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Native title

Aerial view of Lakes EntranceNative title is the recognition in Australian law that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to hold rights and interests in land and water. 

The source of native title lies in the laws and customs observed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when Australia was colonised by Europeans. For native title to be recognised, those laws and customs must have been acknowledged and observed in a ‘substantially uninterrupted’ way from the time of settlement until now.

Native title is:

  • not granted by governments – it is recognised through a determination made by the Federal Court of Australia
  • will vary for each group because it derives from the traditional laws and customs of the group
  • exists alongside, and is subject to, the existing interests of others in the same area
  • can be extinguished because of certain actions, inconsistent with native title law, that the government may have taken (or allowed others to take) over a particular area of land.

The Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) provides a process through which Indigenous Australians can lodge an application to seek a determination of native title. In 1998, significant amendments were made to the Act, including the introduction of a registration test and Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs).

In 2010, acknowledging the difficult nature of having native title determined under the Native Title Act, the Victorian Government developed an alternate system for recognising the rights of Victorian traditional owners.

The Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) allows the government and traditional owner groups to make agreements that recognise traditional owners' relationship to land and provide them with certain rights on Crown land.

Who's involved

Native Title Unit

Responsible for responding to native title claims and developing native title policy on behalf of the Victorian Government

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Person holding the Native Title Act

The Mabo decision - 3 June 1992

The High Court's landmark decision paved the way for the recognition and protection of native title across Australia

Grampians National Park

History of native title claims in Victoria

A timeline of native title claims in Victoria from 1994 to 2013

Threshold guidelines research material

Threshold guidelines

Guidelines for traditional owner groups who are seeking a settlement under Victoria's Traditional Owner Settlement Act

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander flags

The department acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and acknowledges and pays respect to their Elders, past and present.