What is Native Title?

Native title is the recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have rights and interests to land and waters according to their traditional law and customs. Traditional laws and customs mean the body of laws and customs observed by the native title holders that existed before British sovereignty, and have been passed down from generation to generation within an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander society.

Native title is governed by the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and under this Act, native title claimants can make an application to the Federal Court to have their native title recognised by Australian law.

Native title was first recognised in Australian law following the historic High Court of Australia judgement of Mabo vs Queensland (No 2) 1992. In the judgement, the High Court acknowledged the pre-existing native title rights and interests of the Meriam People in Murray Island, thus overturning the legal fiction of terra nullius (land belonging to no one). The High Court acknowledged that Indigenous people have lived in Australia for many thousands of years and enjoyed rights to their land according to their own laws and customs. The Court found that those rights survived colonisation, and they are now recognised and protected by the Australian legal system.

Passing in 1993, the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) established a process for claiming and recognising native title lands and waters in Australia. The Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) aims to balance Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples’ rights to land, and sets out how native title rights and interests fit within Australian law.

Native title requires Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to prove they have had a continuous connection to their country since British settlement.

If a person or group believes it holds native title rights or interests to an area, they need to submit an application for the determination of native title to the Federal Court; which is responsible for managing all aspects of native title.

As a Native Title Representative Body, NQLC is funded by the National Indigenous Australians Agency to progress native title claims on behalf of traditional owners within their region.

To learn more about the native title claim process within NQLC, please refer to our Native Title Claims: Legal Services page