Permit FAQs

The following information is for all people and organisations who wish to enter Aboriginal Land. Please read this carefully before completing an application form for a permit.

General information about permits

1. What is a permit?

A permit is a written document authorised by NLC on advice of the Traditional Owners that sets out permission, terms and conditions to enter the private land and/or intertidal waters of a group of Aboriginal people.

2. What does my permit allow me to do?

Permits generally only provide for entry and access to Aboriginal land. This means that unless your permit includes specific conditions that allow for other activities (eg. fishing, hunting, camping, commercial filming) you do not have permission to engage in such activities. If you want to engage in particular activities you need to include that in your permit application.

3. Are permits legally required?

Yes. Commonwealth and Northern Territory law states that entry to Aboriginal land requires a written permit. Aboriginal land is privately owned and permission to enter must be sought under the Aboriginal Land (Northern Territory) Act 1978. This includes access to intertidal waters over Aboriginal land.

4. What is the permit system?

The permit system manages and regulates access to traditional lands. People visiting Aboriginal land for work, recreation, transit or residence apply for access through the permit system. The permit system enables permit holders to understand their obligations and responsibilities, be safe and informed, and create beneficial experiences when visiting Aboriginal land. The permit system shows Traditional Owners who is on their country, who is coming, and what those visitors can and can’t do.

5. Why have a permit system?

Aboriginal land is private land. It is not Crown land, nor public land. Aboriginal people have the legal right to grant or refuse permission to people wishing to enter or travel through their land. The permit system enables Traditional Owners to set the rules about who can come on to their land.

6. Why do I need a permit?

Aboriginal land is private land and Traditional Owners have the legal right to decide who comes onto their land. A permit is a written permission from the Traditional Owners to enter the private land and intertidal waters of a family or group of Aboriginal people. Unauthorised entry to Aboriginal land and waters in the Northern Territory can result in prosecution and a fine, and may influence decisions on future applications. Insurance claims may not be valid if a claimant is trespassing.

7. Who should get a permit?

All persons who wish to enter onto or remain on Aboriginal land or use a private road on Aboriginal land for any purpose need a permit. Asking for permission first is the right way to access Aboriginal land. The Northern Land Council encourages all visitors to apply for a permit even though some exemptions and defences may apply. An Aboriginal person who is entitled by Aboriginal tradition to enter or remain on that area may do so without a permit.

8. Does a permit have to be in writing?

Yes. A permit to enter onto and remain on Aboriginal land has to be in writing and cannot be transferred. A visitor must produce their permit when requested, either on paper (hard copy) or on an electronic device (soft copy).

9. What activities need a permit?

A permit is needed for the following activities on Aboriginal land:

• Enter Aboriginal land for any purpose

• Travel by road through Aboriginal land

• Enter or visit an Aboriginal Community

• Stay overnight or longer on Aboriginal land

10. If a Traditional Owner has given me permission to visit a community do I still need a permit?

Yes, you still need a written permit. Traditional Owners may issue a permit, however the permit must be in writing. If you get a verbal invitation from a Traditional Owner contact your nearest Northern Land Council office to enquire about getting it in writing.

11. Is there a charge for a permit?

In most cases, there is no charge for a permit. Traditional Owners have set access and camping fees for some locations.

12. How far in advance can I apply for a permit?

You can apply up to 6 months in advance for a permit. Weather conditions, ceremonial events or funerals can result in a permit being suspended at short notice, so check your permit closer to your travel dates to make sure the permit zones are not closed and your permit is still valid.

Work Permits

1. Do government employees undertaking government work need a permit?

Yes. All persons who wish to enter onto or remain on Aboriginal land or use a private road on Aboriginal land for any purpose need a permit, including government employees. Government employees and contractors performing government work are protected from prosecution for lacking permits, however this statutory protection under section 70(2D) of Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) should not be confused with a right to enter and remain on Aboriginal land without a permit. Work permits should be sought in all circumstances. Insurance claims may not be valid if a claimant is trespassing.

