The Mabo decision was a fundamental shift in the legal conception of Australia. The state could no longer hide behind the common law of settlement and terra nullius when denying the place of Indigenous peoples in the constitutional makeup of the nation. The law now admits of the existence of Indigenous legal systems that create rights and obligations alongside the Australian legal system. The law has yet to fully develop the implications of that recognition.
The recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples also creates a more complex understanding of citizenship in Australia. Indigenous peoples have the same rights as all citizens. This is our understanding of equality and remains a primary goal of Indigenous activists in areas such as health, housing and criminal law. But, Indigenous peoples also have rights that derive from their status as the first peoples of this land. This recognises that, at the time Australia became a nation, there were two groups of sovereigns whose political and legal systems operated in the territories - they were the colonies on the one hand and the Indigenous peoples on the other. With the recognition of native title, the legitimacy of the laws and society of Indigenous peoples within this relationship can no longer be denied.
Keywords: Mabo judgement, national identity, 1992-
Author: Strelein, Lisa