The death of Lowitja O’Donoghue

Feb 6, 2024

Lowitja O’Donoghue was a great Indigenous woman. A very great one.

She led the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission with great power and ambition.

Upon my beginning to give effect to the High Court decision in Mabo, early in 1992, she, at her own initiative, assembled the leadership of her nations’ Land Councils to form an Aboriginal representative group to negotiate a Native Title Act, with me as Prime Minister, leading the Commonwealth government initiative.

It was the first and only time the Aboriginal community of Australia was brought into the Commonwealth Cabinet Room for what became a deep and eight month consultation in the design of the Native Title Act.

The consultation which gave effect to an Aboriginal voice speaking and representing a national community in designing a law to recover their expropriated traditional lands. A voice Lowitja put together out of insight and courage.

The success of the Native Title Act can be measured by the fact that through its operation, Aboriginal people now have title to approximately 46% of the Australian land mass and when all the claims are heard by the Native Title Tribunal in the now ensuring years, Aboriginal title is likely to extend to around 65% of the continent. That vast achievement was put in place, in the particular, by her judgment and good sense in taking up the offer of a conscientious government to invite the Aboriginal nations into a process of justice with the sole aim of dealing with the principal Indigenous grievance – the wilful expropriation of their lands.

Lowitja O’Donoghue served her people with high dedication and unremitting faith. Her death represents an unmitigated loss to her people and the Australian community at large.

PJ Keating

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