• Publication Date: May 28, 2015
  • EAN: 9781862879980
  • 292 pages; 6" x 8⅝"
Filed Under: Indigenous Peoples

Native Title from Mabo to Akiba: A Vehicle for Change and Empowerment?


Product Description

Cover image taken at Mangkuna (Corkbark) on Karajarri country in the Kimberley, Western Australia – November 2014. Photography by Edward Tran. © Copyright Kimberley Land Council.

This edited collection brings together some of Australia’s foremost experts in native title to provide a realistic assessment of the achievements, frustrations and possibilities of native title, two decades since the enactment of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and after the most significant High Court decision on native title in more than ten years, Akiba v Commonwealth, which confirmed the existence of commercial native title fishing rights. The Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors come from a variety of disciplines and perspectives and include academics and practitioners from the fields of law, economics, anthropology, politics, history and community development. Uniting the book is a concern that native title make a real impact on the economic and social circumstances of Australia’s Indigenous communities.

The book consists of two parts.

Part One is entitled Legal Dynamics in the Development of Native Title. It examines the way in which Australian law has defined and often constrained the scope of this newly-recognised property right. There is a particular focus on legal issues with a direct bearing on the economic potential of native title, such as alienability and the right to trade resources and the challenges posed for anti-discrimination law.

Part Two is entitled Native Title as a Vehicle for Indigenous Empowerment. Authors provide an overview of the contribution made so far by native title and the prospects for future empowerment. Detailed mapping and analysis provides readers with a geographic orientation and a sense of realism about the economic potential of the native title estate, in comparison with achievements under a parallel statutory land rights regime. This part also explains some of the challenges Indigenous groups face in areas such as governance, land reform and internal politicking, as they operate in the shadow of the law, seeking to utilise native title for greater empowerment.


Click here to view and listen to the Indigenous Empowerment panel discussion which includes video and audio webcasts, photos and a review essay.

About the Contributors

Part One: Legal Dynamics in the Development of Native Title

The Idea of Native Title as a Vehicle for Change and Indigenous Empowerment
Sean Brennan, Megan Davis, Brendan Edgeworth and Leon Terrill

The Legal Shortcomings of Native Title
Bret Walker

A Judge’s Reflections on Native Title
Paul Finn

The Significance of the Akiba Torres Strait Regional Sea Claim Case
Sean Brennan

The Right to Resources and the Right to Trade
Lisa Strelein

The Inalienability of Native Title in Australia: A Conclusion in Search of a Rationale
David Yarrow

The Mabo ‘Vibe’ and its Many Resonances in Australian Property Law
Brendan Edgeworth

Dancing with Strangers: Native Title and Australian Understandings of Race Discrimination
Jonathon Hunyor

Part Two: Native Title as a Vehicle for Indigenous Empowerment

Burgeoning Indigenous Land Ownership: Diverse Values and Strategic Potentialities
Jon Altman and Francis Markham

The Relevance of Statutory Land Rights to Native Title and Empowerment
Andrew Chalk and Sean Brennan

Native Title, Aboriginal Self-Government and Economic Participation
Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh

Maximising the Potential for Empowerment: The Sustainability of Indigenous Native Title Corporations
Marcia Langton

Indigenous Incorporation as a Means to Empowerment
Tim Rowse

Ancestry and Rights to Country: The Politics of Social Inclusion in Native Title Negotiations
David Trigger

Hernando De Soto and Empowerment through Land Tenure Reform
Leon Terrill

Making Use of Payments: A Community Development Model
Danielle Campbell and Janet Hunt

