The public policy debate on land rights, the struggle of Indigenous peoples to have their pre-colonial possession of land recognised and interests in how land rights might be exercised to fulfil Indigenous peoples’ hopes for economic development and home ownership.
Those people who have had their native title rights and interests in land legally recognised are contemplating the implications for their future prosperity. They are pondering the types of investments they can make to develop their land for social and economic purposes, the use and development rights they might temporarily exchange for income, or, as a last resort, the rights and interests they are prepared to relinquish in return for compensation.
Western Australia (WA) presents a unique case in the Australian context because, unlike other states and the Northern Territory, WA does not have a statutory Aboriginal land rights system despite its large and remote Aboriginal population.
What is termed ‘Aboriginal land’ in Western Australia covers approximately 12 per cent of the state but has generally been granted at the discretion of the Minister for Lands, or else is held in trust as a reserve for the ‘use and benefit of Aboriginal inhabitants’.1 This estate has not been transferred to Aboriginal ownership under state legislation on the basis of statutory rights conferred on Aboriginal people as the result of a formal claim based on their cultural connections to the land or waters.
According to the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma (AHRC 2005), this reflects ‘protection’ style legislation from the 19th century, which has been the basis of calls for reform of the system since the early 1980s (Seaman 1984; Bonner 1996; Casey 2007).