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Regional Development Branch

The Regional Development Branch is comprised of the regional office network and support operations. According to ABS statistics (2016), about 75 percent or 38,500 of the Indigenous population in the NLC region are residents in regional and remote locations, so therefore NLC regional offices are the first point of contact for a vast majority of Aboriginal people accessing NLC services.

The branch has had 44 positions throughout 2018/19 with staff working across 11 sites and includes:

  • 29 regional-based positions in Katherine, Timber Creek, Ngukurr, Borroloola, Tennant Creek, Jabiru, Maningrida, Wadeye, Nhulunbuy and Galiwinku;
  • Defence liaison position funded by the Department of Defence based at Timber Creek to assist with the implementation and monitoring of the Bradshaw ILUA;
  • 12 positions based in Darwin to directly support all regional offices, coordinating regional programs and providing services to the Darwin Daly Wagait region;
  • two ABA Homelands Project positions funded by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to assist with engaging prioritised homeland communities and completing ABA Homeland Project proposals on behalf of those communities.

A key part of the regional office network team is to support on country projects by:

  • Assisting the coordination of all community consultations;
  • Coordinating the progressing of section 19 (s19) Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA) land use expressions of interest;
  • Compliance activities for s19 ALRA land use agreements;
  • Processing permits, funeral and ceremony applications; and;
  • Supporting the Full Council and Regional Councils.

Nearly 70 percent of all staff employed in the Regional Development team are Indigenous Australians. A large percentage of our people are recruited locally and have close ties to the region they work in. The regional network also engages up to 20 local Aboriginal casual employees annually to assist with projects.

It is critical that NLC establish and maintain a presence in Wadeye, Maningrida and Galiwinku as each of these communities have 2000-plus Aboriginal residents. NLC regularly does business at these locations as it is the home of Traditional Owners from numerous clan estates within the Arnhem Land and Daly River/Port Keats Aboriginal Land Trust.

NLC has struggled over the past 12 months with re-establishing a permanent presence in Wadeye because of the lack of suitable infrastructure available to lease an office.

Negotiations commenced early this year with a local Aboriginal association that has plans to develop their facilities in the community.

The association’s development will provide sufficient room for an NLC office. NLC envisage that these arrangements should be agreed soon. We are likely to have an office to operate out of by early November 2019 and security over this arrangement for a few years. This will allow us to recruit someone to the position again.


Over the past 12 months, the Regional Development Branch achieved the following:

  • Conducted 346 section 19 (s19) ALRA land use, native title, royalty distribution, community development, minerals and energy, and ABA Homelands Project consultations involving 7242 Traditional Owners at 147 locations.
  • Completed consultations with more than 650 clan estate groups; some of these clans were counted a number of times through meeting an estate group multiple times;
  • Led the way in the assessment of all s19 ALRA Land Use Expressions of Interest;
  • Processed a high percentage of all the 14,175 land access permits;
  • Facilitated the administration of 223 funeral and ceremony applications;
  • Managed the ABA Homelands Project consultation and completed community proposals; and
  • Supported the logistics and running of Regional Council and Full Council meetings.

This chart present a total of 7,242 number of Aboriginal people were consulted by Regions. Borroloola Barkly 10%, Darwin Daly Wagait 23%, East Arnhem 24%, Katherine 9%, Ngukurr 8%, Victoria RIver District 8% and West Arnhem 18%.
Number of Aboriginal People Consulted by Region

Strengthening Meeting and Logistics Capacity

NLC commenced a vehicle upgrade program last November. The intention is to turn over an aging fleet of regional office vehicles over the next three years in a vehicle replacement schedule.

This will strengthen our fleet and logistics capacity to keep up with the demands of Land Council business and third-party demands.

NLC is required to undertake an unprecedented number of consultation activities and program related works on behalf of Traditional Owners regarding their directions on activities taking place in their communities and traditional land and seas.

These consultations are undertaken particularly with regards to section s19 ALRA land use expressions of interest, ABA Homelands Projects, intertidal negotiations, mining and energy exploration applications, community development, royalty distributions, native title and partner organisation program work activities.

Given the nature of the NLC’s jurisdiction of approximately 570,000km2, these activities require extensive motor vehicle travel between NLC’s Darwin office, regional offices and affected remote communities, with NLC transporting thousands of Aboriginal people to meetings across the breadth of the NLC region. Last year our team facilitated the logistics for 346 meetings at 147 different locations with some of these sites being in very remote areas of the Territory.

Maintaining a fleet of vehicles to accommodate these activities has proven a challenging task for NLC over previous years; our aging fleet, with extended use, has resulted in an increase to repairs and maintenance.

There are a still a number of vehicles used by the Regional Development team that are more than five years old and have travelled over 150,000 kilometres on some of the harshest and remote roads in the Northern Territory.

Many of our older vehicles are also Toyota Troop Carriers with sideways seating in the rear, a seating arrangement posing a higher risk of injury for passengers in an accident. We have been slowly phasing out these types of vehicles and are replacing them with fit-for-purpose options that factor in transporting people safely and comfortably.


NLC has identified the need to establish stronger regions through improving our service delivery capabilities in the bush.

The improvements are to be made as part of a comprehensive regionalisation strategy, with the goal of progressively decentralising services from Darwin throughout our seven regions, to improve community engagement and local delivery of accessible and effective services to Aboriginal people.

High levels of development activity in regional and remote areas outside Darwin are matched by large Aboriginal populations.

The total Indigenous population of the NLC’s seven regions is approximately 51,000, 65 percent of the NT’s total estimated Indigenous population. The large majority of the NLC’s constituents (some 75 percent or 38,500 persons) are residents in regional and remote locations, with the Darwin City itself accounting for just 25 percent of the NLC’s Indigenous population (12,500 persons).

Baniyala homeland, Blue Mud Bay, Arnhem Land

Most of the Aboriginal people we serve and the work we do are outside of Darwin, yet the vast majority of all NLC staff outside the Caring for Country branch are based in the Darwin CBD. There are a number of existing barriers to expanding service delivery in the regions, which can be summarised as either physical infrastructure constraints or enabling service constraints.

