3rd June 2020
Today is the 28th Anniversary of the High Court decision on the 3rd of June 1992, which overturned the Terra Nullius declaration - the statement that Australia was once land that belonged to no-one. This day commemorates Torres Strait Islander Eddie Koiki Mabo, and his fight to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples rights to their land recognised.
Since the Mabo decision, there have been 496 Native title determinations made by a court or other recognised body. More statistics and details are avialable at the National Native Title Tribunal website, available here:
The following are excerpts from an SBS News published an article today, available here:
Mr Jamie Lowe, a Gunditjmara Djabwurrung man, said he will use Mabo Day this year as a chance to reflect on how important the Mabo decision was, but how few moments there have been like it since. "Close to 30 years down the track, the progress has been stagnant ... There is a lot of unfinished business," he said. "We've had small wins here and there, but they are few and far between."
He said the faltering discussion around treaties at a federal level was perhaps the most disappointing. Some states and territories have moved towards treaties, but the federal government remains firmly opposed.
"The situations that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people find themselves in - going to prison, going hungry, overcrowded houses ... To really make progress and make change, we need to reconcile with our Indigenous people though treaty-making."
Patricia Lane was the first registrar of the National Native Title Tribunal from 1994-1997 and is now a barrister and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney. She said the 28 years since the Mabo decision turned out differently than some expected.
"Indigenous people thought this may be a new era of recognition of their rights - that hasn't panned out as they thought." Ms Lane said state governments had often been a roadblock in further progress on native title. "What's probably held things back a bit is state governments haven't really been prepared to negotiate more broadly ... They all put up particular barriers," she said.
Michael Mansell, the chairman of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, took aim at his state government in an interview with SBS News. "From 1995 to 2005, less than one per cent of the state was returned ownership to Aboriginal people," he said. "But since 2005, in that last 15 years, no land has been returned to Aboriginal people at all. Successive Liberal and Labor governments have dropped the ball and they've lost momentum on reconciliation that was established in the 1990s."
Information released on Mabo Day last year said: "37 per cent of all land in Australia now has a recognised native title interest in it. This figure will grow to about 60 per cent once all claims are finalised."
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
ADACAS would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Country on which we work and live (the Ngunnawal, Djiringanj, Walbunja, Monaro, Brinja and the Thaua) and to extend our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia for their continuing resilience and open hearts in the face of historic and present day human rights violations against them.
ADACAS would also like to acknowledge, and give thanks for the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this land that enrich all Australians and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to all Elders past, present and emerging.
In the spirit of reconciliation week and for the days to follow ADACAS extends our gratitude to all First Nations Peoples of this Country; we commit to upholding the human rights of our First Nations Peoples and in that spirit acknowledge that we live and work on stolen lands and that sovereignty was never ceded.
“Reconciliation isn’t a single moment or place in time. It’s lots of small, consistent steps, some big strides, and sometimes unfortunate backwards steps …” – Karen Mundine – Chief Executive Officer, Reconciliation Australia
“There can be no reconciliation without social justice.” Pat Dodson
Michael Bleasdale (ADACAS CEO), Helen McDermitt (Chair ADACAS Board)
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