The NLC is a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) under the provisions of the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA), and as part of its statutory responsibilities, deals with applications for minerals and petroleum exploration and production on land over which the NTA applies.
The Northern Territory Government is obliged to notify native title holders about new exploration proposals over land subject to native title. The process to approve minerals and energy exploration over lands subject to native title is twotiered, allowing for a standard process of agreement negotiation and an “expedited” process. Minerals and energy exploration and production activities are referred to as “future acts” under the NTA.
Section 237 of the NTA, specifies any act that is likely to attract the expedited procedure is: (i) unlikely to interfere directly with community or social activities; (ii) unlikely to interfere with areas or sites of particular significance; and (iii) unlikely to involve major disturbance to any lands or waters.
Generally, the expedited process applies to minerals Exploration Licences (ELs) in the Northern Territory. Proponents are encouraged to enter negotiations in good faith with native title holders at the application stage – though predominantly, minerals companies with EL(A)s processed under the expedited procedure will waive this opportunity until they have identified an economic resource and wish to apply for a Mineral Lease.
Petroleum Exploration Permits (EPs) and most minerals production titles such as Mineral Leases (MLs), on the other hand, are deemed to attract the “right to negotiate” (RTN) under the NTA and, as such, are not processed under the expedited procedure. Where the RTN applies, the NLC (as the designated NTRB) undertakes consultations with native title holders to obtain instructions; if agreement is not reached, the matter may proceed to the Native Title Tribunal for determination.