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Yanner v Eaton (1999) 201 CLR 351

Gleeson CJ, Gaudron J, McHugh J, Gummow J, Kirby J, Hayne J, Callinan J


Native title - Constitutional Law - Inconsistency between State and Federal Law

Facts; The case involved Mr Yanner, an Aboriginal man from Queensland, who was charged with hunting and possessing a protected animal (a crocodile) in contravention of the Queensland Fauna Conservation Act 1974. Mr Yanner argued that as an Aboriginal person, he had a native title right to hunt for personal, non-commercial purposes, and therefore, the State legislation should not apply to him.

Law; The central question before the court was whether the Queensland legislation was inconsistent with the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), a federal law that recognizes and protects the native title rights of Indigenous Australians. The Native Title Act was enacted to ensure that native title rights are not extinguished by subsequent laws unless they are expressly inconsistent.

The court emphasized that native title rights are protected by the Constitution and that any legislation that substantially impairs those rights is invalid. The decision affirmed the importance of recognizing and protecting Indigenous rights, including the right to hunt for personal, non-commercial purposes as part of their native title rights.


Holding; In a unanimous decision, the High Court held that the Queensland legislation was inconsistent with the Native Title Act. The court reasoned that the relevant provisions of the Queensland law, which prohibited hunting and possessing protected animals, affected the exercise of native title rights. As a result, the state legislation was invalid to the extent of the inconsistency.

Yanner v Eaton clarified the relationship between federal and state legislation regarding native title rights. It established that state laws that significantly interfere with the exercise of native title rights may be invalid to the extent of the inconsistency with federal law. The case also highlighted the constitutional protection of native title rights and reinforced the principle of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Overall, Yanner v Eaton played a crucial role in shaping the legal framework for the recognition and protection of native title rights in Australia, affirming the significance of Indigenous rights and promoting the reconciliation process.

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