The plaintiff in this case argued that due to residing in the territory for a long period of time, the land can be possessed by its residents who are Meriam people. Defendants argued that the land is part of Crown’s coming under the law of England and therefore Crown has absolute ownership of the land and the ownership cannot be transferred. For this purpose Queensland Government also enacted Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act 1985. High Court declared that this legislation was contrary to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
High Court judgments declared by Justice Brennan, Justice Deane and Justice Gaudron, Justice Toohey, Justice Dawson, Chief Justice Mason and Justice McHugh stated that there is a concept of native title in common law which determines the occupation of land under traditional customs by a sect of people. Further the decision also rejected the doctrine of terra nullius and stated that indigenous people can retain the ownership of the land in Australia under the system of law.
“Although the Court was unanimous in confirming that the doctrine of tenure is an essential principle of land law in Australia,41 the majority rejected the argument that recognition of native title was inconsistent with the Crown’s radical title and the doctrine of tenure. On analysis, it will be seen that in reaching this decision the majority judges defined the Australian doctrine of tenure and, consequently, retrospectively modified the doctrine of tenure as understood by English law” ( Ulla Secher, 2005, THE MABO DECISION – PRESERVING THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN ‘SETTLED’ AND ‘CONQUERED OR CEDED’ TERRITORIES.
University of Queensland Law Journal, 24(1), 35-71)) Mabo case has been held as a very important case in the history of Land and Sea Rights and also in the High Court of Australia. No other case other than Mabo gained so much of prominence and the panel of judges who were dealing with Mabo case were also unanimous in giving judgment decision from court of Australian law. There are many reasons attached to this case as it deals with ownership of land and taking the injunction to this effect from the court involves and raises many more questions to the residents of other territories about struggle for land rights.
One confirmed fact is revealed from the Mabo case that aboriginal people are in need of ownership of land and these groups fight for native title. Australian law has studied the case for a long period of ten years in order to check whether the passing of judgment would yield any negative results on other territories and the court has played its part absolutely in professional conduct as the judges declared “the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands” (Land and Sea Rights)