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.

1. Are permits legally required?

Yes. Commonwealth and Northern Territory law says that entry to Aboriginal land requires a written permit. Aboriginal land is privately owned. It is not Crown land, nor public land. Permission must be obtained in accordance with the Aboriginal Land (Northern Territory) Act 1992 before going onto Aboriginal land. This includes access to tidal waters over Aboriginal land. That is, access to the water and land between the high and low tide watermarks requires permission by the relevant land owners. Unauthorised entry to Aboriginal land and waters in the Northern Territory can result in a fine of up to $1000. The Northern Land Council is responsible for administering the permit system for traditional owners in the Top End.

2. Why do I need a permit?

The permit system is designed to help protect the privacy of Aboriginal communities, preserve Aboriginal culture, safeguard the natural environment and promote visitor safety. Aboriginal land is privately owned. It is not Crown land, nor public land. Like other landowners in Australia, Aboriginal people have the legal right to grant or refuse permission to people wishing to enter or travel through their land. A permit is a written permission from the traditional owners to enter the private land and waters of a family or group of Aboriginal people.

3. Who is required to get a permit?

If you wish to undertake any of the following activities on Aboriginal land in the Northern Land Council region then you will need to apply to the Northern Land Council for a permit:

• Enter Aboriginal land or waters for any purpose

• Travel by road through Aboriginal land (Note: most roads are private not public roads)

• Enter or visit an Aboriginal Community (Note: some exceptions apply)

Please note that permit requirements apply to all persons visiting Aboriginal communities for work or other purposes on a short- or long-term basis. This includes:

• Travellers

• Tourists

• Recreational Fishers

• Contractors

• Journalists

• Hawkers

• Representatives of any group, company agency or government department not covered by statutory permit arrangement

Depending on your purpose, you will require either: a Work, Transit, Recreational Fishing and Tourist Permit; a Research Permit; a Media Permit; or a Commercial Filming Permit.

4. Who doesn't need a permit?

Traditional Aboriginal owners of the area and Aboriginal people that have traditional rights to access and use the area do not need permits. Permits are not required for anyone in common areas within community land. Common areas are those areas generally used by members of the community but do not include living areas, other buildings, sacred sites, and areas prescribed by the government. Community land refers to the 5 year lease boundaries drawn around each of the 52 communities involved with the Intervention (Schedule 7 to the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 lists those communities).
Permits are no longer required for anyone entering those communities by aircraft or boat at the recognised community airport or boat landing including the road from the airstrip or boat landing place. Anyone staying overnight or longer in a community needs an entry permit. Various government employees and contractors performing government work are protected from being prosecuted for lacking permits on Aboriginal land. This statutory protection from prosecution should not be confused with a right to enter and remain on Aboriginal land without a permit – work permits should still be sought in all circumstances. Government employees and contractors who are on Aboriginal land engaged in non-work related activities need a permit and may still be prosecuted, i.e. hunting, shooting, or motor-biking.

5. Do people traveling with me in the same vehicle all require a separate permit?

No. People traveling together in the same vehicle are included on a single permit. This is issued to the nominated driver of the vehicle. However, the names of all passengers must be listed on your permit application and each person should sign to agree that they will be bound by the terms and conditions of the permit.

6. Is there a charge?

The Northern Land Council administers the permit system on behalf of the traditional owners. In most cases, there is no charge for a permit. However, access/camping fees apply for some destinations. Contact the Land Council head office for latest information: Phone: (08) 8920 5100 or email: permits@nlc.org.au

7. What is the process?

The Land Council permit officer contacts the permit delegates of the relevant Aboriginal community. These permit delegates are traditional Aboriginal owners whom must be contacted and agree to the issue of the permit. Because permit delegates of particular Aboriginal communities have to be contacted directly by the Land Council in each case, it is not possible to issue a global or general permit to enter all Aboriginal land in its area. Traditional Aboriginal owners have provided guidelines to the Land Council concerning who will be considered eligible for a permit and the type of reason for which they would allow a stranger onto their private land. If the reasons given by the applicant fall outside the guidelines given by the traditional owners, then the applicant would not be encouraged to proceed with the application for a permit. If permission is granted, the applicant generally picks up the permit from a designated Land Council office. The issue of a permit is purely discretionary and may be revoked at any time.

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

The Land Council requires a minimum of ten (10) working days to process a transit or visitor permit. Depending on your plans, extra time may be needed to contact all the relevant groups of traditional owners along your route. While it is important to allow enough time for traditional owners to be contacted, it is not advisable to apply for a permit too far in advance of your trip, as this increases the likelihood of unforeseen circumstances affecting permission. The Land Council reserves the right to accept or refuse a transit or visitor permit application if it is more than 25 days before your intended trip. Work permits may require a formal written agreement to be negotiated and should be applied for at the earliest stage possible. Weather conditions, ceremonial events or funerals can result in a permit being cancelled at short notice, so you will have to check closer to your travel dates to make sure the permit is not cancelled or delayed.

