Background

Native Title in Australia is the recognition under Commonwealth law that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights and interests to lands and waters accoring to their traditional laws and customs.

In 1993 the High Court awarded an historic victory to Eddie Koiki Mabo and the people of Mur Island in the Torres Strait. 

The Mabo decision signalled the end of the fiction of ‘terra nullius’ and recognition in law of the First Peoples as the Traditional Owners of this land.

Native title laws enacted in 1993 were intended to ‘rectify past injustices’ and raised hopes that the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be measurably improved.

Since that time, the native title system has become complex, costly and slow, with the odds weighted against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Looking back on nearly 30 years since the Mabo decision, it is clear that we have made significant progress. But the promise of Mabo has not yet been fully realised.

For recent developments in Native Title, see the Timber Creek Compensation Case