ibunal told Lawyers Weekly last week.
The backlog is heavy, but Graeme Neate, president of the Native Title Tribunal said that progress has been made over the last 17 years. Neate said existing determinations of native title now cover about 962 thousand square kilometres, or 12.5 per cent of the total area of Australia, including more than 30 per cent of Western Australia.
Meanwhile positive determinations are becoming more frequent - meaning the determination declares that native title does exist - and, for the most part, settled between parties, rather than after a trial. In fact, all the determinations that were made in 2008 - and so far all determinations this year - have been made through agreements between the parties, said the tribunal.
Change is also being considered at the state level to speed up the process. Last week, the Victorian Government announced an ambitious plan to settle its outstanding native title claims within the next 10 years, having unveiled an agreement for negotiating deals out of court. Instead of having to use the Federal Court, indigenous communities will now be able to negotiate their claims directly with the government.
Still, some commentators believe that more change is needed. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma believes the "promise" of the Mabo case has not yet been met. "The native title system continues to disappoint many Indigenous people, characterised often by long, exhausting and painful experiences for the claimants," he said in a statement last week.
Calma also points out the fact that the majority of claims remain unresolved, with some still running after 15 years.
For the full story, see this week's edition of Lawyers Weekly
- Angela Priestley