9. Who can revoke a permit?

The NLC may only revoke a permit issued by it. Traditional Aboriginal owners may only revoke a permit issued by them.

This is generally done if there is a breach of permit conditions, damage to sites of significance, illegal access and on instructions of the relevant traditional Aboriginal owners. If NLC issued the permit NLC may revoke the permit, and provide the necessary advice to Police to enforce.

10. Are there special rules to observe?

Yes. A full list of general conditions for entry onto Aboriginal land are listed on the actual permit application forms. Traditional owners or the Northern Land Council may also stipulate special conditions of entry. You must carry your permit with you at all times.

Liquor: Many Aboriginal communities and areas of Aboriginal land have been declared dry by the NT Liquor Commission. Alcohol must not be consumed on those areas of land. There are very severe penalties under the Liquor Act for breach of these provisions. For more information relating to alcohol on Aboriginal land please contact the Liquor Commission on 08 89991328.

You may be entering a Volatile Substance Abuse Management Area, for further information regarding your obligations as per the Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act, please visit https://health.nt.gov.au/professionals/alcohol-and-other-drugs-health-professionals/volatile-substances

Environment: A number of permit conditions aim to protect the environment. These include conditions relating to the mechanical condition of motor vehicles, litter disposal etc.

Activities: Other conditions point out that the permit does not authorise a range of activities, including taking animals onto the land, cutting down trees, fishing and hunting and carrying firearms.

Privacy: We ask that you respect the privacy of people living in the communities as you are travelling through. Aboriginal people tend to be more polite to strangers than most non-Aboriginal groups and are therefore more inclined to 'agree' to requests from visitors - for example to take photographs - so it is important to avoid taking advantage of people's hospitality, offending people or intruding into people's lives uninvited. Please also be aware of local views on such matters as dress, as skimpy attire can offend in some regions.

11. Who is able to enforce the permit system?

The police have the power to fine and remove people in violation of permit requirements if they do not have a defence. Officers of the NLC work closely with local police to prosecute these offences. No hearings of prosecutions may take place without the authorisation of the NLC.

12. Do family or friends of the staff member who do not permanently reside at the residence (work supplied) require access permits to the community I live in or are they ok because I work and live here?

Yes the Aboriginal Land Act requires a written permit.

13. If I live in a community (let say Gapuwiyak) do I need a permit to drive out the community access road onto the highway and then to Gove?

Yes a permit is required. We suggest residents apply for 12 months permit and include a request for the Bulman, Gapuwiyak to Nhulunbuy leg.

14. If an elder says you can go there whenever you want to such locations do I still need a permit?

Yes, you need a written permit.

15. Is a permit required for the lighting of a camp fire on Aboriginal land – if non-Aboriginal?

Yes, also the NT Bushfires Act needs to be observed and is enforceable.

16. Do I need a permit to travel to the barge landings if I live in community? Can I fish at the landing without a permit if I drive there from community?

If you are a resident you are able to access the boat ramp. As per the Interim Blue Mud Bay Licensing Agreement you can fish from the barge landing, subject to the barge operations and safety concerns. (Valid until 31 December 2018). See page on the sea country rights

17. Do Local Government/Shire staff who are locating to communities as part of their work engagement require a permit – access or work or is this covered under an Act for government employees?

All persons wishing to enter on or remain on Aboriginal land require a permit. However, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA) provides a defence under the ALRA for a certain class of people to be on Aboriginal land for work purposes.

18. How do I know if the road I am travelling on requires a permit?

Major roads in the following Aboriginal Land Trusts are not public roads and require a permit:

• Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust (including the Central Arnhem and Maningrida Roads)

• Daly River Port Keats Aboriginal Land Trust (including from the Daly River Crossing to Wadeye)

• Malak Malak Aboriginal Land Trust

• Upper Daly Aboriginal Land Trust

• Finniss River Aboriginal Land Trust

• Beswick Aboriginal Land Trust (including the Central Arnhem Road)

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

After the settlement of the Kenbi Land Claim, and the handover of title deeds at Mandorah on 21 June 2016, large areas of land on Cox Peninsula and nearby islands are now Aboriginal land.

Following negotiations between the Northern Land Council and the Northern Territory Government, new arrangements governing public access, under the Aboriginal Land Act (NT), are now in place.

For the Kenbi Land Claim settlement, the NLC and the NT Government negotiated a compensation package with the Aboriginal land owners that allows permit-free access for people to visit beaches and to fish in the tidal waters of Cox Peninsula.

However, there are some areas where access, including fishing, is prohibited and other areas where access and fishing is restricted. This information is displayed on the Kenbi Open Area Declaration Map. Access to all other Aboriginal land requires a written permit.

Beach access from the intertidal zone (where permitted) means that you can go ashore as far as the crest of the secondary sand dune, or if there is no secondary sand dune, you can go 50 metres beyond the inland boundary of the beach. Sacred sites are areas that are protected by law and you must not be within 100 metres of any sacred site. Some sacred sites have more restrictive access. Penalities do apply. It is your responsibility to know the location of sacred sites.

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.