Lessons in history in the high court's approach to native title in Australia

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Copyright: Dominello, Francesca Giorgia
The High Court decision in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) was interpreted by some as bringing to an end a history of discrimination and dispossession of indigenous peoples' lands. In this respect it was located within the new history movement in Australia - a movement which has raised awareness of the impact that colonisation has had on indigenous peoples in Australia. ln this thesis the extent to which Mabo was in fact a product of the new history movement in Australia is examined. An analysis of the results in the more recent High Court cases on native title such as Western Australia v Ward and Members of the Members of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v Victoria reveals that the promises that came with native title recognition in Mabo have not been fulfilled. ln Ward the native title claim was partially accepted; in Yorta Yorta lhe claim was completely rejected. But as the analysis further reveals the shortcomings of the native title regime as demonstrated by these cases can be partly located in the Mabo decision itself. One of the contributions that some new historians have made to the writing of Australian history has been to reveal how the perceived differences between indigenous peoples and the colonists resulted in the perception of indigenous peoples as inferior beings. In turn, such perceptions worked to legitimise their dispossession in the native title context, indigenous peoples are no longer to be perceived as inferior (the rejection of the terra nullius doctrine in Mabo was an acknowledgement that indigenous peoples did have their own laws and social organisation) However the perception that they are different remains in the way that laws for them are constructed: native title may be recognised by the common law, but it is not part of the common law. As it is argued in this thesis the perceived differences in the origins of native title and the Australian common law has resulted in the inferior r treatment of native title. Potential solutions are canvassed in the thesis. Included among them is the need to give recognition to Aboriginal sovereignty However, it is concluded that if any change is to take place it must involve changing perceptions of indigenous peoples so that the protection of their interests may be more broadly construed as being in the interests of Australia.
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Dominello, Francesca Giorgia
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