Our governing laws

The Northern Land Council remains the paramount body through which the Aboriginal people of the Top End make their voices heard on issues which impact upon their land, seas and communities. The Land Rights Act continues to be the strongest foundation on which to build social, cultural and economic growth for Traditional Owners.

The NLC is a body corporate established under the Land Rights Act and a Native Title Representative Body recognised under the Native Title Act 1993.

Key legislation

  • Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cwh) also referred to as the Land Rights Act and ALRA
  • Native Title Act 1993
  • Aboriginal Land Act (NT)
  • Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2015 also referred to as the PGPA Act
  • Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013

Land Rights Act

The Land Rights Act is Commonwealth law and any changes must be passed by both Houses of the Australian Parliament. The Land Councils are usually consulted before any changes are made to the Act.

The Land Rights Act also set up and gave functions to Land Councils.

The main parts of the Land Rights Act cover:

  • Granting of land to Aboriginal Land Trusts
  • Setting up Aboriginal Land Councils
  • Aboriginals Benefit Account
  • Mining
  • Processes for making decisions about land
  • Dealing with income from land use agreements
  • Negotiating leases for development on Aboriginal land

Laws to do with the protection of sacred sites and permits and access to Aboriginal land are made by the Northern Territory Government, but they have to conform to the Commonwealth Land Rights Act.

Aboriginal Land Rights Act legislation

The Native Title Act

The Native Title Act is also Commonwealth law that was passed through Parliament in 1993. It recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have rights to land, water and sea including exclusive possession in some cases, but does not provide ownership like the Land Rights Act. The Native Title Act allows governments, companies and native title holders to negotiate agreements, including Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs), about future developments on the land, waters and sea. It does not provide for a veto over developments like the Land Rights Act.

The NLC has many native title claims especially in towns and over pastoral leases that require careful management and negotiating by NLC staff. The NLC is also preparing new sea claims.

In addition to the above, the NLC is also required to:

Consult with and represent the views of the Aboriginal people within our region

Advocate on behalf of Aboriginal people in relation to laws, policies and procedures that affect them

Develop innovative land and sea management, employment, training and other programs that enhance Aboriginal self-determination and cultural survival

Native Title Act legislation

The PGPA Act

The NLC is bound by the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, or PGPA Act.

Under the PGPA Act, the NLC must meet high standards of governance, performance and accountability; provide meaningful information to the Parliament and the public; use and manage public resources properly; and work cooperatively with others to achieve common objectives, where practicable.

Under the PGPA Act, the Chair and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) are called the Accountable Authority. Among their legal duties, they have to govern the NLC, establish and maintain systems relating to risk and control, and keep the Ministers of Indigenous Affairs and Finance informed.

Also under this legislation members of the NLC are defined as ‘officials’, and they have five general duties:

  1. Duty of care and diligence
  2. Duty to act honestly, in good faith and for a proper purpose
  3. Duty in relation to use of position
  4. Duty in relation to use of information
  5. Duty to disclose interests.

PGPA legislation