2. I am a government employee who wants to do recreational activities outside of work hours, do I need a permit?

Yes, you will need to apply for a recreation permit, in addition to any work permit. You will need to select the location and dates you want to visit. Please note, special conditions such as quotas will exist on some locations.

3. I am conducting research on Aboriginal Land, do I need a permit?

Yes. To support the consideration of your permit application, provide, on request, to the NLC a report about the objectives, ethics approval and methodology for the Research Project in a format suitable for presentation to the traditional Aboriginal owners. If your permit is approved, you are required to credit intellectual property rights appropriately. You agree that nothing in the permit is intended to affect or derogate from any rights, title or interest in indigenous cultural expression or intellectual property.

4. Is it possible to get an annual work permit for Aboriginal land?

Yes in some circumstances.

Travelling on Aboriginal Land

1. Do people travelling with me in the same vehicle need to apply for an individual permit?

No. If you are all travelling together on the one trip, then one traveller can apply for the permit on behalf of everyone. All people need to be listed on the application and abide to the terms and conditions of the permit issued to the permit holder. Each person should carry a copy of the permit in case they are asked to present it.

2. We’re travelling in a convoy of several vehicles, does each vehicle need to apply for a permit?

Yes. The Northern Land Council recommends that there is one application per vehicle when travelling in a convoy.

3. Do I need a permit to travel to the Cox Peninsular?

Check the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map to find out where you need a permit. There are some areas where access, including fishing, is prohibited and other areas where restricted access, fishing and camping is permitted without a permit.

4. Which roads are permit free on the Cox Peninsular?

You do not need a permit to use the following roads and tracks in this area: Cox Peninsula Road, Wagait Tower Road, Charles Point Road, Harney’s Beach Track off Charles Point Road, Talc Head Road to Mica Beach off Cox Peninsula Road, Pioneer Beach track off Bynoe Harbour Access Road, Rankin Point track off Bynoe Harbour Access Road, Keswick Point track off Bynoe Harbour Access Road, Tower Beach Road to Masson Point, and Raft Point track off Bynoe Harbour Access Road. All other roads and tracks on Aboriginal land require a permit.

5. What are the risks for entering Aboriginal land?

Aboriginal land in the Top End is sparsely populated, with limited access to sealed roads, fuel, water or mobile reception. People visiting Aboriginal land do so at their own risk and need to make their own preparations for ensuring their safe travel. Preparations may include carrying sufficient water and fuel, recovery gear, satellite phone and adequate insurance. Emergency and recovery services are few and far between on Aboriginal land, visitors are encouraged to be self-sufficient.

6. Are weeds a problem on Aboriginal land?

The introduction and spread of exotic weeds into Aboriginal land is a real threat. Preventing the introduction and spread of weeds is easier and cheaper than trying to get rid of them. Weeds can:

• supress native vegetation

• increase fuel loads and fire intensity

• choke waterways, and

• disrupt the ecology of natural systems

7. What can I do about preventing the spread of weeds?

Check that everything you take into Aboriginal land is free of soil, organic matter or weed seeds prior to starting your journey. Don’t forget to check and clean your:

• Vehicles and machinery – especially underneath, inside cab or tray, engine bay, radiator and air cleaner

• Camping equipment

• Clothing and shoes

Weed management is everybody’s responsibility, and by taking these simple precautions the risks of spreading weeds will be greatly reduced.

8. Should I report any weed sightings?

Reporting of weed sightings is encouraged. Please take clear photos of the weed and record a GPS location if possible or a detailed description of the location. Send your weed report to the NT Weeds Branch via weedinfo@nt.gov.au or call (08) 8999 4567.

Recreation Permits

1. Is it possible to get a 6 month permit for recreation on Aboriginal land?

Yes, however some recreation sites on Aboriginal land have quotas to manage visitor numbers. Therefore, these sites need to be applied for individually for specific dates and are not covered by a longer term permit. Permits are on a first come first served basis.

