Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

Australia in the 1990s

Indigenous Australia: achievements and controversies

In 1991, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 (Cth) was passed by federal parliament to promote reconciliation between Indigenous Australians and the wider Australian community.

In December 1992, prime minister Paul Keating made his historic Redfern speech, in which he acknowledged the injustices committed against Indigenous peoples and pledged support for the reconciliation process.

In June 1992, a High Court judgement was made on the Mabo case. The court recognised traditional rights to the Torres Strait Islands, known as right of native title, and overturned the previous legal assumption of terra nullius (that Australia had been legally unoccupied when white settlers first arrived). Eddie Mabo, who had been instrumental in bringing the legal challenge to the High Court, had died in January that year.

In 1997, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission published their report Bringing Them Home on the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Commissioners Mick Dodson and Sir Ronald Wilson launched the report. In 1997, the Reconciliation Convention on the traditional lands of the Kulin peoples in Melbourne opened.

Elder Susan Charles Rankin (Aunty Sue Rankin) at the Human Rights Day gathering in Melbourne, 2005

A snapshot of 1998

  • February
    • A Constitutional Convention was held in Old Government House, Canberra, and gave in principle support to Australia becoming a republic.

  • April
    • Patrick Stevedores sacked its workforce on the Australian waterfront, thus beginning the Waterfront Dispute with the Maritime Union of Australia.

  • May
    • The first Sorry Day was held on 26 May to commemorate the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

  • June
    • In Queensland's state election, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party won 23 per cent of the vote and 11 seats.

  • July
    • The Senate passed the Native Title Act Amendment Bill 1998 (Cth) after a debate lasting 105 hours.


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