Part 1 - About Us:Our Land, Our Sea, Our Life
The Northern Land Council became a corporate Commonwealth entity, responsible for assisting Aboriginal people in the northern region of the Northern Territory to acquire and manage traditional land and seas, following the enactment of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA).
The ALRA was passed by the Coalition government led by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and was largely based on a bill proposed by the previous Labor government led by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Whitlam’s bill was in response to many years of agitation for land rights by Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, especially in response to the Gove Land Rights case (Milirrpum & others v. Nalbalco Pty. Ltd. and the Commonwealth of Australia).
In 1963, the Yolngu people of east Arnhem Land had presented the Commonwealth Parliament with a bark petition, protesting against plans by Nabalco (the North Australian Bauxite and Alumina Company) to use a great swathe of their land on the Gove Peninsula for bauxite mining (the petition remains on display at Parliament House in Canberra).
The Yolngu took the matter to the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, claiming that their lands had been unlawfully invaded.
Justice Richard Blackburn decided against the Yolngu in April 1971, ruling that the common law did not recognise communal native title and that any pre-existing rights to land would have been extinguished by the assertion of sovereignty by the British crown.
There had been protests for land rights elsewhere in the Northern Territory. In 1966, Gurindji stockmen and their families walked off the Wave Hill Station. What began as a dispute over pay and conditions escalated into a demand for land rights and thousands of Aboriginal people elsewhere took up the land rights cause in different ways.
Soon after gaining government in 1972, Prime Minister Whitlam appointed Justice Edward Woodward to conduct a Commission of Inquiry into the appropriate way to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory.
The Northern Land Council was established in the second half of 1973 in response to Justice Woodward’s first report. Initially, the Council’s role was to assist the Commission by ascertaining the views of Aboriginal people and advocating for our interests.
More than 40 years on, the NLC remains an important body through which Aboriginal people of the Top End can make their voices heard on a range of issues impacting on their lands, seas and communities. The ALRA continues to be a strong foundation on which to build social, cultural and economic growth for Traditional Owners.
The NLC is also the representative body for the purposes of the Native Title Act 1993, and in this capacity the NLC also represents Aboriginal people living on the Tiwi Islands and on Groote Eylandt.
The NLC is an independent body corporate of the Commonwealth, responsible for assisting Aboriginal peoples to acquire and manage their traditional lands and seas.
The NLC is committed to “enhancing Aboriginal people’s social, political and economic participation” and this is reflected through the policies and decisions of the Full Council.
The NLC region is unique, and the organisation continues to focus on supporting and fostering new and innovative projects and developments that underpin prosperity in remote Aboriginal communities.
To “enhance” Aboriginal peoples’ “participation” we must be responsive to opinion, build capacity, encourage leadership and develop equitable and balanced outcomes. We adopt best practice and apply precautionary principles. The mechanisms for achieving this are the promotion, protection and advancement of Aboriginal peoples’ rights and interests through strong leadership and good governance.
The NLC continues to show that it is ideally placed to manage the increasing demands of governments, private enterprise and Aboriginal communities to establish services and business enterprises on Aboriginal lands. The NLC continues to enhance Aboriginal participation and equity in major developments.
Aboriginal culture is diverse and rich, their lands and waters are resource rich, and the NLC is a major contributor to Aboriginal affairs and the economy in the Northern Territory.
The role and purpose of the NLC is driven by its enabling legislation – the ALRA and the Native Title Act – and the views of our stakeholders. A full explanation of our legislative obligations and how these are being addressed is provided in the NLC’s Corporate Plan 2018/2019–2022/2023.
Visit the NLC’s website at www.nlc.org.au
Whom we serve
The diversity of skills and experience of our staff helps to build strong relationships and effective partnerships. We undertake to:
- Consult with and act with the informed consent of Traditional Owners in accordance with the ALRA.
- Communicate clearly with Aboriginal people, taking into account the linguistic diversity of the region.
- Respect Aboriginal law and tradition.
- Be responsive to Aboriginal peoples’ needs and effectively advocate for their interests.
- Be accountable to the people we represent.
- Act in a manner that is appropriate and sensitive to cultural differences.
- Act with integrity, honesty and fairness.
- Uphold the principles and values of social justice.
- Treat our stakeholders with respect.
Since the enactment of the ALRA and the Native Title Act, approximately 50 per cent of land in the Northern Territory has become legally Aboriginal-owned, including 85 per cent of the Territory’s coastline.