A continuous investment into upgrading regional office infrastructure, communication and information technology infrastructure and software is critical to keeping regional services effectively accommodated and up to date with efficient and modern-day business practices in a progressively changing work environment. Important regional office service hubs, such as Katherine, Nhulunbuy and Jabiru, are being carefully reviewed with a long-term plan to address infrastructure, human resource and service delivery needs. Large Aboriginal communities, such as Wadeye, Maningrida and Galiwinku, are not only service hubs to outlying areas, but also have growing populations with approximately 8000-plus Aboriginal residents across these three sites alone.

A key challenge for NLC moving forward is to finalise our Regionalisation Strategy which has been identified in the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, so NLC is in a position to shift resources and strengthen services to constituents in locations of high need. The Regional Development team has drafted the Regionalisation Strategy, which is due to be finalised in the second half of 2019 after consulting the NLC Council. We engaged KPMG late last year to help with finalising our Regionalisation Strategy Business Case, which articulates the rationale for making the investments in service delivery infrastructure necessary to facilitate a restructure of the NLC’s operations.

It provides a fully-costed business case and implementation plan for the proposal, including details of the infrastructure requirements for each of the NLC’s regional offices, and the associated management and operating model.

The benefits of implementing the proposal when compared with the NLC’s existing operations in the regions are detailed and highlight the significant gains to be made in productivity and community engagement as the NLC moves to a new era of service delivery to Aboriginal people in rural and remote areas.

Our team has also completed preliminary concept design plans with a cost estimate for purpose-built facilities at three key regional service hubs and three community office sites. Our aim is to be able to provide a comprehensive plan to NLC’s funding agencies to support our proposal to build stronger regions by the latter half of this year.

Funeral and Ceremonial Fund

The NLC administers funeral and ceremonial assistance grants funded by the Aboriginals Benefit Account.

The NLC Full Council recognises the increasing costs of charters, freight and coffin costs. The funeral and ceremonial policy enables Traditional Owners to apply for assistance to conduct funerals and ceremonies on country.

Grants have helped 191 Aboriginal families bury a loved one over the course of the year and helped the cost of holding 21 ceremonies. Assistance for a funeral is limited to $2000 (GST inclusive) per deceased person and the upper limit for ceremonial assistance is $1000 (GST inclusive). More than $400,000 was spent on assisting funerals and ceremonies throughout the NLC region in 2018/19.

All financial transactions are direct to a service provider. Statistical data for funeral and ceremonial assistance for 2018/19 are provided below.







Borroloola Barkly





Darwin Daly Wagait





East Arnhem















Victoria River District





West Arnhem
















Borroloola Barkly





Darwin Daly Wagait





East Arnhem










NLC aims to process funeral and ceremony applications within five business days and provide an answer to the applicant about potential support as early as possible.

Our team processed 68 percent of applications within two working days and 79 percent of all applications are finalised within five work days.

To minimise administrative delays NLC use a sharepoint database to register all applications, which enhances visibility across the organisation and allows for more efficient administration.

The program support guidelines and applications for funeral and ceremony funding have also been placed on NLC’s internet site so that people can access information online.

Reasons for applications being declined include duplicate applications for the same funeral or ceremony, and failure to meet funding guidelines.

Land and Water Access Permits

A key NLC objective is to ensure access to Aboriginal land is managed effectively and efficiently.

The ALRA made Aboriginal land private land and regulated the entry of persons without estates or interests in the land or traditional rights in the land. Amendments to the act in 2008 removed the need for some people to obtain permits in certain circumstances, such as anyone in “common areas” within “community land”.

Community land refers to the five-year lease boundaries drawn around each of the communities prescribed in the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). Permits are no longer required for anyone entering communities by aircraft or boat so long as the landing place – for example, an airstrip or boat ramp – is not part of a private lease and so long as there are roads that provide access from the landing place to the community common areas.

The Northern Territory Police have the power to fine and remove people in violation of permit requirements. No prosecutions may take place without the authorisation of the NLC.

In addition to opening specified areas to the public, without Traditional Owner consent, the new legislation allows specific government employees to enter and remain on Aboriginal land. These changes did not lapse at the conclusion of the five-year NTER period.

This statutory protection from prosecution should not be confused with a right to enter and remain on Aboriginal land without a permit – work permits should still be sought in all circumstances. The NLC has proposed that the permit system be reinstated, while ensuring that government agents and journalists working in a professional capacity – for example, attending court sessions – can enter Aboriginal land without a permit.

Government employees and contractors engaged in extracurricular activities without a permit, such as hunting, fishing, camping or motor biking, may still be prosecuted.

The NLC encourages all members of the public to obtain permits, as movement records can be useful in the event of an emergency, or notification of road closures.

Bujana homeland, Gulf country

In the 2018-19 year 14,175 access permits were issued. Statistical data for permits issued by type and region for 2018/19 are provided in the following graphs.

Statistical data for permits issued by type were 14,175 for 2018/19. Mining work permit 472 3%, Other 2 0%, Recreation 1,386 10%, Researched 118 1%, Tourist 6,716 47%, Transit 1,270 9%, Work Permit 4,145 29%, Intertidal Fishing Permit 9 0% and Media/TV/Film 57 1%.
Statistical data for permits issued by region were 14,175 for 2018/19. Darwin Daly Wagait 858 6%, East Arnhem 586 4%, Katherine 886 6%, West Arnhem 8,301 59%, Multi Regional 2,318 16% and Non-specific to Region 4,145 29%.

Land Use Agreements

Land Use Agreements

Objective: to secure economic, social and cultural benefits for Traditional Owners from developments taking place on Aboriginal land.

Aboriginal land and sea in the Northern Territory is rich in biodiversity and other natural resources and has the potential to deliver economic opportunities and good outcomes for our constituents.

A major function of the NLC is to express the wishes of Traditional Owners.

