Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Native Title and the seven-year itch

By Graham Ring - posted Thursday, 21 September 2006

Native Title is a dodgy conveyance. If it was a car, it would be a late 80s family sedan, belching black smoke, and struggling to exceed speeds of 50kph going down hill. The recalcitrant wreck would refuse to start on cold winter mornings, and spend more time in the mechanics shop than on the road. People would look at it and say “that car is cactus” and things even more vulgar.

It would be stating the bleeding obvious to observe that the machine was moribund.

But native title isn't a car. It's an impossibly tortuous set of court cases, pieces of legislation, courts, bureaucracies, lawyers, anthropologists and assorted other hangers-on.


Sometimes the Indigenous claimants themselves even get a look-in.

Now the legislators are at it again, tinkering with the carburettor on a car whose engine has given up the ghost.

Recently the federal Attorney General, “smiling” Phillip Ruddock released the Federal Government's response to the Hiley report, or more properly the Native Title Claims Resolution Review (pdf 468KB) (government committees of enquiry are not permitted to have titles of less than five words).

Conventional wisdom is that native title operates to get Indigenous groups “a seat at the table”. That is, an entrée to negotiations.

This reduces the expectations of all concerned and creates a scenario where a minimum of progress is all that anyone really expects. With the application of enough spin it can even be made to look good.

The 1992 Mabo decision unleashed a stallion, albeit hobbled by the subsequent Native Title Act. However, the current evocation looks more like a Shetland pony.


It's a gentle animal with little power, plodding around a well-worn track and causing no offence to anyone. But in this circus, it's the lawyers who take the taxpayers for a ride.

The mob with the unfortunate job of having to manage the native title bureaucracy is the National Native Title Tribunal. They have to umpire a game using rules that are not of their writing. It's a tough gig.

Over time, I've had a bit to do with the tribunal. The people that I deal with there are invariably friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. But the scoreboard looms over the whole industry like a tombstone.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 113, September 7, 2006.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

15 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Graham Ring

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Graham Ring
Article Tools
Comment 15 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy