinks strategically about the steps ahead."
Scott Singleton joined the team from Minter Ellison in 2012. He is well regarded for his wealth of experience, depth of knowledge and excellent negotiation skills: "Scott is able to leverage his extensive network of relationships with traditional owner groups and government agencies and officers, to navigate his clients through the agreement-making process."
THE FIRM This team invests considerable effort in forging constructive relationships with traditional owners and their representatives, focusing on the ever-increasing importance of reaching transparently equitable agreements in this space. It has recently handled native title future act matters, indigenous land use agreements and cultural heritage issues for the North Queensland Bulk Ports Abbot Point expansion, Anglo American Metallurgical Coal's Moranbah North mine and rail project, and SunWater's Nathan Dam development.
Sources say: "I have been impressed by the excellent quality of advice, representation and service provided by Minter Ellison's experienced and knowledgeable practitioners."
KEY INDIVIDUALS The practice is headed by Simon Ball.
THE FIRM Clients highlight this Queensland practice's approachability and excellent client service as key features. The team combines expertise in native title and cultural heritage law with knowledge of the major state, federal and indigenous organisation players. Recent headline work has included acting for Waratah Coal on indigenous land use agreements and cultural heritage management plans affecting its Galilee Basin project, advising Pangaea Resources on native title negotiations in New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and representing SunWater in a highly successful series of extinguishment of native title determinations linked to a number of its Queensland irrigation schemes.
Sources say: "Their specialised technical knowledge is explained very clearly so that all can understand. It is the easiest firm to deal with, and its advice has proved accurate from the outset. I can't fault them."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Jonathan Fulcher is widely regarded by peers and clients as one of the leading native title practitioners. He is praised as an "excellent performer all-round" who is "passionate about the area." He is further noted for "providing practical solutions to all issues, and balancing the need to maintain positive relationships with indigenous stakeholders with the commercial imperatives of operating a business."
THE FIRM This niche West Perth practice is perfectly placed to provide native title and cultural heritage advice to project proponents in resource-rich Western Australia. It has acted for such significant mining concerns as BHP Billiton, Barrick Gold and Norilsk Nickel, and has also undertaken work for indigenous clients. Notable specialisations include representing respondents in Western Australian Federal Court native title claims, and acting for pastoralists on the negotiation of indigenous land use agreements.
Sources say: "A different business model from those larger firms which have too many juniors doing the work: at Hunt & Humphry one receives top-level service from the partners."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Principal Melissa Watts is "held in universally high regard," and is noted for her "very broad and practical understanding of the mining business and the best way to facilitate land access." She has particularly extensive experience of native title proceedings in the Warden's and Federal Courts.
THE FIRM This group acts for high-profile energy clients such as Peabody and Xstrata, and also represents traditional owners. Its recent highlights include acting for the Queensland Curtis LNG Project on numerous indigenous land use agreements and cultural heritage approvals, and representing the Anangu people of Australia's West Desert in negotiations concerning the Wingellina Nickel Project. In an innovative application of native title expertise in a foreign jurisdiction, the team also advised Sagittarius Mines on its dealings with indigenous Filipino peoples who may be affected by its Tampakan Copper Gold Mine Project on Mindanao.
Sources say: "Very knowledgeable and very hands-on. They're always contactable, ready to assist whenever needed, and explain things in real-world terms."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Dominic McGann heads the department and is, according to interviewees, simply "fantastic in this area." He has accrued significant insight and experience over 25 years in practice, and is noted as a skilled negotiator who enjoys good relationships with indigenous groups, and focuses upon securing the best possible outcomes for all concerned.
THE FIRM This practice assists clients operating in Western Australia's resources space, particularly foreign corporates running projects here for the first time. In addition to advising Rico Resources on securing consent for the development of its Wonmunna iron ore project, the team has also conducted negotiations with several native title claim groups on behalf of the AUD6 billion Oakajee Port and Rail Project, and acted in a similar capacity for Crosslands Resources with regard to its Jack Hills Expansion Project.
Sources say: "DLA Piper has a depth of experience and an extensive international network to draw upon. It understands the issues, and has a thoroughly proactive approach in seeing matters to conclusion."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Alex Jones attracts strong praise from clients for providing "exceptional advice in relation to Native Title matters," and particularly where land access and land tenure issues are concerned. "He has provided very pleasing service and well-pitched advice in matters of great importance, and inspires confidence in presentations and other interactions with clients," said one interviewee.