In terms of economic development, this is carried out through s19 ALRA land use agreements. NLC carries out consultations and negotiations on behalf of Traditional Owners with third parties who seek commercial activities on Aboriginal land.

NLC must ensure that any land use proposal is reasonable, that the appropriate Traditional Owners understand the proposal and consents in accordance with traditional decision-making processes, and that affected Aboriginal people are also given an opportunity to express their views about a particular land use application. Once consent is reached, NLC considers the land use proposal and on approval directs the appropriate Aboriginal Land Trust to enter into a licence or lease agreement with the proponent.

Prior to taking land use proposals to the Traditional Owners and affected Aboriginal community groups for consideration, multi-disciplinary teams within the NLC, comprising project coordinators, solicitors, anthropologist, regional support staff and, on an as-needs basis, external experts, undertake a rigorous assessment.

Business and economic development in remote parts of the NT can be impeded by a number of factors. Some proposals may provide insufficient detail about the proposed operational area. Land use proposals may cover an area that affects multiple clan estate groups and, therefore, consultations and the logistics of bringing the decision-makers together can be complex.

Seasonal factors also dictate when and where community consultations can be held. A large percentage of consultations occur during the dry season (April to October).

However, this window of opportunity puts pressure on NLC staff and constituents in relation to planning and holding meetings, as well as meeting legislative timeframes.

The range of micro-enterprises, private businesses, government and community development initiatives continues to increase and NLC is focused on aiding development of enterprises on Aboriginal land. The benefits for Aboriginal owners, community members and stakeholders of securing s19 ALRA land use agreements, facilitated by NLC in accordance with the requirements of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, include:

  • Secure tenure – for Traditional Owners, public housing tenants, proponents (government and commercial) and investors (financial institutions);
  • Secure rental returns administered by the NLC and subject to the protections in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, with rates typically determined by the Valuer-General; and
  • A consistent approach to leasing on Aboriginal land, whereby proponents are familiar with NLC processes and procedures, providing certainty for investment.

The Commonwealth’s compulsory five year leases over Aboriginal land expired in August 2012 and all property not underpinned by a lease arrangement reverted back to the Aboriginal Land Trust. It is the policy of the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments that assets on Aboriginal land be underpinned by secure tenure arrangements. Government policy on appropriate tenure arrangements has paved the way for the approval of a large number of s19 ALRA agreements in Aboriginal communities across the NLC region.

Leasing arrangements include public housing, education and training facilities, police stations, health centres, crèches, safe houses, essential services infrastructure, government employee housing, workshops, ranger stations, housing, and commercial operations.

Bawaka homeland, Arnhem land

Lease Management

It is estimated that there are just over 4000 lots or parcels of land across the 27 discrete medium to large Aboriginal communities on Aboriginal land in the NLC; these lots alone present a significantly large lease management portfolio. The three largest Aboriginal communities, Galiwinku, Maningrida and Wadeye, each have more than 400 lots.

To effectively manage the volume of leasing interest on Aboriginal land NLC has for the past five years used a custom-built electronic database called the Land Information Management System (LIMS), which registers and tracks the progress of s19 ALRA land use expressions of interests up to the agreement and compliance stage. LIMS manages whole-of-life activities associated with negotiated land use agreements; capturing and collating critical information helps the organisation with planning and predicting future workload demands.

LIMS helps manage resources effectively, and significantly enhances the quality and quantity of information presented to Traditional Owners about activities occurring on their land. Over the past few years, NLC’s continuous improvement agenda has initiated reforms through a Land Use Management and Royalties Review (LUMAR).

A dedicated project management team has overseen the review, planning, design and now implementation stage of a new land management database system.

How NLC manages land use expressions of interest and agreement compliance through LIMS will now be replaced by the new LUMAR system, which will include an integrated finance package by the end of 2019.

There have been some project delays in initiating the LIMS information migration in 2018/19; however, the LUMAR system goes live on 1 July 2019 and will be implemented over the next 12 months by the Regional Development Branch and the LUMAR project management team.

Expressions of Interest

Expressions of interest for parcels of land have increased significantly from the previous reporting period – 263, a rise of 7%, this financial year.

Over the past 12 months, NLC received land use expressions of interest for 281 parcels of land across a range of industries; approximately 62 percent of all those applications received were to secure a parcel of land in an Aboriginal community.

NLC received 195 expressions of interest for land use for 281 parcels of land across a range of industries. Borroloola Barkly 16 6%, Darwin Daly Wagait 56 20%, East Arnhem 56 20%, Katherine 45 16%, Ngukurr 26 9%, Victoria River District 10 3% and West Arnhem 72 26%.

Lot lease applications included expressions of interest for residential accommodation, industrial areas, retail stores, essential service sites, office accommodation, and government infrastructure.

The cost of the travel, logistics and catering to progress s19 land use expressions of interest this financial year was just over $516,000.

Funds for this activity were derived from ABA grant funds and user-pay contributions. It is interesting to note that proponent contributions towards consultations only covers approximately 25 percent of the cost of running these consultations.


Since 1 July 2018, the Executive Council and Chief Executive Officer approved 120 s19 ALRA land use agreements. The Executive Council meets six times a year and approved 116 agreements. The income generated through approving these lease agreements stimulates economies in communities and produces a range of economic, cultural and social benefits for Traditional Owners.

Total of 120 approved Land Use Agreement for 2018/19 with 97% approved by Executive Council and 3% approved by CEO.


The increasing number of s19 ALRA land use agreements and expressions of interests since August 2012 has required significant resources to progress and manage a rapidly growing land use management portfolio. NLC’s continuous improvement strategy has invested in streamlining lease management business processes and procedures, strengthening multi-disciplinary teamwork, enhancing the logistics and meeting capabilities of regional offices, and designing new lease management systems. Lease management efficiencies will significantly enhance NLC’s ability to work closely with Traditional Owners to harness economic and community development opportunities.

