The Northern Territory Land Rights Act: local decision making, the role of land councils and recent developments in township leasing

Wednesday, 1 June 2016
Michael O'Donnell

This presentation will examine the legal framework concerning traditional owner decision-making, the role of Land Councils under the Act and the changes to this model in the evolving government policy area of township leasing.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) is generally recognised as the high water mark in the recognition of Indigenous rights to traditional land and waters in Australian law. It comprises an inalienable freehold title (Aboriginal land) and the requirement for the informed consent of traditional owners in relation to mining and development on Aboriginal land.

In 2007 amendments to the Land Rights Act introduced township leases. These provisions have since been amended in 2015. These recent amendments are associated with government policy changes concerning Commonwealth control of these leases. One of the government policy objectives is now stated to be the ‘empowering’ of ‘Indigenous landowners and community members with localised decision making’. These changes will be examined and a brief comparison made with the governance framework concerning decision making under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) with respect to prescribed bodies corporate.