The Land Rights Program assists the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in performing his/her functions under three Acts:
- Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976
- Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986
- Aboriginal Land (Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest) Act 1987.
The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 is the most significant land rights legislation in Australia which has resulted in the transfer of almost half of the Territory's land to Aboriginal ownership under inalienable freehold title.
Of that area, about half comprises former reserves that were granted immediately the Act came into force. Most of the remainder became Aboriginal land through a claims process, or through agreements made under the Act between the Aboriginal traditional owners, the Northern Territory Government and other interested parties in the land.
The Act has allowed claims over unalienated Crown land (or alienated Crown land held by or on behalf of Aboriginals) to be lodged with an Aboriginal Land Commissioner who inquires into these claims to make a finding about traditional ownership. His findings are reported to the Minister and the Administrator of the Northern Territory. The Minister then makes a decision as to whether or not to recommend to the Governor-General that he/she agree to the grant of land to traditional owners, after consideration of any detriment to other parties and land usage issues that may result from that grant.
Amendments to the Act prevent any claims submitted after 5 June 1997 from being heard by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner.
Land Claim Reports prepared by successive Aboriginal Land Commissioners can be found on this website.
The Land Rights Act establishes land councils to represent Aboriginal interests. There are currently five land councils:
- Northern Land Council
- Central Land Council
- Anindilyakwa Land Council
- Tiwi Land Council
- Katherine Regional Land Council
The Act also sets out the regime for development, exploration and mining on Aboriginal land, and for the issue of permits for access to Aboriginal land. Permits are obtained from the relevant land council. Information on changes to the permit system in the context of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) can be found on this website.
An amount equivalent to royalties from mining projects on Aboriginal land is channelled to a trust account, the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) for the benefit of traditional owners and Northern Territory Aboriginal people.
In July 2007 amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 came into effect to establish the office of Executive Director of Township Leasing. Township leases are provided for in section 19A of the amended Act, which allows land trusts to grant a lease of a township on Aboriginal land to an approved entity. The Commonwealth is an approved entity for this purpose. Further information is on the Executive Director’s website.
In 2007-08 the Australian Government acquired five-year leases over 64 townships on Aboriginal land under the NTER legislation.
FaHCSIA's responsibilities in relation to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory include:
- processing reports received from the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, and providing briefings and advice to the Minister
- supporting the Office of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner
- management of the ABA
- supporting the office of the Executive Director of Township Leasing
- managing the approval of new or changed uses of land on five-year leased areas.
Jervis Bay, ACT
The Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986 provides for the establishment of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council (WBACC) and the grant of land to Aboriginal people in the Jervis Bay Territory (JBT). It also sets out the legal regime for dealings with the land.
Through grants made in 1987 and 1995, 68 square kilometres have become Aboriginal land under inalienable freehold title, including the Jervis Bay National Park (now known as 'Booderee National Park') and Botanic Gardens and the waters of JBT. 92 per cent of the Jervis Bay Territory has been granted to WBACC.
The Aboriginal Land (Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest) Act 1987 provides for the grant and administration of 11.85 square kilometres of lands in western Victoria, in two parcels, and a scheme of governance for its Aboriginal owners.