Catholics In Coalition for Justice and Peace

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Indigenous people lose rights and expose what it means for equality

Posted 11 Sep 2019 08:00PM

DOMINIC O’SULLIVAN. Indigenous people no longer have the legal right to say no to the Adani mine – here’s what it means for equality (The Conversation, 5 Sep 2019)


Posted in John Menadue's Pearls and Irritations Blog by Ramesh Thakur on 11 September 2019


Last week, the Queensland government extinguished native title over tracts of land in the Galilee Basin so the Adani coal mine could proceed.

This gives Adani freehold title to the land, and means the Wangan and Jagalingou native title holders’ objections no longer have the same legal significance.

But they do have moral significance, and this decision has implications for Australia’s international reputation.

Australia voted against the adoption of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, before changing its view and accepting the declaration as an “aspirational” statement in 2009, complete with its insistence that development on Indigenous lands should not take place without the Indigenous people’s “free, prior and informed consent”.

At the time, federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin explained the declaration had the potential to help reset “the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and mov[e] forward towards a new future”.

But, legally, extinguishment means the land in the Galilee Basin is no longer Indigenous land.

And while extinguishment of native title remains possible and has happened, the “aspiration” for Indigenous people to enjoy political authority over their own affairs, as the declaration promises, is severely restricted.

This means Indigenous citizenship cannot be equal. For example, insecure land rights mean the internationally-recognised human right to culture cannot be upheld.

What is native title?

Native title is regulated under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993. But the commercial interests of Adani prevailing over the rights of the Wangan and Jagalingou people shows just how fragile the act is.

Native title is the recognition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have rights to land according to their own laws and customs.

It also recognises Indigenous rights of prior occupancy. This follows the Mabo v Queensland decision of the High Court in 1992, in which the court found Australia was not terra nullius – it was not “unoccupied land” when British colonisation began.