NLC prepares for 2019 council elections

Date: Dec 21, 2018

The Northern Land Council is reviewing the way its members are allocated across its jurisdiction, ahead of Council elections to take place in the second half of 2019.

The Full Council of the NLC is the major decision-making body of the organisation. It currently includes 78 members elected from across the NLC’s seven regions, plus five co-opted women’s positions. Each Full Council sits for a three-year term, with the next Council to come together in late 2019 and governing until 2022. 

Nominations for Council membership will be called for in mid 2019.

The NLC region includes some 200 communities ranging in size from small family outstations to townships of up to 3,000 people, as well as the urban centres of Darwin and Katherine. Fifty-four communities or areas are currently represented on the Council. 

The distribution of seats on Full Council has been unchanged since 2001 and has changed very little since 1983. 

In the 30 years from 1986, however, the Aboriginal population of the NLC region increased by at least 83 per cent and possibly as much as 137 per cent, now standing at around 47,200. 

Alongside this substantial population increase there has also been significant shifts, with a greater share of the Aboriginal population now living in urban areas and larger townships and a lower share in the more numerous but smaller places (mostly medium-sized communities and outstations). 

Because of these changes, NLC is conducting a review of representation on Council in order to develop an equitable model for determining the distribution of seats. The model will need to balance three major things: population, inclusiveness of different groups and coverage of country, and administrative efficiency.

From the earliest days, representation of people and country on Council presented a challenge. 

Justice Woodward first described this in 1974, in his Second Report of the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission:

“So far as the composition of these councils is concerned, I found considerable difficulty in making appropriate recommendations in my first report. I still feel the same difficulties and the councils themselves have not been able to resolve them satisfactorily. Some things are clear. The members of the councils must all be Aborigines and they must be chosen, by some appropriate method, to represent the people who send them.”

Under section 29 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, NLC Full Council members are chosen by a ‘method of choice’ that has been approved by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Reflecting Justice Woodward’s comments, the Act states only that members “shall be Aboriginals living in the area of the Land Council, or whose names are set out in the register maintained by the Land Council …, chosen by Aboriginals living in the area of the Land Council”.

The first official Northern Land Council was appointed in 1977 (there was an interim Council prior) and had 36 members. Since the beginning, the policy has been to ensure as broad a representation from as many Aboriginal groups as possible. A 1977 NLC circular calling for nominations advised: “[Community councils] should remember that they have a responsibility to see that all Aboriginal people are suitably represented on the Land Council.”

The number of Council members increased to 55 members and then 80 members by 1983 (at that time including representatives from the Groote Archipelago). The aim of expanding was to ensure the Council had a wide geographical spread and represented all Aboriginal people within the NLC region. Smaller communities had one representative and larger communities had two, while large communities with several outstations could have a third or fourth member from an outstation.

The comprehensive review now underway is the first since that time.