Managing Proponent Expectations

To progress an expression of interest up to the agreement stage takes resources and time. Consideration must be given to the large number of existing applications, competing priorities, and the steps that NLC follow – from registering the interest up to having an agreement executed.

The s19 land use assessment process can take up to six months to get a proposal to an agreement, if there are minimal delays experienced. Proponents need to factor these timeframes into their planning to avoid disappointment.

Addressing a backlog of s19 Land Use proposals

NLC continues to work through a large number of expressions of interest and the following statistics will provide an insight into the workload demands and the cost associated to progress these activities:

  • 1 July 2018 – commenced year with existing expressions of interest for 355 parcels of land;
  • Received and registered new expressions of interest for an additional 281 parcels of land;
  • 103 meetings were held with Traditional Owners and affected groups to discuss s19 ALRA Land Use Expressions of Interest; some groups met multiple times;
  • 3314 Traditional Owners and Aboriginal people from affected and interest groups were consulted across 53 different locations throughout the NLC region;
  • Registered consultations with 262 clan estate groups (some of these clans were counted a number of times with meeting that estate group more than once);
  • More than $516,000 was spent on associated travel and meetings costs; and
  • NLC’s delegated authorities granted 120 s19 ALRA Land Use Agreements that covered 158 parcels of land.

At the end of the reporting period there were expressions of interest for 47 parcels of land that had gone to consultation with key terms agreed to by Traditional Owners but not finalised as documentation was in the process of being prepared for the NLC’s Delegated Authority to consider at the next Executive Council Meeting.

  • 30 June 2019 – NLC closed the year with outstanding expressions of interest over 413 parcels of land.

The NLC will need to progress the outstanding expressions of interest, noting that some of these interests compete for the same land parcel. The backlog of proposals has increased from the previous year – at the conclusion of this financial year, our total had increased by 16 percent with an additional 58 proposals outstanding compared with the previous year. Dedicated s19 ALRA Land Use Project Teams continue to work through outstanding expressions of interest.

The reason NLC experience delays in progressing s19 Land Use Agreements include:

  • Proponents fail to provide relevant information in a timely manner;
  • Difficulties finalising negotiations with proponents;
  • Traditional Owner groups unable to make decisions;
  • Funding limitations to hold meetings and resourcing issues;
  • Delays in obtaining signatures of land trust members to complete agreements;
  • Obtaining ministerial consent for agreements; and
  • Funerals and sorry business.

A large percentage of the backlog of work that has been around for a lengthy period has been due to Traditional Owner disputes and not being able to make a decision.

The increasing demand on NLC to progress these activities continues to place significant strain on resources.

Additional Resources

NLC was able to put a successful business case to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs with strategies to reduce the s19 ALRA land use expressions of interest backlog. Additional resources to support the proposal were provided late in the 2018/19 reporting period to increase our capacity to tackle the large volume of outstanding s19 ALRA land use proposals. This investment has had an immediate impact with our ability to transact more business later in the financial year. Where we would have had to delay consultations due to resourcing issues, we have been able to address straight away.

The additional resources will improve our capacity significantly over the next 12 months and we anticipate NLC will be able to reduce the number of these activities while continuing to manage the level of interest.

Another bonus to reducing the backlog is the successful engagement of Yirrkala’s Traditional Owners groups. After a series of s19 ALRA land use meetings over an eight-month period, the Rirratjingu and Gumatj clans came together and agreed to outstanding lease applications from third parties for parcels of land in Yirrkala.

Some of these applications were more than five years old and at the completion of the reporting period Traditional Owner’s approved land use agreements for nearly 70 lots in the community.

Visual chart with number of land use expressions of interests by land parcel. Borroloola Barkly 4%, Darwin Daly Wagait 16%, East Arnhem 32%, Katherine 15%, Ngukurr 8%, Victoria River District 8% and West Arnhem 17%.

Cost of Consulting Traditional Owners

Progressing s19 ALRA land use applications with Traditional Owners has significant cost implications; having strengthened user pay systems as per the Australian Government cost recovery guidelines has been critical to improving NLC’s business efficiency, productivity and responsiveness.

It will be crucial to continue to implement user-pay systems successfully to ensure that the progressions of s19 land use agreements are done more cost effectively for the NLC.

Consulting Traditional Owners in different regions and locations has varying levels of costs associated with it.

Transacting business with some Traditional Owner groups can be relatively inexpensive to hold consultations and this may cost NLC less than $2000 in associated travel and meeting costs. However, there are other areas that are remote, Traditional Owners are dispersed widely and proponents want to secure a licence to operate over large areas covering multiple clan estates. These types of consultations can blow out cost to more than $20,000 per meeting.

Agreement Compliance

Land use agreements have a compliance requirement, which needs to be monitored and resources applied to ensure that the interests of Traditional Owners are managed in accordance with the agreement.

Agreements such as tourism, crocodile egg collecting, safari hunting, mustering, and pet meat require NLC to analyse data so that annual fees and royalties can be calculated, and proponents invoiced correctly to ensure funds are received and distributed to Traditional Owners.

The NLC s19 land use agreement portfolio has increased to 723 land use agreements across 3687 parcels of land. As a result, the demand for lease compliance work continues to grow with regular lease reviews. A high percentage of NLC personnel dedicate a large percentage of their time to agreement negotiation. Managing the compliance aspect of agreements is becoming increasingly difficult to undertake effectively.

NLC established dedicated resources to assist with agreement compliance a couple of years ago and are looking to strengthen this through resources to support this activity

Visual pie chart image with percentages of parcels of land under a land use agreement by region. Borroloola Barkly 5%, Darwin Daly Wagait 15%, East Arnhem 39%, Katherine 7%, Ngukurr 5%, Victoria River District 1% and West Arnhem 29%.

Commercial Development

GOAL: to facilitate economic opportunities that lead to viable and sustainable commercial activities and development in the regions.

KEY OBJECTIVE: to empower Aboriginal people to carry out commercial activities and build sustainable enterprises.

Economic development provides the foundation for genuine opportunities for Aboriginal people by providing cultural and social benefits.

