The past and future of debate about Indigenous land tenure reform

Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Dr Leon Terrill

When debate about Indigenous land reform emerged more than a decade ago, it was framed in a way that undermined Indigenous claims to territory. Indigenous land ownership was characterised as flawed to the point of being harmful. There can be no doubt this impacted on public support for land rights and native title. 

Since then, there have been several attempts to reframe the discussion about land reform in way that is less problematic. Every ownership structure has its challenges, including the communal structures used with respect to Indigenous land in Australia, and we need to be able to discuss those challenges in a way that supports rather than undermines the aspirations and autonomy of Indigenous communities. In contrast to the recent history of prescriptive and government-led reforms, the aim must be informed, community-led decision making. 

This presentation considers the progress of debate about Indigenous land reform and makes some suggestions about where it might go next. We are yet to find a way of comprehending the diverse nature of existing arrangements, or of recognising how landowners already respond to the issues they identify.

These are both key to enabling approaches based on targeted support rather than wholesale reform.