The native title system remains challenging 20 years after Mabo but there’s still cause to be optimistic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said today.
Speaking ahead of this Sunday’s 20 year anniversary of the historic decision, Commissioner Gooda said Mabo’s recognition that terra nullius was a myth was a defining moment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Mabo was also a moment that divided the Australian community, with the mining industry and some state governments particularly strident in their opposition, fuelled in no small part by headlines peddling ill-founded fears that the humble backyard would soon be swallowed up by Aboriginal and Torres Strait land claims,” Commissioner Gooda said.
“But Eddie Mabo’s victory represented so much more than an argument about land rights.
“As Professor Mick Dodson, the inaugural Social Justice Commissioner observed in 1994, the ‘recognition of native title was more than a recognition of Indigenous property interests, it is also about the recognition of our human rights,’” he said.
“Native title was – and is – a promise to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s traditional connection to, and rights and interests in, their lands, territories and resources.
“The process of recognising native title itself has been frustrating, bringing hope and expectation of the return of country on the one hand, but opening up tensions and wounds around connections to country, family histories and community relationships on the other hand,” he said.
“Despite all this, I am optimistic that the original promise of the Mabo decision can still be realised.”
Mr Gooda said amendments introduced into Parliament in February this year are being considered within the context of Australian government support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration provides that States are to establish and implement ‘a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process … to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources’.
“The Declaration requires us to go further than merely tinkering at the edges of native title reform,” he said.
“This reform Bill is a big step in the right direction but we need to go much further to ensure that the Native Title Act is consistent with the Declaration in upholding the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597
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