The Native Title Act (NTA) commenced in 1993 and set out the process through the Federal Court for traditional owners to apply for recognition of their native title rights. Since then, over 400 applications have been successful and currently operate over 40% of Australia, while another 200 applications remain undecided with more being investigated and being brought every year. After nearly thirty years, traditional owners are still in the courts seeking recognition.
There are many barriers to a successful NTA claim, such as proving the existence of an ongoing cohesive tribal group with an ongoing connection to the land and observance of cultural practices. Given so many traditional owners were forcibly removed from their lands by the government and also prohibited from practising their culture, these requirements comprise a near-insurmountable obstacle to the success of these applications. This issue remains a live issue between Indigenous Australians and the government.
Nevertheless, a successful application can still be made as there are no time limits to bringing a determination claim. There are many traditional owners who have declined to ring claims due to family issues or having already secured sufficient outcomes via State land law or mining royalties. If a native title application is made, to have the best chances of success, a mob should:
- Engage a well-respected expert anthropologist to fully investigate how the claim group will be defined (by land area and description of membership), what evidence exists to prove a connection to the land and genealogical ties
- Carry out information meetings with potential claim groups to educate, share knowledge, answer questions and gain consensus for bringing a claim
- Plan and hold an authorisation meeting and set up the applicant group with clear guidelines and plans for future consultation
- Lodge the claim and proceed through negotiations with the government and other parties
We can advise interested parties on the process and assist claim groups with their legal needs. Where persons feel they need to respond to a claim brought over their land (or mob) due to some error in the application, we are here to assist as well.