The last surviving member of the original plaintiffs in the historic Mabo court case, Father Dave Passi, passed away last week on Thursday Island.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, and the Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, said it was a sad occasion, but the legacy he left was there for all to see during recent events to mark the 25th anniversary of the Mabo court case.
“The Mabo plaintiffs and eight tribes of Mer always knew the land and sea belonged to them,” Minister Scullion said.
“Father Passi and his fellow plaintiffs began their fight for this recognition many years before the case commenced in court.
“It was only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister and I hosted events to acknowledge the 50thanniversary of the 1967 referendum and 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision with campaigners and their families and supporters.
“Although Father Passi was unable to attend in person, he was proudly represented by his children and other family representatives along with descendants of the other Mabo plaintiffs to mark the occasion and acknowledge their achievements.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's rights and interests in land have today been formally recognised over more than 40 per cent of Australia’s land mass.
“This is in no small part a testament to the courage and determination of Father Passi and the four other plaintiffs who fought so hard to have their land and sea rights acknowledged.”
Mr Entsch said he was saddened to hear the news of the passing of Father Passi.
“Father Passi has certainly been an inspiration to our people and to our nation. His positive legacy to the Torres Strait community will live on and he will always be remembered with a great deal of admiration and fondness by those who had the privilege of knowing him,” Mr Entsch said.
Mabo court case solicitor, Greg McIntyre, said: “He will be remembered for bringing great moral authority to the claim and an understanding of how the Meriam people reconciled their traditional observance of Malo’s law with Christianity.”
Minister Scullion and Mr Entsch offered their deepest condolences to the Passi family, the Meriam people, Mer Gedkem Le (Torres Strait Islanders) Corporation and the Torres Strait Islander community at this difficult time.