The Torres Strait regional sea claim, culminating in the High Court decision of Akiba v Commonwealth, signalled a new respect for the holistic relationships and dominion that underlay First Peoples’ custodianship of land and waters. The ‘Akiba correction’ centred upon a distinction between ‘underlying rights’ and specific exercises of them – and produced in that case a surviving right to take resources for any purpose (subject to current regulation). The correction emerged from extinguishment disputes, but the significance of this edge towards ‘ownership’ was soon evident in ‘content’ cases on the mainland. Yet there are new challenges coming in the wake of Akiba. What of the many native title determinations that have been settled or adjudicated on pre-Akiba thinking? And what does this renaissance in native title law offer to the communities that will fail (or have failed) the rigorous threshold tests of continuity – also crafted with the older mindset?
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