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The Mabo Case and Recognition of Native Title Rights

Discuss about the Reconciliation and Colonial Power System.

The decision given in Mabo has modified the foundation of land law in Australia by capsizing the terra nullius doctrine, which means that the ‘land belonged to no one’. The British claimed their possession of Australia based on the doctrine of terra nullius. The concept of native title in the Australian Law emerged from the notion of terra nullius where the Mabo case recognized of traditional rights of the Merriam people upon their islands that was located in the Eastern Torres Strait (Libby and McKenna 2017).

In the Mabo case, the Court held that native title of all the indigenous people existed before the establishment of the British Colony of New South Wales in 1978 (Gilberthorpe and Hilson 2016). The decision of the court led to the enactment of the Native Title Act 1993 [Cth] which stipulated the legislative framework enabling the indigenous people of Australia to seek recognition of their native title rights (Moreton-Robinson 2015). The major five essential issues associated with the legal precedent in the Mabo decision that recognized the rights of the indigenous people in Australia includes:

  1. application of the non-discrimination principle while enjoying the property rights;
  2. explaining the operation of sovereign title of the Crown;
  • asserting the state’s power to oppress the native title rights;
  1. recognizing the source of rights in indigenous custom and law along with the native title;
  2. reviewing the implications of the settled status of Australia;

The passing of the Native Title Act 1933 (Cth) purported to achieve the following essential objectives:

  1. to ensure protection and recognition of native title;
  2. to establish various ways to deal with future dealings affecting the native title and to maintain standards for such dealings;
  • to permit or provide for the transitional period acts;
  1. to validate former acts which were otherwise rendered invalid because of the existence of the native Title;
  2. to establish a method to assess the claims pertaining to native title;

However, in the year of enactment of the Native title Act, the Western Australian government attempted to prevent the Commonwealth legislation by enacting their own legislation which suppressed all the native title within the state and replaced native title with the ‘traditional land use’ statutory access rights (McDonald 2015). Nevertheless, when the Commonwealth Acts and WA legislation were challenged in the High Court, it was held that Commonwealth legislation prevails over state legislation if the state legislation is found to be inconsistent and invalid thus, affirming the enactment of the Native Title Act (Gilberthorpe and Hilson 2016).

The decision in Mabo case has acknowledged the existence of custom and Aboriginal law before the British colonization and establishment of the nation. In the legal context, the decision recognized the connection of the Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders with land and waters, which ultimately led to the enactment of the Native Title Act in 1993. This decision signifies the conformity of the Australian law with the modern concept of justice and human rights (Morton 2017).

Although the decision provided in the Mabo case [No 2] awarded certain land rights to the indigenous people, which was rejoiced, but the conditions that were cited along with the decision had an adverse impact on the indigenous people. The evidence threshold along with the decision of the High court narrowed the potential of the Native Title legislation and Mabo. The evidence threshold required the claimant to establish that they existed prior to the establishment of British sovereignty (Short 2016). The claimants of the native land were also required to prove that they have been practicing law and custom until the present day without being subjected to any interruptions.

This condition was very difficult for the claimants to establish, as there were possibilities that such group was forcibly removed from the land where they practiced their laws and customs without any interruptions and have maintained their spiritual connection with such land. This claimant test is perceived to be unfair and it narrows down the implementation of the Native Title legislation (McGrath 2016).

Five Essential Issues Associated with the Mabo Decision

The decision had recognized the presence of Indigenous people within Australia at the time of British colonization. However, the term ‘recognition’ can be characterized by several sovereign legal powers. This sovereign power entails the power to suppress the land rights for the indigenous people. However, the decision given in  Wik Peoples v The State of Queensland [1996] that was brought under the Native Title Act stated that Native Title could co-exist with pastoral leases (Gilberthorpe and Hilson 2016).

The Australian government introduced the ‘ten-point plan’ and amended the Native Title Act in 1998, which included 12 agreements. Presently, there are number of cases relating to Native Title that are determined all over the country with most of the claims being resolved mutually between the claimants. The decision of Mabo has resulted in several indigenous land tenure or statutory land rights amongst which most of the cases involved some form of co-management or co-existence agreement for land and waters between the non-indigenous groups and indigenous groups (Powell, McMahon and Jones 2017). Although the advantages resulting from the decision is uneven across the nation failing to ensure culturally appropriate economic benefits for the communities, the legacy of Mabo persists to be fundamentally significant.

