On the 13 December 2005, the Federal Court signed off on a Native Title Consent Agreement between the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples v State of Victoria  FCA 1795 and settler interests, in the Mallee-Wimmera region of Victoria (the Wotjobaluk Claim). After a long and protracted journey through the Native Title quagmire (1995-2005), the claimants were granted "permissive occupancy" rights to two percent of their ancestral lands. This means they are allowed to visit limited areas confined mainly to a thin strip of river bank. The extent to which the original and oldest land title has been compromised in order to allow traditional owners to gain access to a small fraction of their ancestral land and waters in the Wotjobaluk case invites rigorous scrutiny. It also needs to be factored into the derisory record of land justice in 21st Century Victoria. In the final analysis the ‘consent agreement’ may well be another form of dispossession through the Native Title process.
This paper weighs up what real gains were achieved, and examines the relevance of this judgment to the Yorta Yorta Native Title claim, in the Murray Goulburn region (Yorta Yorta Native Title Claim, 1994-2002). It challenges the Victorian Government’s shameful legacy of Indigenous land injustice and its lack of political will to deal with the matter in a fair and just manner. Its key focus is to:
- assess the gains made from the consent agreement determination in the context of the amount of land that has been returned to the original and oldest land owners in 21st Century Victoria on the basis of prior occupation and ownership rights
- evaluate the Federal Court consent determination, 13 December, 2005 and its [relationship to the Yorta Yorta decision] (suggest ‘relationship to the Yorta Yorta decision’)
- highlight the need for a more efficient land claims process that will provide Victorian Indigenous peoples with substantive land justice and economic security for the future.