Australian Legal Case: The Mabo Case

Australian Legal Case: The Mabo Case

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Australian Legal Case: The Mabo Case


The Mabo case commenced in the late 70's about an Aborigine Eddie Mabo
who fought for his land on Murray Island, part of the Torres Strait.
The issue that started the court case was when Mr Mabo appealed for a
permit from the Queensland Government to visit the island. His
proposal was declineed so he was unable to return home to visit his
homeland.

In 1981, in James Cook University where Eddie Mabo was working at the
time, the students called a discussion on land rights in Australia. It
was decided at the conference that the issue of a land claim by the
Murray Islanders to traditional title would be taken to the High
Court. With major local party support, including legal experts with
significant experience in land rights legislation they set off to
claim that Mabo had the right to visit his homeland.. The aim of the
case was to make the law decide that the Islanders owned the land not
the Euopeans

[IMAGE] The case was motioned to the High Court at first, however they
had to take it to their State Court the Supreme Court of Queensland
first. The Queensland Government acted in response and they passed an
unexpected piece of legislation through the House without any debate -
the Torres Strait Islands Coastal Islands Bill. The Act quoted: 'Any
rights that Torres Strait Islanders had to land after the claim of
sovereignty in 1879 is hereby extinguished without compensation'.

This was how the Mabo case started with an honourable aim. The main
aim of the case was to prove that the Queensland Government breached
the Bill breached the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. It was also a
case to make the Commonwealth government aware that Native Australians
had the right to the so called "terra nullius", the name given to
Australia when the Europeans first arrived meaning empty land. The
case went back to the Supreme Court of Queensland where Justice
Moynihan gave a presentation of the facts of the case.

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In June 1992
years after Eddie Mabos death, the High Court declared that Eddie Mabo
had the rights to the land. A landstorm victory with a six to one
majority in th High court all agreeing to the appeal brought forward
by Eddie Mabo in the 80's.

If the case had concerned itself solely with the Murray Islands and
Eddie Mabo's claim then it would certainly have been important - a
matter of great legal interest, but no more. The Court could have just
said that Murray Island was a unique case and that no one else could
say that the Court's verdict had any relevance for other parts of
Australia. But the High Court took the opposite view. It decided that
here was a chance, never yet presented to the High Court of Australia,
to deal with the fundamental issue of land rights. So they quite
deliberately took on the basic principles of Australian land law. That
is why the case has been so significant.



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