Section 23(1)(ea) of the ALRA empowers NLC to assist Aboriginal people to carry out commercial activities, provided that NLC itself does not profit from the activities.

Aboriginal people in the NLC region suffer from high levels of disadvantage, a situation that is not likely to change without long-term strategic investment.

NLC is a key agency in facilitating economic development on Aboriginal lands, with statutory responsibility for facilitating economic activity over an area that covers more than 210,000 square kilometres of Aboriginal land in the NT, as well as 85% of the coastline. The NLC economic development program assists Traditional Owners to use their land assets to create investment and businesses and employment opportunities.

NLC faces many challenges in helping build sustainable enterprises on Aboriginal land as most former reserve land and land obtained under the ALRA has low commercial productivity and few dedicated resources to help facilitate this.

Services and essential infrastructure are also poor in remote locations. Exceptions include areas where minerals have been found and where nature-based tourism can exist. Regardless, economic opportunities do exist for Aboriginal people on Aboriginal land. As populations increase, small to mid-size food and retail operators increasingly see Aboriginal communities as attractive business opportunities.

A range of industries from horticulture to agri-forestry and pastoral enterprises are also in development and the environmental sector provides real opportunities for Aboriginal enterprises.

As a result of the Blue Mud Bay High court decision, entry into the commercial fishing industry is likely to present commercial and economic opportunities.

The long-term focus, however, is on developing the capacity of Traditional Owners:

  • To participate in the mainstream economy;
  • To take advantage of commercial opportunities arising from developments on Aboriginal land; and
  • To develop long-term sustainable Aboriginal enterprises in the pastoral industry, timber works, aquaculture, feral animal management and harvesting, carbon (fire) abatement programs, mining operations, railways and pipelines, gas and major infrastructure development.

Aboriginal Participation

In reviewing Indigenous participation with land use agreements on Aboriginal land, NLC has adopted the ABS definition of an Indigenous business: a legal entity that is majority owned by Indigenous persons and is engaging in productive activity and/or other forms of economic activity in the market sector.

Such entities accumulate assets on their own account and/or hold assets on behalf of others and may incur liabilities. Included are economic entities, such as incorporated businesses, where majority ownership of the entity may be shared between Indigenous directors, partners and/or shareholders.

Aboriginal business and corporations feature strongly in the leasing of major assets on Aboriginal land trusts with the vast majority of community stores leased by an Aboriginal business entity.

Overall Indigenous corporations have an interest in nearly 18% of all land use agreements and cover a range of industries, including shops, a township lease, rocket launching site, pastoral station, tourism and fishing. Aboriginal participation is likely to increase with leasing activity as 28% of the 413 outstanding expressions of interest are from Indigenous proponents.


Pastoral Unit activities - industry update

The northern pastoral industry has a strong focus on live exports and is subject to a range of external influences in terms of international market demand fluctuations as a result of factors such as the value of the Australian currency, international competitors, the import policies of destination countries, the availability of reliable shipping and seasonal conditions.

The NT cattle population has remained stable over the past few years at about 2.1 million head, which is about 8% of the estimated Australian herd of around 26.9 million. Approximately 50-60% of all NT cattle are in the NLC regional area. It is estimated that there are approximately 100,000 head on Aboriginal land behind fences under a land use agreement in NLC’s jurisdiction and thousands of bush cattle roaming free dispersed across a number of Aboriginal land trust areas.

The live cattle export trade and the sale of cattle in the interstate markets tend to dominate pastoral production in the Territory.

The live export of cattle has been experiencing a relaxing of prices offered by exporters because of the dry conditions and competitors in traditional market destinations. However, recent prices indicate a strengthening to over $3 per kilogram live weight for export feeder steers and look set to continue to remain steady for the rest of 2019.

The live export trade to South East Asian countries remains the strongest market destination and experienced some growth in the 2018 calendar year with 272,282 NT cattle being live exported, mainly to Indonesia and Vietnam, from the Darwin Port. The 2018 export figures for NT cattle are the best in the past three calendar years, which is promising for the pastoral industry.

The pastoral industry remains a major contributor to regional economies. It also generates considerable flow-on benefits to other industries, particularly transport and storage, business-to-business services, and retail trade services.

The state of the industry as a whole reflects on the demand for grazing licences and the type of businesses seeking to obtain grazing licences on Aboriginal land trusts. During times of industry prosperity, many pastoral companies see investing in enterprise expansion on Aboriginal land as a viable option. The process is becoming more competitive for potentially productive pastoral areas on Aboriginal land trusts.

Meatworks Operations

The Australian Agricultural Company’s $100 million abattoir at Livingstone outside of Darwin has been mothballed since 2018.

The closure has reduced the opportunity for producers to sell non-export cattle, which results in higher transportation costs to access alternative markets.

The Gunbalanya meatworks continues to operate a small meatworks and retail butcher shop in the community, as well as supplying other customers throughout the Northern Territory. The meatworks processes beef and buffalo grown on the adjoining station and is a significant source of local employment. Another abattoir is expected to open in the Batchelor area in the near future after extensive refurbishment. It is believed to have capacity to process cattle as well as buffalo. This may provide an outlet for animals that are not suitable for live export and further assist the viability of feral animal harvest operations.

Pastoral Unit Workload

NLC pastoral unit’s workload continues to grow with an increasing number of activities to monitor:

  • 40 pastoral grazing licences;
  • five cattle mustering licences; and
  • seven buffalo mustering licences There are two pastoral coordinator positions – based in Darwin and Katherine – dedicated to assessing expressions of interest, agreement consultation and compliance management.

Pastoral compliance is resource intensive and critical as up to 70% of Traditional Owner benefits over the course of a land use agreement on their country could be through infrastructure offsets for vital equipment, such as bores, watering points, fencing, and cattle yards.

The annual value of benefits to Traditional Owners across the 40 pastoral grazing licences is estimated to be $2.3 million.

