A step ahead

Published: Friday 31 January 1997

as the world debates the issue of indigenous people's rights, aborigines in Australia have taken recourse to law to press for their land rights. The Canberra High Court recently passed an order supporting aboriginal groups who have staked claim to tribal lands leased by state governments to cattle and sheep ranchers. The High Court ruled that the tribals could claim ownership in the courts on a case-by-case basis. The lawsuit was filed by the Wik and Thayorre aboriginal groups.

Australia has around 330,000 aborigines out of a total population of 18 million. In 1992, the High Court had for the first time recognised abori-gines' right to claim traditional ownership of government-held land. Since then, scores of tribal land claims have been filed. But cases related to government land leased to ranchers have been delayed as its status had not been decided. About 40 per cent of Australia's land mass comes under such pastoral leases.

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