2. What is the intertidal zone permit waiver?

The intertidal zone permit waiver is an agreement between the Northern Land Council and the Northern Territory Government which allows all recreational fishers and commercial operators to access tidal waters over Aboriginal land without an access permit for a defined period of time. The permit waiver only applies to intertidal waters over Aboriginal land within the Northern Land Council region. You still need a permit if you access Aboriginal land to get to these intertidal areas. Tiwi Land Council and Anindilyakwa Land Council (Groote Eylandt) have different rules for access to their intertidal waters. Visit their websites for more information. For more information read the information sheet on the intertidal zone permit waiver.

3. How long does it take for a permit to be processed?

At least 10 days may be required to consult with traditional Aboriginal owners. Complex permit applications, eg. for media and research over large areas of land, may requires more extensive consultation and time. Applicants will be updated on expected timeframes.

4. Can I get a permit on the day?

For same day permit processing over-the-counter you need to visit one of our permit officers during business hours in Katherine, Darwin, Nhulunbuy or Jabiru.

Rules and regulations for visiting Aboriginal Land

1. Do Northern Territory laws apply on Aboriginal land?

Yes. All relevant Northern Territory and Commonwealth laws apply on Aboriginal land.

2. Can I access a sacred site?

Sacred sites are areas of cultural significance that are protected by law. You must not be within 100 metres of any sacred site, this includes sites in the water or on the coast. Penalties do apply. It is your responsibility to know the location of sacred sites. Visit www.aapant.org.au for more information about sacred sites.

3. Are there special rules to observe on Aboriginal land?

Yes. Traditional Owners set the rules for visiting their land. These are detailed in the terms and conditions which you must agree to before a permit will be issued.

4. What are volatile substances and can I carry them on Aboriginal land?

Volatile substances include petrol, solvents and aerosols that when inhaled can cause significant side effects, as well as damage to the brain. The NT Government introduced the Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act in 2006 to prevent substance abuse and protect individuals and communities from harm. Some areas on Aboriginal land have a volatile substance abuse management plan which has rules for the possession, sale, supply, use and storage of volatile substances. To understand the rules visit https://health.nt.gov.au/professionals/alcohol-and-other-drugs-health-professionals/volatile-substances for more information.

It is your responsibility to know if volatile substances are prohibited in the areas you are travelling through or visiting.

5. Can I take alcohol on Aboriginal land?

It is safest to not take alcohol. There are more than 100 places in the Northern Territory where alcohol is totally banned under the law. If you are new to the Territory read up on the rules as it is your responsibility to know if alcohol is prohibited in the areas you are travelling through or visiting. For more information relating to alcohol on Aboriginal land contact the Liquor Commission on 08 89991328.

6. Can I take photos?

Yes, but only for personal use, and not of sacred sites. Always ask someone for their permission if you want to take a photo of them. Respect the privacy of people living in the communities you are travelling through. If you want to take photos for any other purpose you need to apply for a Work or Media Permit.

7. What else should I know?

The Top End of Australia is home to a diverse range of cultures which are likely to be different to your own. It is a good idea to read up on the local cultures before you visit Aboriginal land so you know what is respectful behaviour.

8. What are the eligibility criteria for permits?

To obtain a permit from NLC you must: complete an application form detailing the purpose of your visit, the locations and dates that you want to the visit, and your accommodation, transport and passengers.

9. What are the penalties for accessing Aboriginal land without a permit?

Unauthorised entry to Aboriginal land and intertidal waters in the Northern Territory can result in prosecution and a fine, and may influence decisions on future applications. Accessing Aboriginal land without a valid permit has a maximum penalty of 8 units which was $1,240 in the 2018-19 financial year. The Northern Territory Government determines the units and the amount per unit.

10. When will a permit be revoked?

Permits will be revoked where a permit holder is in breach of the terms and conditions of the permit. If one person breaches the terms and conditions on a group permit, the whole group will be penalised.

11. How do I report an incident I’ve witnessed on Aboriginal land?

If you witness an incident that is a life threatening emergency please call 000. If the incident is not life threatening but appears to be in breach of access rules or permit conditions you may report an incident to NLC.