What we do

We represent and provide services to Aboriginal people of Central Australia.

We operate under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Land Rights Act). Section 23 of this federal law sets out the functions and responsibilities of the NT’s four land councils.

We support them in many way, we:

  • advocate with them and on their behalf
  • help them to claim back their country and manage it
  • assist them with the economic development of their land
  • promote community development and improve service delivery
  • consult with landowners on employment, development, mining and other land use proposals
  • protect Aboriginal culture and sacred sites
  • fight for the legal recognition of Aboriginal people’s rights
  • help to resolve land disputes, native title claims and compensation cases
  • administer permits to visit Aboriginal land
  • find out and express the wishes of Aboriginal people about the management of their land and legislation about their land
  • assist Aboriginal people to protect sacred sites on and off Aboriginal land
  • protect the interests of traditional Aboriginal owners of, and other Aboriginal people interested in, Aboriginal land
  • consult traditional Aboriginal landowners and other Aboriginal people with an interest in Aboriginal land about proposals for the use of that land
  • negotiate on behalf of traditional landowners with people interested in using Aboriginal land and land under claim
  • help Aboriginal people to claim land and provide legal assistance
  • supervise and assist Aboriginal land trusts
  • consult with traditional landowners and other Aboriginal people with an interest in the land and obtain their consent before making an agreement, or doing anything that affects their land
  • keep a register of land council members and members of Aboriginal land trusts and descriptions of Aboriginal land

We also have statutory responsibilities to:

  • hold in trust, and distribute to Aboriginal associations, statutory payments from the Aboriginals Benefit Account to communities affected by mining and income received on behalf of landowners under land use agreements
  • respond to applications to explore for minerals on Aboriginal land
  • assist Aboriginal people to carry out commercial activities such as resource development, tourism, pastoralism and agriculture in a manner that will not make the land council financially liable or enable it to receive financial benefit

Our functions as a native title representative body are set out in the Native Title Act 1993 which

  • provides for the recognition and protection of native title
  • sets out ways in which future dealings affecting native title may proceed and sets standards for those dealings
  • establishes a mechanism for determining native title claims

Native title functions under Section 203B of the act are:

  • facilitation and assistance
  • certification
  • dispute resolution
  • agreement making
  • internal review

We are also subject to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.


Frequently asked questions

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 we have a legal responsibility to identify and consult with the traditional owners about that proposal.

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act states that we 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
  • give a direction only with 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, we may help them.

No. The traditional Aboriginal owners are the decision makers who control the use of their 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 but it can be leased under agreements with the traditional owners.

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.

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.

We work with Aboriginal people in our 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 and they frequently corroborate or update this research ahead of consultations for major developments and land issues.

We have a duty to help Aboriginal people to resolve their disputes over land. We empower Aboriginal groups to manage their own disputes and reduce their reliance on mediation by external parties.

We have developed a dispute management framework to guide how we support people to resolve their disputes.

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.

The main source of our 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. We give the Minister for Indigenous Australians a detailed budget every year and the minister decides how much ABA money we get.

We are also a representative body under the Native Title Act and receive Commonwealth funding to carry out our functions under that act.

Our functions have changed over time. After helping many Aboriginal people to reclaim their land, we now support them to manage their land and develop their communities. We have found additional funding sources to finance this work.

Federal environment departments, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and many other government agencies fund our Aboriginal ranger program and conservation, fire, feral animal and weed management  activities. Other government departments, non-government organisations and businesses contribute money to our community development  program. These contributions make the income traditional owners invest in their community-driven projects go a lot further.

A number of checks and balances ensure we use our funds well.

Our annual report to the Australian Parliament details how we have spent our money and how well we have performed during the financial year. Before the annual report is tabled in parliament the Australian National Audit Office carries out a strict check of our finances. In addition, each of our many funders requires at least two narrative and financial reports per year. We also regularly review our 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.

The next largest expenditure group is economic development and commercial services, and includes land use agreements, employment, education and training, mining and commercial assistance.

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.

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act says that we must hold royalty and rent money in trust for the beneficiaries, and pay it ‘to’ them or ‘for their benefit’.

We deposit all income from the use of Aboriginal land, for example from mining, pastoralism and community leasing, as well as compensation and other payments in a land use trust account and distribute it to Aboriginal associations. We are not allowed to use any money from this account for its operations and can only spend it after the council or executive committee has passed a resolution.

After we transfer money from the land use trust account to Aboriginal associations we no longer control the money. However, we continue to play an important support role. We administer many associations and help 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 our 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 2006 and distribute income to members. The 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 us to help them solve a disagreement between association members about the use of their money, eligibility for membership or to explain or change its rules.