It is important that NLC constantly liaise with licence holders, government and Traditional Owners to ensure key milestones in agreements are achieved and property, and environmental and animal conditions are managed properly. Much of the process involves a lot of bush work with each pastoral coordinator spending a large portion of their work time travelling, checking on property conditions and agreement deliverables, and consulting with Traditional Owners and key stakeholders.

The pastoral team works closely with government departments to access up-to-date best practice information to ensure pastoral activities are sustainable and viable for the longterm benefit of Traditional Owners. This year our team managed to complete 17 compliance activities across our pastoral licence portfolio.

The following graph is a snapshot of pastoral activities for the NLC. The land mass under pastoral and mustering agreements is approximately 55,000km2 .

Statistical Analysis of the Pastoral Activity. Buffalo Mustering EOI 18%, Buffalo Mustering Licence 9%, Pastoral Grazing EOI 15%, Pastoral Grazing Licence 51% and Pastoral Mustering Licence 7%.
Statistical Analysis of the Pastoral Activity

Pastoral Interests

Throughout the year NLC fielded a large number of enquiries from pastoralists about potential grazing arrangements on Aboriginal land trusts, such as Mangarrayi and Menggen, and numerous general enquiries about areas potentially available. The continued dry conditions across the Barkly and VRD and the consecutive lighter-than-average wet seasons in northern grazing areas has increased pressure on cattle producers.

Several grazing licences expired in the past 12 months and competing interests have created stronger competition for the available licence areas. Values offered for grazing licences continue to improve as the industry remains in a buoyant state and demand for NT cattle from a range of Asian importers continues to improve.

Animal welfare compliance remains a high priority for mustering and pastoral activities. Contractors and licence holders are required to adhere to best-practice methodology and legally required standards in all aspects of the supply chain as expected by exporters, processors and government regulators. Pastoral districts within the NLC region have average to low volumes of pasture available for dry season grazing, with the Barkly having the lowest volumes of available pasture.

It is expected that as the season progresses it will be increasingly difficult for cattle of export quality to be available until the stock grazing on northern floodplains becomes available to the export market later in the year. Demand from livestock exporters is expected to remain stable, taking into account seasonal conditions and the varying requirements of the destination countries.


The live export of buffalo over the past two calendar years has remained stable with 9916 exported through Darwin Port in 2017 and 8673 in 2018.:

Feral buffalo continue to be mustered on Aboriginal land trusts, mainly in Arnhem Land where a total of 3529 head were reportedly mustered to the end of 2018 season. Buffalo mustering accounted for approximately 40% of all NT buffalo exports. The market demand continues to be mainly from Indonesia, Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, Malaysia. Traditional Owners have a range of aspirations for feral buffalo herds on Aboriginal land, which vary from culling to limit land degradation and improve options for other land uses through to sustainable levels of harvest.

The saleable animals in a feral herd are estimated to be around 20%, which means it may not be viable to try to muster the same area for two years to allow smaller animals to grow to a saleable weight and muster cost-effective numbers. Sustainable buffalo mustering may have an impact on country, especially if Traditional Owners want to reduce buffalo numbers for better land management.

Unauthorised Mustering

Mustering on land trusts without a licence or legal authority is an issue for the NLC. Non-authorised mustering is illegal and results in the loss of income for Traditional Owners as they are not receiving payment for livestock removed from their country.

The NLC is working with appropriate authorities to minimise the impact of stock theft, which has been identified as an issue by the wider industry.

NLC manage a large geographical area and it is difficult to provide the level of monitoring required with limited resources. Cattle duffing operations, unauthorised pet meat harvesting, unauthorised safari hunting and non-Traditional Owner weekend hunters are all problem issues on land trust areas.

Mustering of Aboriginal Land

NLC supervised the mustering of cattle on the Wagiman Aboriginal Land Trust by neighbouring properties. The muster covered approximately 820 kms2 and allowed for the land trust area to be comprehensively mustered for the first time in many years. The whole operation was resource intensive with staff, equipment and logistical coordination. A Traditional Owner and a staff member from the Department of Primary Industry and Resources Indigenous Pastoral Program were also present each day of the mustering and drafting operations.

The outcome of the mustering operation was that 608 head of cattle were mustered. All branded cattle were returned to their owners and unbranded cattle were sold to a neighbouring property for the benefit of Traditional Owners. Another notable operation was mustering on the Waanyi/Garawa Aboriginal Land Trust. The Mustering Licence holder mustered 9 different sites on land trust areas and recovered a total of 1440 head of cattle.

Pastoral Rangeland Monitoring

NLC has reviewed rangeland conditions on a number of grazing areas over the past few years to gauge the sustainability and impact on grazing areas. Rangeland monitoring on pastoral areas consists of the establishment of monitoring sites in suitable areas approximately 2.5-3.5 kilometres from stock watering points.

Some of the land trusts that were previously pastoral leases have historical data that can be used in the evaluation process to establish comparisons. However, some Aboriginal land trust areas have not previously had monitoring points so new points have been established. The site coordinates are recorded, along with data on the composition of native grasses, tree density, land condition, erosion, weeds and percentage of bare ground. Photographic data is also recorded to visually record changes in the rangeland appearance over many years and decades.

The information gathered from rangeland monitoring points is used to establish if grazing density is at longterm sustainable levels or if grazing density can be increased or reduced.

Fire histories and seasonal variability is also taken into consideration when assessments are carried out.

The Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Indigenous Pastoral Program (IPP) provide high-level technical expertise to the Northern Land Council in evaluating pastoral rangeland and establishing rangeland monitoring points on land trusts.

Data recording of these sites is critical to evaluate rangelands and develop adaptive management strategies if required to ensure they remain in a healthy state and retain high levels of native plant species and biodiversity, ensuring long-term sustainability for pastoral activities.

Rangeland monitoring, Mayat country

Bradshaw Partnering Indigenous Land Use Agreement

The Department of Defence Bradshaw Field Training Area (BFTA), formerly known as Bradshaw Station, is near Timber Creek within the Victoria River District. The facility is one of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) largest military training areas, purchased by the Australian Government in 1996. BFTA covers approximately 870,000 hectares and is bound to the north by the Fitzmaurice River, to the west by the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, to the south by the Victoria River and to the east by pastoral properties.