Negotiating a Noongar Native Title Settlement
Glen Kelly and Stuart Bradfield


Legal recognition of Indigenous ownership of land was a ground breaking first step. Legislative, judicial and other hurdles to capitalising on the recognition remain and will take time to explore and overcome. Decades of neglect of Indigenous people in terms of education, self-belief and involvement in decision-making has left an initial dearth of experienced decision-makers capable of maximising the benefit of the opportunity that this recognition has presented. There are some signs of improvement and the CLC model, which has been in existence for much longer than others, shows some very positive results. Empowerment is a developing prospect. Most importantly for Indigenous people is the awareness that their condition is now changing after decades of benevolent direction. As Kelly and Bradfield write “It is up to us as Noongar, we are the people we have been waiting for”. Read full review… – Danny Masters, Law Letter, The Law Society of Tasmania, Winter/Spring 2017

This diverse collection of papers promises a critical update on native title concentrating initially on the development of the legal doctrine (Part 1) and then the broader social context via the theme of empowerment (Part 2). I evaluate the book as an anthropologist seeking greater understanding of the development of the legal doctrine of native title and furthering an interest in the social effects of native title. Read full review… – Paul Burke, Anthropological Forum, Jan 2017

The Akiba decision will probably never achieve the iconic status of Mabo, but it nevertheless marks a critically important step forward – conceptually at least – in progressing land justice for Indigenous Australians. It marks the point at which the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ traditional rights went from being largely symbolic, surviving only where they have not been extinguished by the imposition of new forms of land tenure, to having actual potential to influence people’s socioeconomic circumstances. As editor Sean Brennan (Chapter 4) argues in his contribution to this significant collection, the Akiba decision was a signal to both government and others that it was time to get on board with native title. … Overall, the impression left by this extraordinary collection of essays, along with the editors’ deft connections between them, is that leveraging native title rights in order to help improve people’s lives is very hard work, both conceptually and practically. Building and sustaining the relationships between traditional owners and third parties is enormously difficult, and the internal and external pressures on Indigenous communities are immense. In the end, native title may well prove to be a vehicle of empowerment that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples choose to ride with for a while, before disembarking to engage with another more promising strategy. But although the jury may still be out on the question of whether native title has been a force for positive social change, this volume confirms that its historical importance is beyond dispute. – Pamela Faye McGrath, Aboriginal History, 2016

This book explores a live, and lively, issue: the extent to which native title can be used to achieve economic empowerment. The question mark in its title is aptly placed, for as the editors note, “[n]ative title is no conveyor belt, automatically transporting people from a place of political or economic marginalisation to somewhere better” (p.2). Here the law is Janus-faced: “both a colonising and a decolonising doctrine”, in the words of Lisa Strelein (p.44). … This absorbing and timely book is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in native title or legal history. Read full review… – Sarah Burnside, Australian Journal of Politics and History, September 2016

The Prime Minister recently handed title deeds for around 52,000 hectares of land on the Cox Peninsula near Darwin to a group of traditional owners, settling one of Australia’s longest-running native title claims 37 years after the initial claim was made. This diverse collection of essays explores many of the issues that were relevant to that land claim and the many factors that influence the capacity for native title to generate greater Indigenous empowerment and economic progress. This is generally achieved through analysis of factors relating to the courts’ exploration of native title law and legislative development since the Mabo decision in 1992. There are several notable contributors, including Justice Paul Finn, who gave the judgment in Akiba in 2010, and Bret Walker SC, who writes about the deep unfairness and excessive technicality of Australian native title law. … Of particular interest is a chapter discussing the differing considerations and economic benefits in alienating (or selling) native title land. … I particularly enjoyed Jon Altman and Francis Markham’s essay … which visually maps Indigenous land ownership and discusses the resource value and strategic potential of the differing forms of property rights arising from native title. – Edward Campbell, Ethos, ACT Law Society, September 2016

