2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of the
New South Wales Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 ('the
Act'), recently celebrated as part of NAIDOC week.
The 1983 Act, passed by the Wran Labor Government, was New South
Wales' first piece of land rights legislation. The Act followed
a two year consultation period, facilitated by a Legislative
Assembly Select Committee chaired by Maurice Keane, which involved
4,000 individuals across the State and received 262
The Act significantly acknowledged prior ownership and
occupancy, made unused Crown Land available to claim and
established mechanisms to facilitate Aboriginal self-determination.
While some Aboriginal activists at the time felt that the Act did
not go far enough, the High Court's previous Justice Kirby once
characterised the Act as "little short of revolutionary",
considering its pre-Mabo context.
To mark the anniversary the History Council of NSW organised a
seminar during NAIDOC week titled "
Daring ideas: Is Land Rights Enough?". A panel of
lawyers, lecturers, activists and those involved with the
administration of the Act discussed and debated the Act's
current operation. There seemed to be consensus amongst the
participants, and members of the audience, that while the Act
represented a significant step forward, there is still a way to go
to deliver meaningful land rights to Aboriginal Australians.
SPOTLIGHT ON INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS
In March this year the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, announced
before the Sydney Institute that if elected a Coalition government
would move the ministerial portfolio of Indigenous Affairs into the
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. He commented that
"there will be in effect a Prime Minister for Aboriginal
affairs." The Prime Minister has confirmed in a letter to
the Australian population that he will now take these steps.
While Aboriginal leaders have reportedly praised the policy, the
previous Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Jenny Macklin,
has labelled it nothing more than "bureaucratic
The Federal Government has only relatively recently been
empowered to legislate on Aboriginal Affairs.
1967 90.77% of Australians voted in favour of amending the
Constitution to permit Aboriginal Australians to be counted in the
census and the Commonwealth to make laws relating to Indigenous
Australians. Previously, Aboriginal Affairs had been the purview of
State and Territory Parliaments.
While the 1967 Referendum created great hope for change and
improvement in the lives of Indigenous Australians, arguably this
has not been the reality. Namely, it is reported that today
Indigenous Australians remain overrepresented in the criminal
justice system, have a significantly lower life expectancy than the
non-Indigenous population and, as was discussed in our
August newsletter, are still suffering the "devastating
effects" of forced child removal as well as dispossession from
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Because of the high costs, royal commissions should only be convened to address issues of substantial public importance.
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