Mabo Day - a long way to go yet

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Today is a time for reflection because although Australians should celebrate this milestone, there is still a long way to go pursuing native title recognition, especially in NSW, said Deputy NSW Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Linda Burney.

Thirteen years ago for the first time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were granted native title in relation to their traditional lands.

“As of March 2015 native title has been determined to exist over only 0.2 per cent of NSW,” Ms Burney said.

The claim by the late Eddie Koiki Mabo and his co-plaintiffs brought about the High Court’s decision which led to the passing of the Commonwealth Native Title Act (1993).

“What became known as the Mabo decision was pivotal because the courts overturned the notion of terra nullius for the first time, acknowledging that Australia was inhabited prior to British invasion, and changed the scope of relations between traditional owners and governments, farmers and, importantly, mining and resource companies in Australia,” Ms Burney said.

“For traditional owners, place is environmentally, culturally and historically significant: the relationship between people and land is two-way and respectful. Looking after the land is a responsibility that requires care and all decisions must be negotiated communally.

“Land cannot be exclusively owned and it is not a commodity with a commercial value that can be bought, sold or dug up.

“In NSW there is still a great deal of work required to remedy the dispossession of Aboriginal people.”

The NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed in 1983 under the Wran Labor Government which allowed Aboriginal people to claim Crown land, which is different to native title.

“Still, only another 0.2 per cent of the total land mass of NSW is owned by Aboriginal Land Councils under this legislation,” Ms Burney said.

“This is a shocking statistic and is indicative of how little the Liberal Government is doing to protect and promote Aboriginal culture in this state.

“We have a long way to go to enhance economic development and the social, cultural and spiritual wellbeing of our First Peoples.

“Encouraging and supporting education initiatives, improving accessible health services, providing housing and job creation opportunities are some of the ways to improve the outcomes for Aboriginal people in NSW.

“Despite these achievements in land rights and native title there still is an enormous discrepancy between the life choices and chances of Aboriginal people and the rest of Australians.”