Native Title: Traditional Owners: Australia
THE FIRM Arnold Bloch Leibler's well-established native title practice continues to act primarily for indigenous groups and their representative agencies. It is also respected by the major proponents, with whom it enjoys constructive relationships. As the financial settlements of native title matters become more sophisticated and of extended duration, the team has developed its expertise beyond the handling of traditional claim and land use agreement issues to include legal interactions between communities and the provision of strategic guidance concerning the best use of incoming revenue. Recent work includes acting for the Gumatj and Rirratjingu peoples in a landmark agreement regarding the renewal of a Rio Tinto Alcan mining lease in the Northern Territory, and helping the Yorta Yorta people secure joint management of the Barmah National Park in Victoria.
Sources say: "The firm is very highly regarded in Australia by both the indigenous sector and Commonwealth government ministers and senior personnel." "Totally objective, and performs above and beyond normal expectations."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Peter Seidel leads the team and has directed all of its most notable recent matters. In addition to representing the Gumatj, Rirratjingu and Yorta Yorta people, he has also acted for long-term client the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation on a wide range of matters, including negotiations with BHP Iron Ore and Rio Tinto Iron Ore. Clients acknowledge him as "an exceptional person with a keen insight into indigenous culture and strong legal skills," and praise his "prompt and professional" manner and "good strategic advice."
THE FIRM This native title practice acts exclusively for indigenous groups, their representative organisations, and relevant government bodies on native title, land rights and cultural heritage matters. It is active across the country, and notably advised the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr peoples in Western Australia on the potentially devastating impact of the development of a AUD45 billion LNG project at James Price Point, while in Queensland the team continues to act for the Kalkadoon people of Mount Isa. It is also helping indigenous groups to establish viable corporate governance structures in the aftermath of successful determinations.
Sources say: "A very good, historically famous, specialist firm."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Andrew Chalk leads the practice and is lead lawyer in the critical James Price Point matters. Building on expertise initially acquired in the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service, he has been representing land councils and other indigenous representative bodies for the past two decades.
Jason Behrendt is respected for his exceptional knowledge of the relevant legislation. His recent clients include the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the Eastern Maar people of Victoria.
THE FIRM HWL Ebsworth's native title offering incorporates a notable pro bono element and expertise in acting for government clients. Despite being chiefly confined to the workload of one exceptional partner in Brisbane, it also earns praise from peers for its representation of native title claimants and holders, Aboriginal representative bodies, and Commonwealth and state agencies.
Sources say: "The leading firm representing indigenous peoples."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Philip Hunter attracts universal acclaim from commentators, who praise him as "the pre-eminent indigenous peoples' solicitor" and "far and away the best native title lawyer in Australia." He has more than two decades of experience, including service on the Commonwealth Attorney-General's and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs' Native Title Payments Working Group.
THE FIRM Its small size and remote Darwin location do not prevent this team from handling significant matters in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania. More locally, in the Northern Territory, it recently represented the Gumatj clan in negotiations which led to the historic Gove Mining Agreement with Rio Tinto Alcan. It also acted for the people of Australia's largest indigenous community, at Wadeye, in a lengthy human rights action. The team has also undertaken occasional work for mining companies and the Commonwealth government.
Sources say: "Fearless negotiators at the cutting edge of big matters."
KEY INDIVIDUALS One of two practice directors, Sean Bowden is highly experienced in handling native title, land rights and land access issues, particularly where the development of major resources projects is concerned, both in and beyond the Northern Territory. He is also noted for his specialisation in advising indigenous groups and organisations on their ongoing social and economic development programmes.
THE FIRM This West Perth firm is well respected for its handling of native title and cultural heritage matters in Western Australia, acting for energy, resources, infrastructure and government clients. It also has a particularly good reputation for acting for indigenous clients, and offers corporate and commercial advice to Aboriginal representative bodies. As the firm's name suggests, it places a strong emphasis on reaching durable agreements through means other than litigation.
Sources say: "This is a strong practice on the indigenous side and is recommended for native title claim groups."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Partner Mark Gregory is praised for his "very good mediation-based work" and has nearly two decades of experience in native title and cultural heritage issues, including four years' service with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia.
of Thynne & McCartney is widely renowned for his pre-eminence in representing pastoralists in native title matters in Queensland and the Northern Territory, where he has lately been involved in nearly 100 cases for some 1,600 clients. Commentators highlight his "good judgement and integrity,
" noting in particular that he is "not frightened to give unpalatable advice.
of Gilkerson Legal is respected as a technically skilled and commercially minded lawyer who is building a substantial native title practice in Queensland. He predominantly acts for clients from the energy and resources and local government sectors, but also represents traditional owners.
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