Jobs Events Advertise

Once a milestone for progress, native title today is the 'least worst' recognition of our rights

Zak Kirkup -

Last week on the 30th Anniversary of the Mabo decision, I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Piddington Society on the history of native title.

Opened by the current chief justice Peter Quinlan, the event was mostly full of lawyers discussing the complexities of native title.

The Piddington Society is an extremely impressive, progressive group of lawyers who do a lot of work to try and not only discuss but actively address the many inequities when it comes to the Aboriginal people in the Western Australian justice system.

This panel on native title was no different.

Mention should be made of the opening speech of the chief justice, who recognised every single group of Traditional custodians across Western Australia before noting he could not have done so were it not for native title.

The simplicity of the Chief Justice's statement underscored the power of what he had to say in the moment.

As the evening progressed the conversation on the panel turned to how much progress has been made as part of native title.

Though true to an extent, I cannot look at native title as progress - but rather a reflection of a system which is complex and at times is a delaying mechanism for Indigenous people to have their laws and customs rightfully recognised on their own land.

Native title in practice is something which few without a law degree truly understand and appreciate.

Compelled not by government policy but by a decision of the High Court, it has become a political pressure-release valve which can be pointed to as a means to sometimes recognise and sometimes compensate for land which has been always occupied by the Indigenous population.

Whilst it may be celebrated by some, the truth is that native title does not empower the traditional custodians of the land but rather it envelopes them in a framework and legal process that can take decades to prove a traditional connection.

Taken to an extreme view, native title is yet another law designed to constrain Indigenous people and continue to regulate the use and custom of Indigenous lands.

After swathes of amendments and court rulings over time, we've seen the practical impact of native title be reduced to a point where it has weakened the rights of Aboriginal people to be compensated for land which was taken from them by force.

The fact that some resource companies went from hating the legislation, to embracing it, should tell you all you need to know about this issue.

As the issue of Treaty or Constitutional recognition continues to arise, Native Title legislation is often pointed to as a suitable mechanism which deals with the dispossession of Indigenous land.

In truth, native title is a weak legislative response to a very fundamental issue of land rights which was valiantly fought for by Eddie Mabo and a multitude of others.

We should not hold native title up as some exceptional government response to recognise the enduring right of Indigenous people on their own land.

It is not. It is the least worst option available to First Nations people but it should by no means be seen as the last word on this issue.

In some aspects it may have slowed progress to Treaty, but it must not be allowed to stop the important steps that need to be taken towards the final incorporation and recognition of Indigenous people.

Zak Kirkup is of Yamatji heritage and is the former leader of the Liberal Party in Western Australia

   Related   

New BHP project could yield $45m for Indigenous contractors
The BHP board has given approval to advance its Pilbara iron ore mine in Western Australia's North West that is expected to deli...
David Prestipino 27 Feb 2024
Traditional Owners critical of $28.8million federal funding for Beetaloo Basin research
Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo Basin have criticised the federal government after it confirmed a probe into whether millio...
David Prestipino 21 Feb 2024
Tributes flow after death of Indigenous pioneer of the Pilbara
Warning: this article contains a link to an earlier report which features the name and image of a person who has since died.A hi...
David Prestipino 1 Feb 2024
First Nations get a bite at lucrative commercial fisheries
Fresh opportunities are on the line for Traditional Owners and Indigenous businesses keen for a bite of Australia's lucrative $3...
David Prestipino 30 Jan 2024

   Zak Kirkup   

Queensland's milestone: A beacon to follow
This week, Queensland's political landscape saw a refreshing change with the appointment of the new Premier, Steven Miles. Follo...
Zak Kirkup 19 Dec 2023
Cook's missed opportunity as Buti sits on the brink
This week brought a wave of minor changes to the Western Australian Cabinet, as announced by Premier Roger Cook. These alt...
Zak Kirkup 8 Dec 2023
Top 5 First Nations gifts this Christmas
Christmas is just over a week away and if you're anything like me you're still chasing some last-minute gifts for friends and fa...
Zak Kirkup 15 Dec 2023
Record spend on Indigenous businesses
In a landmark achievement for Indigenous entrepreneurship in Australia, spending with Supply Nation verified Aboriginal and Torr...
Zak Kirkup 7 Dec 2023