SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

The political ecology and political economy of the Indigenous land titling ‘revolution’ in Australia

Professor Jon Altman

Date: 26 June 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 26 June 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 273

Type of Event: 0

In the past 40 years there has been a land rights revolution in Australia. After two centuries of strident colonial state assertion that Indigenous peoples did not own the continent in any proprietorial sense, the Mabo High Court judgment in 1992 revolutionised Australia’s land tenure. A combination of native title and earlier statutory land rights regimes have seen a rapidly growing proportion of the continent re-vested with Indigenous land owners. Most of this estate is in remote and very remote Australia and it has two critical features, high conservation value because of remoteness; and high mineral prospectivity. In this seminar, the extent of Indigenous land holdings and their natural and mineral values are documented using GIS information and maps (in close collaboration with colleague Francis Markham), something that is rarely done in Australia for many complex reasons. I then deploy the theoretical frames of political ecology and political economy as two competing perspectives, the former favouring conservation, the latter mineral exploitation, to consider how the land might be most effectively used for Indigenous benefit. The articulation between the two frames can be encapsulated by the workings of power and the role that property rights play in exercising this power. Property rights in turn are being constantly reshaped by recourse to domestic legal challenges and to international indigenous rights instruments. I look to capture both the progress made in the last 40 years as well as the severe limitations of what has been achieved. I end by looking to explore development possibilities of land rights that accord with diverse Indigenous aspirations in 21st century Australia.

All welcome.

Jon Altman is a research professor in economics and anthropology at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University ; from 1990-2010 he was the foundation Director of the Centre. Professor Altman has undertaken research on Australian Indigenous development since he moved to Australia in 1976 examining both national and regional issues; his fieldwork focus since 1979 has been on western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory where he has collaborated with Kuninjku people. Professor Altman is a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. His full bio is available at

Organiser: Dr Sarah Keenan

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Contact Tel: 020 7898 4652