The Native Title Act was enacted to enable the Aboriginal people mediate and negotiate while resolving disputes related to their recognition with their native land (Powell, McMahon and Jones 2017). However, the statute is often subjected to criticisms for failing to include the perspective of the Aboriginals and denies their indigenous rights.

The statute has been criticized for its requisite to establish that the aboriginals have prolonged and ongoing relation with the traditional customs and laws of the land since the European settlement.

This requirement to prove ‘ongoing connection’ with the land is difficult to establish on the following grounds:

  1. the widespread agricultural or urbanization development had oppressed the native title;
  2. the requirement is expensive and limited expense is available to develop these reports in Australia;
  • the requirement to establish traditional connection requires them to go back to the date when the Crown possessed sovereignty over Australia;

Further, it takes decades for the Aboriginal people to establish their claims on the land but it takes only few days for the government to acquire such land. Native title groups may include state, local and Commonwealth governments along with the representatives from pastoral, pearling, telecommunications and several other industries. McGrath (2016) states that while the statute was enacted to enable the aboriginals mediate and negotiate to resolve their issues, at the same time, the numerous and diverse parties forming the native groups finds such mediation process complicate as they do not interact with each other.

Furthermore, overlapping of claims arises when more than one aboriginal group claims for the same area or water resources, which may cause delay or even, overturn the original native title claims (Gilberthorpe and Hilson 2016).

McGrath (2016) asserts that the government is responsible for compensating to the Aboriginals whenever it acquires their traditional area, however, at times, governments even fail to perform this obligation, thus, depriving them of basic services like education, housing and health that the government usually deliver instead of making monetary compensation.

The Australian government has declared that it would make reforms to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and develop a native title system that is not only fair and sustainable but also provides socio-economic opportunities for the indigenous Australians. After 20 years of the implementation of the legislation including the decision of the Wik’s case, the Australian Law Reform Commission shall conduct a review of the statute (McDonald 2015).

The review of the statute shall be conducted with respect to areas that is related to ‘connection provision’ that is, the legal provisions which identifies the interests and rights comprising the native title within the Australia legal system. The second review shall be conducted with respect to areas, which entails the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander group that can bring a native title claim (Powell, McMahon and Jones 2017).

However, even after 20 years of implementation, the inquiry shall assess the evidence that must be established to validate the claim made under the statute. While assessing the evidence, it shall also have regards to the evolution of the notion of native title in Australia (Morton 2017). The government has affirmed that the terms of the statute shall be examined to ensure that the system is sufficient to meeting the needs of the aboriginals or the indigenous group effectively. The review shall not only examine the Native Title service providers but shall also consider role played and the impact of the other service providers on the indigenous groups belonging to the native title (Powell, McMahon and Jones 2017).

References

Gilberthorpe, E. and Hilson, G., 2016. Mining in Aboriginal Australia: Economic Impacts, Sustainable Livelihoods and Cultural Difference at Century Mine, Northwest Queensland. In Natural Resource Extraction and Indigenous Livelihoods(pp. 53-72). Routledge.

Libby, C. and McKenna, M., 2017. Western Australia: Permits to enter: a requirement for marking out land the subject of a native title determination. Australian Resources and Energy Law Journal, 36(2), p.28.

Mabo v Queensland (No 2) [1992] HCA 23

McDonald, J., 2015. Culture Clash: National Heritage Values, Native Title, and the GDP. The Pilbara Crisis: Resource Frontiers in Western Australia,” edited by Melissa F. Baird and Jane Lydon, Cultural Anthropology website, December, 16.

McGrath, P.F., 2016. Right to Protect Sites: Indigenous Heritage Management in the Era of Native Title, The. Right to Protect Sites: Indigenous Heritage Management in the Era of Native Title, The, p.xxii.

Moreton-Robinson, A., 2015. The white possessive: Property, power, and indigenous sovereignty. University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, J., 2017. ‘Mother's Blood, Father's Land’: Native Title and Comparative Land Tenure Modelling for Claims in ‘Settled’Australia. Oceania, 87(1), pp.58-77.

Native Title Act 1993 (Cth)

Powell, G., McMahon, S. and Jones, D., 2017. Aboriginal Voices and Inclusivity in Australian Land Use Country Planning. KnE Engineering, 2(2), pp.30-36.

Short, D., 2016. Reconciliation and colonial power: Indigenous rights in Australia. Routledge.

Wik Peoples v The State of Queensland [1996] HCA 40 187 CLR 1

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My Assignment Help. (2019). The Mabo Decision: Impact On Land Law In Australia. Retrieved from https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/reconciliation-and-colonial-power-system.

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[Accessed 24 July 2024].

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