CLC Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is the CLC holding up the leasing of land for houses in remote communities?
  2. Does the CLC own Aboriginal land?
  3. What happens to royalty and rent payments to Aboriginal people?
  4. Who funds the CLC?
  5. Does the CLC control Aboriginal land?
  6. How does the CLC spend its money?
  7. How does the CLC determine traditional ownership?
  8. How does the CLC deal with disputes about land ownership?

Is the CLC holding up the leasing of land for houses in remote communities?

Aboriginal people in Central Australia want an end to the housing crisis in remote communities and the CLC has called on the Australian and the NT governments to work together with us as equal partners. 

The Australian government introduced leasing in Aboriginal communities during the Intervention; before then, leases in Aboriginal communities weren't needed to build houses.

Funding agreements for remote housing between both governments since the Intervention have required the NT government to hold a lease before it can spend money. The land councils are not parties to these agreements.

In 2017, both governments proposed new leases so that houses in these communities could be upgraded. The Australian government insisted on 99 year leases. The traditional owners were reluctant to agree to such long leases but felt they had no choice but to agree because of the dire condition of their houses. For example, Haasts Bluff residents told the ABC in December 2017 that the NT government was not fixing raw sewerage running though their yards even though they were paying rent to the government. 

The NT government agreed to hold leases in order to start surveying, subdividing and servicing new blocks, just like with land releases in urban areas. The problem is the NT government has invested insufficient funds for these works and the reason for the delays many communities are suffering is a lack of realistic investments. Both governments need to work with traditional owners as a matter of urgency.

Does the CLC own Aboriginal land?

No. Aboriginal land is owned and controlled by the traditional owners who hold it under inalienable freehold title. This communal form of title is vested with Aboriginal land trusts. 

When someone wants to use Aboriginal land for an activity such as mining or tourism the CLC has a legal responsibility to identify and consult with the traditional owners about that proposal.

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act states that the CLC must:

  • consult with and have regard to the interests of traditional owners
  • ensure that traditional owners understand any proposal
  • ensure any affected Aboriginal community has expressed its views
  • comply with traditional decision making processes
  • not give a direction without the consent of traditional owners.

If traditional owners want to carry out activity on their land, for example implement a community development project or start a business, the CLC may help them.

What happens to royalty and rent payments to Aboriginal people?

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act says that the CLC must hold royalty and rent money in trust for the beneficiaries, and pay it “to” them or “for their benefit”. 
The CLC deposits all income from the use of Aboriginal land, for example from mining, pastoralism and community leasing, as well as compensation and other payments in the Land Use Trust Account and distributes it to Aboriginal associations. The CLC is not allowed to use any money from this account for its operations and can only spend it after the council or executive committee have passed a resolution.
After the CLC transfers money from the Land Use Trust Account to Aboriginal associations it no longer controls the money. However, it continues to play an important support role. It administers many associations and helps them to distribute their money to individuals or to invest it in community driven projects. 
Aboriginal people are increasingly opting to spend their income on sustainable community development they control, rather than distribute it to individuals. When they decide to invest it in strengthening their communities the CLC’s community development unit supports them with project governance, planning and implementation.
The CLC’s Aboriginal Associations Management Centre (AAMC) helps associations to manage their corporate and accounting obligations under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act and distribute income to members. AAMC staff facilitate association meetings in the communities where most members live. While the AAMC is the most cost effective way of providing these services associations do not have to use it. Members decide at each annual general meeting whether they want to engage the AAMC.
Sometimes Aboriginal people ask the CLC to help them solve a disagreement between association members about the use of its money, eligibility for membership or to explain or change its rules.

Who funds the CLC?

The main source of the CLC's operational funding is the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA).
The ABA was set up under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to receive and distribute royalty equivalent monies generated from mining on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. Some of the ABA funds must be used to run the NT land councils so they can perform their functions under the act. The CLC gives the Minister for Indigenous Affairs a detailed budget every year and the minister decides how much ABA money it gets. 
The CLC is also a representative body under the Native Title Act and receives Commonwealth funding to carry out its functions under that act.
The CLC’s functions have changed over time. After helping many Aboriginal people to get their land back, it now supports them to manage their land and develop their communities. The CLC has found additional funding sources to finance this work.
Federal environment departments, the Indigenous Land Corporation and many other government agencies fund the CLC’s Aboriginal ranger and threatened species, fire, feral animal and weed management programs. Other government departments, non-government organisations and businesses contribute money to the CLC’s community development program. These contributions make the income traditional owners invest in their community driven projects go further.


Does the CLC control Aboriginal land?

No. The traditional Aboriginal owners are the decision makers who control the use of Aboriginal land.

The Australian Government grants Aboriginal land that can be successfully claimed under inalienable freehold title.

This communal form of title cannot be bought, sold or mortgaged.

It is formally vested in Aboriginal land trusts whose members are Aboriginal people who hold the title for the benefit of all the traditional landowners.


How does the CLC spend its money?

A number of checks and balances ensure the CLC uses its funds well.
The CLC’s annual report to the Australian Parliament details how it has spent its money and how well it has performed during the financial year. Before the annual report is tabled in parliament the Australian National Audit Office carries out a strict check of the CLC’s finances. In addition, each of CLC’s many funders requires at least two written and financial reports per year. The CLC also regularly reviews its multi-year corporate plan.
In recent years land management activities accounted for the largest spending. This money helps traditional owners to look after country. The CLC’s Aboriginal ranger groups do much of the fire management, weed and feral animal control and threatened species protection work.
Economic development and commercial services such as land use agreements, employment, education and training, mining and commercial assistance is the next largest expenditure group.
This money funds dealing with applications from miners who want to explore on Aboriginal land or from pastoralists and others who want to use Aboriginal land for their businesses, making land use agreements and supporting Aboriginal pastoral and tourism businesses.
Advocacy and community development continues to be an important area of operations. Since 2005, the CLC’s community development program has been helping communities to drive their own development with their own income. It has invested tens of millions of dollars in project areas such as education, culture and infrastructure and remains in high demand.


How does the CLC determine traditional ownership?

The Land Rights Act defines traditional Aboriginal land owners as a local descent group of Aboriginal people whose shared spiritual affiliations to sites on the land places them under a primary spiritual responsibility for those sites, and who are entitled by their traditions to use the land.

The CLC works with Aboriginal people in its region to ensure that traditional owners are properly identified according to this definition.

Senior Aboriginal people associated with an area, and those from surrounding areas, have contributed to more than four decades worth of research that has been tested in land rights and native title claims in the CLC region and they frequently corroborate or update this research ahead of consultations for major developments and land issues.

How does the CLC deal with disputes about land ownership?

The CLC has a duty to help Aboriginal people to resolve their disputes over land. It empowers and supports Aboriginal groups to manage their own disputes and reduce their reliance on mediation by external parties.

It has developed a dispute management framework to guide how it supports people with this.

Many traditional owners and native title holders are reducing the potential for conflict by directing income streams from the use of their land to projects that generate wide benefits for their communities.