For nearly two decades the pastoral and mining industries had fought a long bitter fight against Aboriginal land rights but by the 1990s implementation of the Native Title Act 1993 was one of the Keating government’s big endeavours.
The Mabo decision in late 1993 had rewritten the rule books. The establishment of the National Native Title Tribunal saw state co-operation the immediate challenge.
Queensland – under the Labor government of Wayne Goss – proved friendly and Cabinet endorsed Paul Keating’s offer to meet at least 50 per cent of the compensation, legal and administrative costs likely to arise in determining what land was open to native title claim.
Western Australia, under Richard Court’s Liberal-National coalition, was judged “implacable” in its opposition. Declaring that it would not recognise any NNTT decision, WA issued more than 10,000 titles under its Land (Titles and Traditional Usage) Act 1993, intended to guarantee land tenure under one system of law.
In February 1994 ministers agreed to further measures to keep other premiers, developers and industries onside. They also approved tactics of working with native title claimants to ensure that cases proceeding to the NNTT were credible and would enhance the tribunal’s authority.
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