The Role of Native Title in Securing Social Justice Outcomes: Insights from AIATSIS Summit

Australia, Human Rights


At the recent AIATSIS Summit held at the Melbourne Convention Centre, the plenary panel discussion shed light on the role of native title within a broader human rights and policy context. Katie Kiss, a Kaanju, Birri/Widi woman, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, provided insightful reflections on the significance of native title in securing durable social justice outcomes.

Kiss emphasized that native title is not just about land ownership; it is intricately linked to human rights. She highlighted that Australia has ratified several international human rights treaties and has anti-discrimination legislation at both federal and state levels. Additionally, states like Victoria, ACT, and Queensland have their own Human Rights Acts. These legal frameworks are meant to protect the rights of all individuals, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) serves as a guiding framework for respecting and realizing the rights of Indigenous peoples. Kiss emphasized that the Declaration provides governance support for Indigenous engagement with systems that interact with their rights and interests. It recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to their lands, territories, and resources, and calls for fair and transparent processes to recognize and adjudicate these rights.

However, Kiss acknowledged that despite the endorsement of the Declaration by the Australian government in 2009, it has had minimal impact on ensuring that the native title system works in the best interests of Indigenous peoples. She highlighted the challenges faced by traditional owners in navigating the opaque native title system and the need for greater transparency and effective participation.

Looking ahead, Kiss highlighted the importance of addressing key issues in a post native title landscape. This includes resolving native title compensation, empowering Prescribed Body Corporates (PBCs) in managing country and engaging with governments, and establishing treaty governance arrangements. She emphasized the critical role of governance capacity in realizing collective rights, preserving culture and heritage, and supporting well-being.

In conclusion, Kiss emphasized the need for governments to review legislative arrangements and ensure effective governance and representative organizations that operate in the best interests of Indigenous peoples. She underscored the significance of truth-telling in the broader sense and within the native title system itself, as unjust outcomes will only perpetuate unfinished business. As Australia moves forward, it is crucial to learn from past experiences and work towards a sustainable and just land settlement that upholds social justice for all.