Nicola Roxon gave a speech commemorating the Mabo decision – but over-egged the pudding.
Sadly, Eddie Mabo, the man whose name will forever represent this turning point in reconciliation did not get to see this historic decision, after passing away to cancer just five months earlier.
This will not stop us remembering Mr Mabo, and his fellow Meriam people, for taking the courageous first step to conquer terra nullius and deliver native title rights for Indigenous Australians across the country.
Labor has a proud history of fighting the tough fight when we know that it’s the right decision to make.
There’s something to be said for being on the right side of history.
We led the way in fighting for the racial discrimination act, the sex discrimination act, the human rights and equal opportunity commission act.
Labor was there when it counted for Medicare, for the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, for superannuation…
And I’m proud to say that Labor was there for native title.
The Labor Government grabbed the opportunity presented to us. Many however, were not on the right side of history.
She then launches into those who were on the ‘wrong side of history’. Okay – it’s her speech. But I’m not sure that is quite right. From an economics perspective the Mabo (and Wik) decisions are fascinating because they revolve around the evolution of property rights. Generally speaking there are two broad theories that explain property rights – an efficiency theory and a legal-centric theory. Aboriginal native title, however, is inconsistent with both those theories. How do we know that native title is inconsistent with the legal centric theory? Because no less a commentator than David Marr said so (emphasis original):
Governments only intervene to oppose. … [G]overnments only come to court to argue against native title. This policy is bipartisan. Canberra in particular has never – neither under Labor nor the Coalition – intervened to give formal assistance to Aborigines in such test cases. The stock response of all governments is hostility.
Sure the Keating government legislated native title – but only after the courts had forced their hand.