Northern Territory: information on engaging with traditional owners and land councils

Land councils

Nearly all land in the Northern Territory is either Aboriginal freehold; leasehold; or other tenures (including Crown land) that exist concurrently with underlying native title.

This means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have an interest in that land under either the Native Title Act 1993 (Native Title Act) or the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) (Land Rights Act). Both are legislative regimes that involve collective interests and rights, and both systems are relatively new from the perspective of Australian land administration. In both systems, ownership rights are closely linked to traditional affiliations (e.g. laws and customs) in relation to the land.

It is the relevant land council's responsibility to ensure the traditional Aboriginal owners understand the nature and content of any land use agreement which is entered on their behalf and that they agree to it.

Other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incorporated bodies or community controlled organisations may have interests in Aboriginal land where leases or licenses have been issued to that body by the land trusts.

Agreement making and native title in the Territory

Much of the land in the Northern Territory exists concurrently with underlying native title. There are two land councils that have responsibilities under the Native Title Act as an NTRB in the Northern Territory:

The land council represents claimants and holders of native title rights to assist in the negotiations and certify that any ILUAs entered into are made with the appropriate traditional owner groups. The land council may also be a party to the ILUA. More information regarding NTRBs, NTSPs and PBCs is provided in the native title section of this website.

Agreement making on Aboriginal freehold land

Approximately 50% of the land in the Territory is held by land trusts under the Land Rights Act. Land held in this manner is administered by the relevant land council, in its capacity as the statutory representative body that represents the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land in agreement making and negotiations. Applications for land use or commercial developments on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory should be made through the relevant land council. The land councils have published guidelines outlining the processes for entering into an agreement and are available on the relevant land council website.

There are four land councils in the Territory with statutory responsibilities for representing the land interests held by the traditional owners within their respective jurisdictions:

Access permits

Consistent with federal and Northern Territory law, land councils operate a permit system of regulated access to Aboriginal land. The permit system enables a formalised system of asking permission to visit Aboriginal land. Unauthorised entry to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory can result in a fine of up to $1000. Land councils have the statutory responsibility to consult with Aboriginal landowners about issuing permits to travel across or enter Aboriginal land. A considerable part of the Northern Territory is Aboriginal land and requires a permit to enter. Most land councils have on-line permit systems.

Additional resources

The Northern Territory Government website contains a series of resources, including: