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Indigenous good governance begins with communities and institutions

By Jackie Huggins - posted Monday, 13 October 2003

We have reached a pivotal time in Indigenous affairs when for the first time, national attention is being paid to the horror of Indigenous family violence in this country.

For the first time, an Australian Prime Minister has held a summit in the national capital to listen to concerns and ideas on this issue from a group of Indigenous leaders.

For the first time, we are reading editorials about the suffering of Indigenous women and children in our newspapers. For the first time, perhaps we have a chance to do something solid, sensible, sensitive and coordinated to stop the violence that is destroying our communities.


So what does all this have to do with the fundamental issue of native title?

What does it have to do with Indigenous governance?

To answer these questions, let me go back to the preamble to the Native Title Act of 1993.

It begins:

The people whose descendants are now known as Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders were the inhabitants of Australia before European settlement.

They have been progressively dispossessed of their lands. This dispossession occurred largely without compensation, and successive governments have failed to reach a lasting and equitable agreement with Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders concerning the use of their lands.


It goes on to refer to the High Court's Mabo Decision and the overturning of the myth of terra nullius. And then it shifts from the language of fact, into a promising language of intent:

The people of Australia intend:

  • to rectify the consequences of past injustices by the special measures contained in this Act, announced at the introduction of this Act into the Parliament, or agreed on by the Parliament from time to time, for securing the adequate advancement and protection of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders; and
  • to ensure that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders receive the full recognition and status within the Australian nation to which history, their prior rights and interests, and their rich and diverse culture, fully entitle them to aspire. "
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This is an exract from a speech given to the 10th Annual Cultural Heritage and Native Title Conference, held in Brisbane on 30 September 2003.

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About the Author

Jackie Huggins is Deputy Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Unit at the University of Queensland and Co-chair of Reconciliation Australia.

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Reconciliation Australia
University of Queensland ATSISU
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