Native Title: when Australia changed
Reconciliation Week spans the anniversaries of two major events in Australia’s history: the 1967 Referendum and the High Court of Australia’s decision in Mabo v Queensland (No 2).
The High Court’s landmark decision on 3 June 1992 recognised for the first time in Australian law the pre-existing rights that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have in their land stemming from traditional laws and customs.
The following year, the Parliament of Australia passed the Native Title Act which created a system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to make a native title claim over their land.
As of 5 May 2019, there have been 460 native title determinations, with a further 223 native title claims still moving through the system. This means 37% of land in Australia has a recognised native title interest in it.
Once native title is determined, the Native Title Act requires the creation of a prescribed body corporate (PBC) to represent and manage the group’s native title rights and interests. There are currently 200 PBCs across Australia.
Gaining native title over their land gives the group greater power to realise their social, economic and cultural aspirations and maximise the benefits of their native title rights and interests.