This edited book, Native Title from Mabo to Akiba, provides a comprehensive picture of key features of contemporary native title including the context for the shift in how we understand its potential. … The book does not shy away from explaining the necessary relationship between colonial expansion, and the ongoing artful and awful dispossession of Indigenous Australians. Thus importantly for contemporary debates about constitutional reform and treaty, sovereignty is never far from discussions in this book about land. The organisation of chapters in?the first part, and the authors’ critical approaches, highlight the connectedness of land, culture, dispossession, law, self-determination, sovereignty, and economic outcomes. This serves as a timely remedy to the tendency of public discussions about ‘Indigenous affairs’ to segregate varied yet interconnected issues. This book canvasses a range of authorial experiences that cover the field of native title doctrinally, pragmatically and conceptually. Its importance lies, in my view, in collecting in one volume contemporary and progressive thinking about Indigenous empowerment in Australia, hinging off two legal watersheds — as imperfect as they are. The book therefore has wide appeal, and will be accessible to audiences beyond lawyers, legal scholars, legal practitioners and anthropologists. It is a must-read for all involved in Indigenous policy and the layperson who wishes to gain an understanding of the complex landscape native title and beyond. Read review… – Kate Galloway, Alternative Law Journal, Vol 41(2) 2016

Since the passage of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and related law reform, legal rights and interests in a significant and growing estate have been transferred to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups around Australia. As Jon Altman and Francis Markham explain in their contribution to this edited collection, this estate now comprises more than thirty per cent of the continent, and includes areas with significant mineral deposits as well as other economic development opportunities. Yet frustrations with the native title system remain so strongly felt that the subtitle of this collection – native title as ‘a vehicle for change and empowerment’ – is presented here in the form of a question. Offering diverse perspectives from legal practitioners and academics, this collection asks why such change and empowerment has proved so difficult to achieve, and what might be done to improve the system. … A strength of this book is its frank account of the problems of the native title system. Read review… – Richard Martin, Australian Book Review, August 2016

It is nearly a quarter of a century since the momentous High Court decision in Mabo (No 2) v The State of Queensland was handed down. That decision – recognising the existence of native title – remains an important milestone in the history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities of Australia. In this timely work, the editors have assembled an impressive array of distinguished authors ?… It is a vexed and unresolved question given the momentous act of dispossession that is at the core of the foundation of the Australian nation state. Personally, I found this the most interesting part of the book. And it makes crystal clear that native title is not the panacea to reckon with the legacy and enduring effects of colonial dispossession on Indigenous communities and any advancement remains gradual and is part of a wider political context. Read review… – Richard Edney, InPrint, Law Institute Journal Victoria, July 2016

This collection of essays is greater than the sum of its parts, offering much to interested bystanders as well as to participants in the native title system. It not only presents an overarching analysis of native title, but also allows contributors to focus on different elements of the landscape and air disagreements on some key issues. As a result, its seventeen chapters resonate with ideas and analysis, and display both the vibrant state of native title today and its dizzying complexity. Read full review… – Michael Dillon, Inside Story, July 2015

It has been a little over 20 years since the High Court’s recognition of native title in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) and the subsequent enactment of the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993. Despite high hopes for native title at that time, it has failed to live up to its expectations. The subsequent development of native title by courts and legislators has placed significant constraints on the ability for native title claim groups to gain recognition. This collection of essays traces the development of native title from Mabo to the High Court’s recent decision in Akiba v Commonwealth, which appears to adopt a less rigid approach to the existence and extinguishment of native title rights. The authors ask how native title can be better used as a tool to effect change and as a source of empowerment for Indigenous people? This book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the legal dynamics in the development of native title. It addresses the problems inherent in the current doctrine of native title, such as its inconsistency with other types of property rights; the requirement for maintenance of traditional laws and customs, which does not take adequate account of English settlement; and the High Court’s “bundle of rights” approach to native title. The second part considers native title as a vehicle for Indigenous empowerment. Case studies of successful strategies are given, including the Noongar Native Title Settlement with Western Australia. Issues such as self-governance of native title claim groups, the means by which members of a claim group are identified and native title as a means of economic enhancement are also considered. This book is a thorough look at native title from a variety of perspectives, and at the place of native title within a broader conception of property. It is of interest to native title practitioners, law and policy makers, social justice advocates and those with an interest in property law more generally. – Queensland Law Reporter – 3 July 2015 – [2015] 25 QLR

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