The Department of Defence negotiated the Bradshaw Partnering Indigenous Land Use Agreement with NLC and Traditional Owners. The agreement, which has been in place since July 2003, has provided NLC recurrent funding for over a decade to support a dedicated position to assist Traditional Owners with the implementation and monitoring of the agreement. NLC’s Bradshaw Liaison Officer is located at Timber Creek and is responsible for consulting with Traditional Owners and ADF personnel in the implementation and monitoring of the Bradshaw Partnering ILUA.

Over the past decade a special emphasis has been placed on developing the capacity of Traditional Owners to participate effectively in cultural maintenance, including an annual cultural camp, business activities, training and employment, and promoting Aboriginal employment opportunities.

This led to Traditional Owners establishing their own business in June 2008, Bradshaw and Timber Creek Contracting & Resource Co Pty Ltd. The business has taken advantage of the unique contracting opportunities afforded within the BFTA. The company’s strong performance over the past 11 years has put it in a position to take on a range of contracts and fee-for-service activities with the Department of Defence, US Marines Corp, shire council, NT Government and larger Defence contractors.

Bradshaw & Timber Creek Contracting & Resource Co Pty Ltd

The company was established in June 2008 by senior Traditional Owners It started from a zero financial and asset base – there was no money, no equipment, and little or no expertise in business, just a desire to provide local employment opportunities for Aboriginal people on their own country. The business is 100% Indigenous managed and operated, and is headed up by a board of six Aboriginal directors, who are all Traditional Owners within the Bradshaw and VRD area.

The company received strong support through the NLC’s Bradshaw Liaison Officer to establish the business. This support has continued to enable the company to be where it is today – in a position of strength with a strong asset base, which includes an industrial work shed and yard, a dedicated workers’ village, and large range of plant and machinery for municipal and infrastructure project contracts.

The company, which has demonstrated it is competitive and has a reliable workforce, employs up to 12 full-time permanent local Aboriginal men, plus an additional 10 local Aboriginal men are engaged on a full-time casual basis in peak contracting periods.

The ADF, particularly through BFTA Range Control Officers, has provided the company’s local Aboriginal employees mentoring, encouragement, guidance and support. ADF’s commitment to the ILUA and local Indigenous participation has been critical to the company’s development and success.

There has been a general broadening of the complexity of works for the company at BFTA. Activities now include road works, firebreaks, weed management, solid waste and portaloo management, military tent erection and dismantling, target construction, water infrastructure installation and maintenance, water and environmental monitoring, and general support for all military training exercises. Joint ventures have also been entered into with other civil works companies to undertake larger road projects; some of the company’s employees have been engaged by larger contractors for projects.

The company has secured further contracts based on increased capacity and this, in turn, provides further Aboriginal employment opportunities. It has established a good reputation for being reliable and cost effective, and as a result contracting opportunities continue to present themselves. The company holds the NT Government weed management contract for the western Victoria River region and roadside slashing on the Victoria Highway.

The Bradshaw Partnering ILUA and the support provided by the NLC and Department of Defence have been critical to the company’s success. The company looks forward to continuing the successful relationship as these partnerships have provided real employment and business opportunities for local Aboriginal people and this has made a positive impact within Aboriginal families in Timber Creek.

The ADF have indicated that there are likely to be further major investments in upgrading facilities at the BFTA over the next few years, which is likely have a major impact on the development of Timber Creek and surrounding communities through providing increased employment and business opportunities.

The NLC’s Borroloola regional manager Stuart Worthington with residents of Budjanga homeland, Gulf country

ABA Homelands Project

ABA Homelands Project

The Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) Homelands Project has been allocated a total of $40 million for a one-off infrastructure investment in selected homelands in the Northern Territory.

This project is community-driven with an emphasis on consulting with homelands residents to learn what forms of investment they see as most beneficial. The project consults with other sources of assistance to homelands, such as the NT Government’s Municipal and Essential Services (MES) program, so that the investment is not duplicated.

The project funds will be allocated for the delivery of activities in homelands across the four Aboriginal land council regions in the NT:

  • Northern Land Council - $15.75 million;
  • Central Land Council - $15.75 million;
  • Tiwi Land Council - $2 million; and
  • Anindiliyakwa Land Council - $2 million.

An amount of $4.5 million will be kept as a contingency for the engagement of technical specialists. Any remaining funds are to be reinvested into this project.

The Project has three Key Stages:

  1. Consultation: land councils consult with selected homelands in their regions and then submit proposals for assessment.
  2. Assessment: each proposal is checked by the PMC to ensure benefit, need and capacity criteria are addressed. Proposals are presented to the ABA Advisory Committee (ABAAC) and their recommendation is considered by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
  3. Delivery: local Indigenous providers are approached by the PMC to submit an application to deliver approved infrastructure activities. PMC formally assesses applications and, if successful, PMC enters into a funding agreement with providers.

Project Management

  • NLC initially consulted Aboriginal Homeland Service Provider Boards to discuss priority communities in their area of operation. These service providers have a strong relationship with homeland communities and are the local experts in understanding community need. There are 20 service providers providing essential and municipal services to homeland communities in the NLC region.
  • NLC engaged other community stakeholders to assist in identifying homeland community infrastructure priorities and need. Homeland community residents enquiring about the ABA Homelands Project separately were provided information about the program and referred to their homeland service provider to discuss their priorities.
  • Managing expectations – it is estimated that with the amount of funds available, the extremely high need, and the cost of doing business in the bush it is likely up to 80 homelands are likely to benefit from the ABA Homelands Project in the NLC region;
  • Aboriginal Homeland Service Provider Boards provided NLC with a list of homelands to consult with over potential projects;
  • PMC provided an information package to help NLC with consultations. Information included previous and planned government investment in each homeland (to avoid duplication of support); and
  • NLC consulted the residents of prioritised homeland communities about potential projects identified by service providers. Community residents identified their funding priorities and NLC prepared detailed funding proposals on the behalf of the community, not the service provider.

