Unfinished Business: Towards a settlement on Aboriginal land rights in the ACT

The Australia Institute has today published a discussion paper on the barriers to progress on Aboriginal land rights in the ACT.

The paper explores the issues that need to be resolved before the ACT Government can make progress on treaty discussions.

Key Findings:

  • The transfer of the land of the ACT from NSW to the Commonwealth in 1911 may not have extinguished native title.
  • There has not been a judicial decision on this for a range of reasons including poor resourcing and commitment by federal and territory governments.
  • The 2001 Namadgi National Park Agreement restricts native title claims and the restrictive clauses should be withdrawn.

“ACT Labor, Greens and Liberals have all made commitments to move forward on reconciliation and land rights issues,” said Dr Ed Wensing, report author and Adjunct Fellow at The Australia Institute.

“Progress will be difficult, however, while technical and legal hurdles stand in the way of land rights and native title claims. This paper helps identify these problems and ways around them.

“An important first step is to acknowledge that Canberra is on lands that were taken from traditional owners without their free, prior and informed consent, without a treaty, and that they have never been compensated for their losses.

“Then, the ACT should establish a Truth and Healing Commission and withdraw the restrictive clauses in the Namadgi National Park Agreement.

“A thorough search and analysis of historical land tenures and transfers from should be made and any related legal opinions made public.

“The truth is that we have failed the Aboriginal peoples of this region in the past.  We cannot erase the past, but we can change the future,” Dr Wensing said.

“The Australia Institute is proudly Canberra-based and pleased to contribute to the long-overdue movement for reconciliation and recognition of the traditional peoples of these lands,” said Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute.

“Dr Wensing’s work for The Australia Institute in the 1990s played a big role in explaining the Mabo and Wik decisions to the Australian public, so we welcome this chance to reconnect with him and his role in the history of the Institute.

“Dr Wensing’s contribution to the unfinished business of land rights and native title matters in the Act is the first comprehensive review of these issues in the ACT. It is a significant and empirical piece of research and provides a sound basis for bringing these matters to the forthcoming treaty discussions with traditional owners of the ACT,” Mr Oquist said.

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