Posted: June 3rd, 2014
Today marks 22 years since the landmark decision Mabo v. Queensland (No 2). That High Court decision overturned the doctrine of terra nullius, which was the legal fiction that Australia was unoccupied land when the British arrived, and had allowed Australian governments to ignore Aboriginal land rights for so long. The High Court found that native title exists, and that traditional owners have rights to the land, in accordance with traditional systems of law, except where those rights have been expressly extinguished (for example, through private ownership).
As a result of the High Court decision, the Federal Government, led by Prime Minister Paul Keating, introduced the Native Title Act 1993 to say how native title can be recognised.
The anniversary of the High Court decision, 3 June, is a public holiday in the Torres Strait every year, and also marks the end of National Reconciliation Week.