What the project can fund:

  • New and upgraded essential services infrastructure to provide safe and reliable power, water; and sewerage services.
  • Upgrades and repairs to infrastructure that supports access to a homeland, such as roads, bridges, cross-overs, airstrips and barge landings, but do not or are not eligible to receive funding from other sources.
  • New or upgraded radio/ telephony infrastructure, including mobile phone coverage.
  • New and upgraded infrastructure to improve the amenity of a homeland, including ablution blocks, meeting facilities, and new dump and fencing.
  • Vehicles and machinery for municipal activities and owned by an Aboriginal organisation.

Statistical Outlook

The NLC region has just over 200 occupied homeland communities with varying levels of need. There are nearly 4000 residents living permanently at homeland communities.

Visual pie chart with Number of regularly occupied Homeland Communities across the NLC’s 7 Regions. Borroloola Barkly 10%, Darwin Daly Wagait 28%, East Arnhem 9%, Katherine 1%, Ngukurr 7%, Victoria River District 29% and West Arnhem 17%.
Number of regularly occupied Homeland Communities across the NLC’s 7 Regions - 204

The level of need for essential and municipal service infrastructure is significantly high and rough estimates calculate these costs into the high tens of millions of dollars, so prioritising investments in this project will be O critical as not everything can be funded.

Visual pie chart for regional breakdown on number of homeland residents (Total of 3,964).
Regional Breakdown - Number of Homeland Residents (Total - 3,964)

The NLC’s Nathan Rosas & Kym Brahim consulting with residents at Wogyala homeland, Barkly Tableland

All Regions to Benefit

It is also essential that all seven NLC regions benefit from the ABA Homelands Project and that funds are distributed throughout each region for the benefit of Aboriginal people living on their homeland community.

To have a fair and equal distribution of funds, the investment will be distributed using NLC’s recommended regional distribution model, which is based on:

  1. Overall percentage of homeland community population by region;
  2. Overall percentage of homeland communities by region;
  3. Average percentage of A and B by region applied against the overall funds allocation;
  4. Applying a $4 million cap on regional funding;
  5. Equalisation – the balance of funds with a cap applied would allow other NLC regions with high needs to receive a top up and maximise benefits across a larger area.

The quarantining of funds for each region allows all NLC regions to benefit.



East Arnhem


West Arnhem

Darwin Daly Wagait


Borroloola Barkly






Victoria River District





Regional Councils

NLC’s seven Regional Councils were consulted and they were consistent in identifying key funding priorities for their respective regions.


  1. The homeland community must be permanently occupied by Aboriginal people, the Aboriginal residents must be living there for most of the year and it must be their principal place of residence.
  2. Essential service upgrades, including power, water, and sewerage infrastructure.
  3. Upgrades to access, including roads, bridges, cross-overs, airstrips, and barge landings.
  4. New or upgraded radio/ telephony infrastructure, including mobile phone coverage.
  5. New and upgraded community, such as ablution blocks, meeting facilities, and new dumps and fencing.
  6. Prioritise investments that will have the largest impact and meet the highest need.
  7. Investment into community infrastructure that fits within the project guidelines that may assist with economic opportunities.
  8. Vehicles and machinery for municipal activities that are owned by an Aboriginal organisation.

Homeland Community Service Providers

NLC consulted Aboriginal Homeland Service Provider Boards throughout 2018/19. These boards are comprised of all Aboriginal members or a significantly high majority.

At the end of June 2019, NLC had consulted the vast majority of the Homeland Service Providers with only a couple remaining to be consulted in the Barkly and VRD.

Homeland Communities

The information received from Homeland Service Providers guided our community consultations, with some providers taking their time in submitting well thought out, fully costed, detailed funding priorities.

The first phase of homeland community consultations with community residents and Traditional Owners commenced at the beginning of September 2018 and continued through until late-December 2018. The NLC completed 84 homeland consultations.

A second phase of homeland community consultations commenced in early March 2019 and continued up until the end of May 2019, with NLC completing a further 20 homeland consultations.

The NLC’s Jeff Yoelu consulting with residents at Merrepen, Daly River Tablelands

ABA Homelands Project Funding Proposals


NLC put together a recommended funding package for the ABA Advisory Committee that incorporated 33 homeland community proposals across five NLC regions in early February 2019. The highest priority activities for the highest priority communities have been recommended for funding based on overall need and benefit.

A significantly high percentage of those proposals were for essential services that address environmental health issues, reduce diesel consumption and create significant savings from operating budgets over the next 10 to 15 years.

The 33 community projects outlined in the following table have now been approved. They will directly benefit 260 homes and about 1670 homeland residents, and will upgrade critical infrastructure to just over 40 percent of all Aboriginal people living on homelands in the NLC region.

The approved activities from the first round of funding proposals is estimated to be up to $11.2 million, which includes a $450,000 contribution from the NT Government for three large renewable energy projects in the East Arnhem region. All the approved projects have moved into the negotiation and delivery stage with PMC and a service provider.


NLC second round of proposals was put together in early June 2019 with a recommended funding package to the ABA Advisory Committee that incorporated 22 homeland communities across six NLC regions. Most of the community proposals came from the Borroloola Barkly (14) and Ngukurr (3) regions. A significantly high percentage of those proposals were for essential services that address environmental health issues and for mobile communications.

At the end of June 2019, the second round of funding proposals was pending consideration from both the ABA Advisory Committee and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.


NLC will continue to consult with Homeland Service Providers and homeland communities until each region has been covered and all funds for the project have been committed. Consultations will continue in some areas in 2019/20.

Indigenous Participation

One of the project deliverables was a high level of Indigenous participation. NLC used 20 regional office staff and achieved 65% Indigenous participation, plus engaged the services of two independent Aboriginal ranger programs.