A large proportion of the remaining land mass is subject to native title. The NLC’s key constituents are the Traditional Owners within its region. About 36,000 Aboriginal people live in the region, and 80 per cent live in regional and remote areas – in nearly 200 communities ranging in size from small family outstations to communities with populations of about 3000.
The majority of Aboriginal people in the NLC region speak an Aboriginal language as their first language. Many are multilingual, and English is often way down the list of everyday languages. Customary law continues to be practised in many communities within the region.
Many major resource developments are taking place on Aboriginal and native title lands. These developments have included the construction of gas pipelines, army training areas, national parks and pastoral activities. Mining and petroleum exploration and development projects continue to increase business and the challenge for the NLC is to ensure that social, economic and cultural opportunities and benefits flow to Aboriginal people from these developments. Aboriginal people are keen to take part in planning and development activities while at the same time protecting their cultural integrity.
The NLC is divided into seven regions: Darwin/Daly/Wagait, West Arnhem, East Arnhem, Katherine, VRD, Ngukurr and Borroloola-Barkly, each represented by a regional council. One member from each region is elected to sit on the NLC’s Executive Council.
The NLC has 10 offices beyond Darwin – in Katherine, Jabiru, Nhulunbuy, Timber Creek, Tennant Creek, Ngukurr, Borroloola, Wadeye, Maningrida and Galiwin’ku.
The responsible Commonwealth Minister approves the method of choosing members of the NLC, including the community and/ or outstation area represented. Section 29 of the ALRA provides that an Aboriginal person who is a Traditional Owner or a resident living within the NLC region may nominate for membership of the NLC Full Council. The Minister has nominated the 52 community areas in the NLC region that members can be nominated to represent.
Seventy-eight members, plus five co-opted women positions, make up the NLC Full Council. Members are elected for a three-year term. The next Full Council election will be in late 2019.
A list of Council members by region, and attendance tables for regional council meetings during the reporting year, can be found in the appendix (page 264).
The Full Council shapes the policy and strategic direction of the NLC. The Full Council, which meets twice a year, has delegated most of its powers to approve exploration and petroleum licence applications, and section 19 land use agreements under the ALRA to the Executive and Regional councils.
The Chairman (Mr Samuel BushBlanasi) and Deputy Chairman (Mr John Christophersen) were elected at the first meeting of the current Full Council at Timber Creek in November 2016.
Along with one member nominated from each of the NLC’s seven regions, the Chairman and Deputy comprise the NLC’s nine-member Executive Council.
The Chair is an executive director and an employee of the NLC.
The Deputy is a non-executive director who becomes an executive director during the Chairman’s absence. Individual members have an important role in keeping the Full Council informed of the opinions and priorities of their Aboriginal constituents.
The Executive Council meets at least six times a year and is responsible for managing business between Full Council meetings.
Full, Executive Council and Regional Council meetings receive operational and financial reports from NLC branch managers to provide direction for staff to meet performance objectives and targets.
Induction and governance training sessions are provided to all new and returning council members. Capacity building also occurs during council meetings when government officials, politicians and various experts are invited to make special presentations.
NLC Executive Council Members
Samuel Bush-Blanasi is a Mayili man and resident of the Wugularr (Beswick) community in the Katherine region. He was educated in his own community before completing his studies at Kormilda College in Darwin.
Mr Blanasi thanks his father, the late Mr David Blanasi, for his education, and says his father instilled in him strong cultural and traditional values. Mr Blanasi is an artist who brings a wealth of administrative and social experience to the NLC.
This is Mr Blanasi’s sixth term at the NLC. He is also a board member of the Aboriginal Investment Group and has a long record of community service.
John Christophersen, a member of the Murran Group, Cobourg Peninsula, was born in Darwin. He has family ties into Kakadu, is a former NLC staff member, and is a long-term council member from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. He has devoted most of his work to marine and coastal policy issues and remains a vocal advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples in local, national and international forums.
Richard Dixon is a Garawa man from Robinson River, and is the senior Traditional Owner for the community area lease. He is a member and former director of the Gulf Savannah NT Aboriginal Corporation, whose principal function is to provide Community Development Program services to the Gulf region. He is also a member and former chairman of the Mungoorbada Aboriginal Corporation, which delivers a range of essential services to Robinson River residents, including through its community store. His vision is to help his people and the government to work together.
Elizabeth Sullivan is a Wagaman woman who lives in Pine Creek and has been a Council member since 2012. She has also worked for the NLC as a casual ranger. In her position as an Executive Councillor, she wants to help members in her region develop economically: “I’m not superhuman, but I will do the best I can to support their decisions and interests for the best possible outcome.”
EAST ARNHEM REGION
Bobby Wungunmurra, a Dhalwangu man, lives at Gapuwiak, where he works as an employment consultant and is a liaison officer at Miwatj Employment Participation. He was elected to the Executive Council in November 2016 and his appointment ceased in February 2019. He has served on the Executive previously. He was also an NLC member in the late 1980s. “I want to look after the people better and help to improve relations so that we get better government services,” Bobby says. His vision is for Aboriginal people to run their own businesses.
Djawa Yunupingu was appointed as executive council representative for the East Arnhem Region on the 21 February 2019.
WEST ARNHEM REGION
Ronald Lami Lami is a Mayurrulibj man from the East Wellington Range on the mainland, south of South Goulburn Island. This is his first term as an NLC member. Schooled at Kormilda College and Darwin High School, he did an apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic and worked first at Perkins Shipping. In the 1980s, he worked on the Pancontinental Jabiluka project before undertaking a 12-month Community Development course and using those skills at ERA’s Community Development Unit at Jabiru. Later he was manager of the Red Lily Health Board. He’s also been a member of ATSIC, and chaired its Jabiru Regional Council. As an NLC member he wants to help countrymen gain a better knowledge of the NLC: “They rely on the NLC a lot, but many don’t understand enough about what the NLC does,” he says.
Helen Lee is affiliated with the Ngalkban clan and lives at Barunga. She was elected to the Full Council in 2003. Helen has a strong administrative background, having worked with the Jawoyn Association, Burridj Aboriginal Group Training, and the Barunga Community Government Council. Helen is keen to promote women’s issues and wants to help Aboriginal people develop economic enterprises on homelands.
Peter Lansen, who is of Alawa and Mara heritage, is a long-standing member of the NLC; this is his third non-consecutive term as a member of the Executive Council. He works as a labourer at Minyerri.
Last year, he returned as a director of the Alawa Aboriginal Corporation and is a former director of Sunrise Health. “I want to perform well for my people,” Peter says. “I’m still young, and I want to pave the way for tomorrow’s children. I want to be that voice for tomorrow.”
VICTORIA RIVER DISTRICT
Raymond Hector was born in Darwin in 1970 and schooled at Kormilda College. He was a health worker for many years at home in Pigeon Hole.
As a member of the Executive Council, Raymond, who is from the Billarna people, says his position has given him the confidence that he is representing his people in the best possible way. He has vowed to keep working hard to help his people to care for and control their land.
The Executive Council appoints the Chief Executive Officer who has day-to-day responsibility for administrative operations. The CEO works closely with the Chairman and the Executive Council and is responsible for the leadership and management of the organisation, with the delegation to employ and dismiss all staff, implementing Full Council decisions, driving the NLC’s strategic direction, setting priorities and enforcing sound corporate governance.
Seven branches support the CEO:
- Executive (previously Secretariat): provides support to the CEO and Chairman and to the NLC’s elected arms; manages policy, communications, complaints and sea country matters;
- Legal: provides sound legal advice to the administrative and elected arms;
- Anthropology: identifies and consults with Traditional Owners to secure and protect rights in land.
- Regional Development: oversees the NLC’s network of regional offices beyond Darwin and provides logistic support for consultations required under ALRA and the Native Title Act.
- Caring for Country: hosts and provides administrative support for land and sea Ranger Groups and supports joint management of national parks and management of Indigenous Protected Areas. Also, the branch will soon assume management of the Commonwealth funded Learning on Country program.
- Minerals and Energy: provides advice to enable Aboriginal people to understand and consider proposals to explore for and mine minerals or petroleum products on their land.
- Corporate Services: delivers financial, IT, human resource and administrative support, including fleet and property asset management to all branches.
NLC Organisational Structure
Dr Stephen Johnson
Dr Stephen Johnson was appointed manager of the Anthropology Branch in August 2015. He has extensive experience working with Indigenous people in land and sea management, community and economic development and sustainable resource use.
The branch employs anthropologists, mapping professionals and administrative staff.
A key objective of the NLC is to help Aboriginal people obtain property rights. The branch contributes by undertaking research for land claims, native title claims and distribution of royalties.
Cultural heritage, site clearances and geographic information services are essential for effective consultations with Traditional Owners and native title holders. The Land Interest Reference Register informs staff as to whom they need to consult.
CARING FOR COUNTRY
Matthew Salmon was appointed manager of the Caring for Country Branch in April 2016.
He played a major role in the design and development of land management and ranger programs in Central Australia for 10 years and had most recently been Director of Operations and Policy for Parks Australia with responsibility for Kakadu and Uluru national parks.
The Caring for Country Branch supports 16 ranger groups and three Indigenous Protected Areas. It also oversees the joint management of national parks.
Joe Valenti (to 22 March 2019)
Irfan Bhat (from 22 March 2019)
CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
Joe Valenti was appointed to the new role of Chief Financial Officer in November 2015, having had extensive experience in university and business sectors.
Irfan Bhat, who has had extensive experience in senior financial roles during his career, has been with the NLC since 2013 working in various position within finance and was appointed to the role of Chief Financial Officer in June 2019.
The Corporate Services Branch provides the financial administration, manages operational funding and oversees the corporate compliance within the NLC to meet strategic planning outcomes. It presides over Financial Management, Royalty, the Project Management Unit (PMU), Information Technology, Information Management, Fleet and Property and Human Resources Services to provide an essential, professional and accountable customer service.
Murray McLaughlin (To 4 December 2018)
Robert Gosford (From 6 March 2019)
MANAGER POLICY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Murray McLaughlin joined the NLC in October 2013 and was appointed manager in October 2016. Robert Gosford has a long history of working for NT Aboriginal organisations, including the Northern and Central land councils.
The Executive Branch was renamed from Secretariat Branch in 2017. It works closely with the CEO and Chairman, co-ordinates council meetings and liaises with council members.
The branch also incorporates the new Community Planning and Development Unit. It also develops (external) policies, including Sea Country matters, and manages communications, including publications and dealings with news media.
It also provides advice to the NLC, Traditional Owners and Aboriginal corporations on matters such as agreements, litigation and law reform.
PRINCIPAL LEGAL OFFICER (To 22 March 2019)
Michael O’Donnell joined the NLC as Principal Legal Officer in 2015 after an extensive career as a barrister with expertise in native title law, policy and practice, and Indigenous legal issues. He was legal adviser to the Kimberly Land Council in the negotiation of the Native Title Act in 1993.
The Legal Branch is one of the biggest legal practices in the Northern Territory and provides advice to the NLC, Traditional Owners and Aboriginal corporations on matters including agreements, litigation and law reform.
MINERALS AND ENERGY BRANCH
Rhonda Yates (to October 2019)
Greg MacDonald (from October 2019)
Rhonda Yates had a long career across various branches of the NLC before she was appointed Manager of the Minerals and Energy Branch in 2013.
Greg McDonald has been employed with the NLC since 2012 and was appointed Manager Minerals and Energy in October 2018. Before joining the NLC, he held senior management roles in the humanitarian relief, environmental management and mining sectors.
The Minerals and Energy Branch is responsible for oversight of the NLC’s obligations related to mining, petroleum and associated activities under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, the Native Title Act 1993, and minerals and energy agreements.
REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT BRANCH
Jonathan McLeod had extensive experience working in Indigenous Affairs for the Commonwealth Government before he joined the NLC in September 2011.
The NLC’s jurisdiction covers a vast area of land and sea, and the branch’s operations are divided in two, north and south. The branch manages the regional office network, the Indigenous pastoral program and section 19 land use agreements. It also processes applications for permits and funeral grants.
Mr McLeod oversees the NLC’s Darwin/ Daly/ Wagait, West Arnhem and East Arnhem regions.
REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT BRANCH
Rick Fletcher joined the NLC in August 2015, having had extensive experience with other Indigenous organisations at management level.
His operations are similar to those in the northern area, including oversight of land use agreements and the NLC’s pastoral program, and the processing of applications for permits and funeral grants.
Mr Fletcher manages the NLC’s Katherine, Ngukurr, Borroloola/Barkly and Victoria River District regions.
COMMUNITY PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT
Dr Danielle Campbell (To 27 September 2018)
Danielle Campbell played a lead role in designing and delivering the Central Land Council’s Community Development Program and managed its rapid expansion between 2007 and 2016. Dr Campbell joined the NLC in 2016 to start a similar program in the Top End.
During this period, Aboriginal Traditional Owner and community groups planned, funded and implemented hundreds of development initiatives using more than $50 million of their own income from land use agreements.
MANAGER (To May 2019)
Kathryn Laferla was appointed Human Resources Manager in December 2016. She has worked in human resources for more than 10 years in the mining and construction industry and recently for a large Pilbara-based Aboriginal corporation.
The Human Resource Team is responsible for end-to-end human resource functions, including payroll and remuneration, workplace health and safety, and training and development.