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What we do

Dancers perform at the handback of Jutpurra (Gregory) National Park

The Northern Land Council is an independent statutory authority of the Commonwealth.

It is responsible for assisting Aboriginal peoples in the Top End of the Northern Territory to acquire and manage their traditional lands and seas.

In 1976 the Parliament of Australia passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA).  Since then approximately 50 percent of the land in the NT has become Aboriginal land in addition to 85 percent of the coastline.  A large proportion of the remaining land mass is subject to Native Title interests.

Land Councils are important bodies as they give Aboriginal peoples a voice on issues affecting their lands, seas and communities.

Key constituents of the NLC are traditional owners and the residents on Aboriginal lands. Approximately 30,000 Aboriginal people live within the NLC region.  While many live in major towns there are almost 200 communities ranging in size from small family outstations to settlements of up to 3,000 people.

Most of the communities are in remote locations. The majority of Aboriginal people living within our region speak an Aboriginal language as their first language. Traditional Aboriginal law is practiced in many communities within our region.

Many major resource developments are taking place on Aboriginal land, land subject to Native Title rights and interests, or land and waters over which Aboriginal peoples assert interests. These developments include mining and exploration projects, the construction of railways, gas pipelines, army training areas, national parks, and pastoral activities.  The challenge for the NLC is to ensure that social, economic and cultural benefits flow to Aboriginal peoples from these developments.

Aboriginal peoples are increasingly looking to participate in planning and development activities while at the same time seeking to protect their culture and integrity.

The most important responsibility of the NLC is to consult with traditional landowners and other Aboriginal peoples with an interest in affected land. Landowners must give informed consent before any action is taken to affect their lands and seas.  Achieving informed consent also ensures affected Aboriginal communities and groups have the chance to express their views.

The Northern Land Council’s statutory obligations under ALRA include:

  • To ascertain and express the wishes of Aboriginal peoples about the management of their land and legislation about their land.
  • To protect the interests of traditional owners of, and other Aboriginal people interested in, Aboriginal land.
  • To assist Aboriginal peoples to protect sacred sites, whether or not they are on Aboriginal land.
  • To consult traditional owners and other Aboriginal peoples interested in Aboriginal land and land under claim.
  • To negotiate on behalf of traditional owners with peoples interested in using Aboriginal land or land under claim.
  • To assist Aboriginal peoples to carry out commercial activities.
  • To assist Aboriginal peoples claiming land and, in particular, arrange and pay for assistance for them.
  • To keep a register of Land Council members and members of Aboriginal Land Trusts and description s of Aboriginal land.
  • To supervise and assist Aboriginal Land Trusts.
  • Attempt to conciliate disputes between Aboriginal peoples regarding land matters.
  • Hold in trust and distribute to Aboriginal associations statutory payments from the Aboriginals Benefits Account to communities affected by mining operations and income received on behalf of landowners under negotiated agreements.
  • Process applications for permits to enter Aboriginal land.
  • Any other functions as prescribed.

The NLC is also the Native Title Representative Body for the northern region – including the Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt. This includes land that does not fall under ALRA, such as crown land or other lands in towns, national parks, and land vested in the Northern Territory Land Corporation, pastoral leases and offshore areas.

Functions prescribed under the Native Title Act 1993 include:

  • To facilitate the researching, preparation and making of applications, by individuals or groups for determinations of Native Title or for compensation for acts affecting Native Title.
  • To assist in the resolution of disagreements among such individuals or groups about the making of such applications.
  • To assist such individuals o groups by representing them, if requested to do so, in negotiations and proceeding relating to:
  1.  the doing of acts affecting Native Title
  2.  the provision of compensation in relation to such acts
  3. Indigenous Land Use Agreements or other agreements in relation to Native Title rights of access conferred under the Act or other acts
  4. any other matter relevant to the operation of the Act.
  • To certify in writing applications for determinations of Native Title and applications for registration of Indigenous Land Use Agreements relating to areas of land wholly or partly within the region of the representative body.
  • To become a party to Indigenous Land Use Agreements after consultation with the Native Title holders of the land or waters subject to the agreement.

The NLC is also authorised to perform functions under Northern Territory law, including:

  • Aboriginal Land Act
  • Cobourg Peninsular Aboriginal Land, Sanctuary and Marine Act
  • Lands and Mining Tribunal Act
  • Mining Act
  • Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park Act
  • Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act
  • Pastoral Land Act
  • Special Purpose Leases Act
  • Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act

The NLC provides services in the following areas:

  • Land, sea and natural resource management
  • Land claims and land acquisitions
  • Economic development and commercial services
  • Advocacy
  • Administration and support services
  • Native Title services

The NLC has a long-term policy of supporting regional decision making. To this end, significant resources are directed each year towards maintaining fully-staffed and resourced regional offices. The NLC has regional offices in the seven administrative regions.