Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976

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Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976
Australian Coat of Arms.png
Parliament of Australia
CitationNo. 191, 1976
Royal assent16 December 1976
Amended by
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 provides the basis upon which Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory can claim rights to land based on traditional occupation. The Act was strongly based on the recommendations of Justice Woodward, who chaired the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission (also known as the "Woodward Royal Commission").[1] The Labor government under Gough Whitlam first introduced a land rights Bill to Parliament; however, this lapsed upon the dismissal of the government in 1975. The Liberal government, led by Malcolm Fraser, reintroduced a different Bill in which details differed, and this was signed by the Governor-General of Australia on 16 December 1976.

The Act is significant in that it was the first of the Aboriginal land rights acts, allowing for a claim of title if claimants can provide evidence of their traditional association with land. About 50% of the Northern Territory land and 85% of its coastline are owned communally by Aboriginal peoples.

The major sections of the Act are:

  • Part I—Preliminary
  • Part II—Grants of land to Aboriginal Land Trusts
  • Part IIA—Executive Director of Township Leasing
  • Part III—Aboriginal Land Councils
  • Part IV—Mining
  • Part V—Aboriginal Land Commissioners
  • Part VI—Aboriginals Benefit Account
  • Part VII—Miscellaneous
  • Schedules 1-7

Since 1976, many amendments to the Act have been passed. As of December 2019, the most recent compilation (No. 41) came into force on 4 April 2019.[2]

Aboriginal Land Trusts[edit]

Aboriginal Land Trusts are established under the Act. Their main functions are:

  • to hold title to land vested in it in accordance with this Act
  • to exercise its powers as owner of land for the benefit of the Aboriginal people concerned

Land Councils[edit]

The Act specified that at least two Land Councils must be created. Three Land Councils were created at the commencement of the Act, with a fourth Land Council created later. The existing four Land Councils are:

New Land Councils can be created under the Act.

Section 23 of the Act specifies the functions of Land Councils, which include:

  • to ascertain and express the wishes and the opinion of Aboriginals living in the area of the Land Council as to the management of Aboriginal land in that area and as to appropriate legislation concerning that land
  • to protect the interests of traditional Aboriginal owners of, and other Aboriginals interested in, Aboriginal land in the area of the Land Council
  • to assist Aboriginals in the taking of measures likely to assist in the protection of sacred sites on land (whether or not Aboriginal land) in the area of the Land Council
  • to assist Aboriginals in the area of the Land Council to carry out commercial activities (including resource development, the provision of tourist facilities and agricultural activities)
  • for land that is a community living area and in the area of the Land Council—to assist the owner of the land, if requested to do so, in relation to any dealings in the land (including assistance in negotiating leases of, or other grants of interests in, the land)
  • to assist Aboriginals claiming to have a traditional land claim to an area of land within the area of the Land Council in pursuing the claim
  • to supervise, and provide administrative or other assistance for, Land Trusts holding, or established to hold, Aboriginal land in its area

Local Decision Making[edit]

The Act specifies methods for Land Councils to support local Aboriginal groups to make decisions regarding their land, including:

  • Section 19A: Land Trust may grant headlease over township
  • Section 28A: Delegation of a Land Council’s functions or powers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation
ALRA S.19A (Township Lease) v S.28A (Delegation) comparison
ALRA Section S.19A

Township Lease


Delegation of Powers

Legal Structure Different CATSI or ASIC Corporation, or

Office of Township Leasing

CATSI Corporation
Representation of TOs and Residents Similar Defined in the rules of the receiving Corporation (S.19A and S.28A) and / or S.19A Lease. Both alternatives support the same representation options.
Governance Similar Defined in the rules of the receiving Corporation (S.19A and S.28A) and / or S.19A Lease. Both alternatives support similar governance options.
Length of Agreement Different Minimum 40 years; maximum 99 years May be enduring or limited by agreement
Revocation Different Virtually non-revokeable, even for poor performance. Subject to revocation by the Land Council
Consultation for Establishment Different For both S.19A and S.28A, the Land Council consults with TOs and residents, and must be satisfied that the decision is reasonable, and broadly understood and supported.

For a S.19A Township Lease, a failure by the Land Council to consult properly with TOs and residents, or a failure to consult at all, does not invalidate the Lease.

Sub-Agreements Different S.19 Sub-Leases

Maximum term is dependent on the remaining S.19A term.

S.19 Leases

Term is not dependent on S.28A term.

Consultation for Sub-Agreements Different Consultation is different from traditional Land Council practice.

Any requirements for consultation for sub-leases would be part of the S.19A head lease. It is possible that no consultation with TOs and residents is necessary.

Approval by TOs and residents at the time the S.19A Lease is issued, effectively bind later TOs and residents.

Consultation is consistent with traditional Land Council practice.

Each sub-agreement (S.19 Lease or Licence) is subject to a clear process of consultation to ensure input/approval by current TOs and residents.

2006 Amendments[edit]

In August 2006, the Howard Government amended the Act. The "Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006" added several clauses intended to promote economic development in remote townships. Amongst these, low interest loans were provided to promote private home ownership. The Amendment does away with communal ownership of certain parcels of lands previously vested as parts of inalienable Aboriginal Land Trusts.

The Amendment also prescribed for the 'fast-tracking' of mining negotiations between corporations and Indigenous communities, minimising the role of the large land councils on behalf of land owning groups.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976". Federal Register of Legislation. No. 191, 1976: Compilation No. 41. Australian Government. 4 April 2019. Retrieved 12 December 2019. s 3: Aboriginal means a person who is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia....12AAA. Additional grant to Tiwi Land Trust...

External links[edit]