Paul Keating responds to Mabo decision

This is the soundtrack of an address to the nation by the then Prime Minister Paul Keating, on 15 November 1993, explaining the Australian Government's response to the High Court's Mabo decision. Keating begins by discussing the moral and legal implications of the decision. He then announces that a Bill to implement the decision will be introduced into the Australian Parliament. The Prime Minister describes the background to native title and the Mabo judgment. He concludes by outlining the objectives, values and consequences of the legislation.

Educational value

  • This soundtrack provides the most detailed statement in support of the recognition and implementation of native title made by an Australian prime minister. In the address Paul Keating (1944–) asserts his unqualified support for the High Court's ruling, which 'rejected a lie and acknowledged a truth', describing the ruling as 'unquestionably just' and a historic opportunity to right a wrong. He emphasises the pivotal role the Australian Government should play in establishing the standards to implement native title.
  • One of the central aims of this address was to create a sense of certainty and resolution among the Australian public about the Mabo decision. Some feared that claims would be made for private property. Keating called upon Australians' commitment to 'a fair go' in an attempt to build support for the implementation of native title, describing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' enduring connection to the land.
  • The main features of the Native Title Act 1993 when it was passed by the Australian Parliament were much as the Prime Minister outlined in this address. The Act recognised and protected native title, established a mechanism for determining claims for native title and set up standards and procedures for future dealings affecting native title, such as approval for minerals development.
  • The High Court decision in Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2), handed down on 3 June 1992, upheld the claims of five plaintiffs, one of whom was Edward 'Eddie' Koiki Mabo (1936–92) from Mer (Murray Island), in the Torres Strait. Mabo had become fiercely determined to have his traditional land on Mer recognised as his own after learning that it was officially regarded as crown land – that is, government owned. Mabo died before the judgment was handed down.
  • As Keating points out in this speech, the doctrine that Australia was 'terra nullius' (land belonging to no-one) at the time of British colonisation was the legal foundation for the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their lands. The consequences of the dispossession they experienced were dire. In recognising native title, the High Court also repudiated terra nullius.
  • Judicial and administrative procedures for determining whether native title had survived and what rights it conferred posed the greatest of the complex challenges Keating identifies. The High Court found that native title can continue to exist where certain conditions are met and that particular rights are determined by the traditional law and customs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

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This learning content – description and educational value statement – co-created by National Digital Learning Resource Network and National Archives of Australia.

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