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Community Planning & Development Unit

The NLC’s Community Planning and Development (CP&D) program has been operating for three years. It supports Aboriginal land-owning groups to use payments from land use agreements to drive their own development and secure lasting benefits from their land, waters and seas.

To facilitate this, the NLC Strategic Plan 2016–2020 proposed to implement a Community Development Unit. The Community Planning and Development (CP&D) Unit, now with five staff, is working closely with other branches of the NLC to progress the CP&D program and to support the application of CP&D principles and processes across the organisation’s functions.

Our Goal, Objectives and Approach

The CP&D framework, endorsed by the NLC Full Council in November 2016, guides the development work of the organisation generally, as well as the delivery of the CP&D program.

The framework approaches community development as a set of principles and a process that builds Aboriginal capacity, ownership and control, and makes Aboriginal groups and communities stronger.

Community development works best when groups of people take action together, based on their ideas of what is important, and their knowledge of how to solve problems in their community.

Groups often need assistance, and community development workers bring people together to do good planning, make informed decisions about those plans, make sure they happen, and then review whether the plans achieved their objectives and what lessons have been learnt along the way.

This work is guided by an eight-step process, also approved by the NLC Full Council, which the NLC works through with each Aboriginal group that decides to use land use payments for lasting community benefit.

The program has the following goals and objectives:


Healthy, resilient and engaged Aboriginal people, groups and communities that are strong in language, culture, connection to country, health, education and employment.


  1. Strengthen Aboriginal capacity, control and group cohesion, particularly through the management of resources that belong to them.
  2. Generate social, cultural, environmental and economic outcomes prioritised and valued by Aboriginal people and which benefit them.
  3. Monitor and evaluate to strengthen the program and show that the NLC’s CP&D approach works.
  4. Share lessons with government and non-government agencies so they support Aboriginal-led planning and development.


The NLC has made substantial progress in the establishment and operation of its CP&D program over the past 12 months. The CP&D team has almost doubled to eight experienced staff who do the complex work of supporting Aboriginal groups to prioritise their many aspirations and needs, then design and fund initiatives that will deliver on these priorities.

The team has continued to raise council and constituent awareness of the program, developed and improved internal systems and processes, and developed relationships with key government and non-government stakeholders. The CP&D Unit is working in eight locations in four of the seven NLC regions.

Traditional Owner groups in these locations have collectively put aside over $6.5 million towards community development initiatives. See figure below.

This is a $1.5 million increase since last year. The increase is from groups already using the CP&D program and deciding to put more money aside for community projects.

Also, the number of community projects that Traditional Owners have approved has doubled to 24 for the same reporting period. This growth suggests that Aboriginal groups value using the NLC’s community development approach.

Visual map of the Northern Land Council Community Planning and Development Program project locations.
Northern Land Council Community Planning and Development Program Project Locations


It also presents a substantial investment by Aboriginal people, both in setting their income aside for community development and in working together in driving their own development. Further, it demonstrates a move away from directing funds to individual distribution.

Income set aside for community projects is derived from a range of agreements, such as shop and town leases, intertidal fishing access agreements, Native Title Indigenous Land Use Agreements and funds generated through carbon abatement programs. When looking at the amount of funds set aside for community development in the eight locations, the most significant amounts are in Wadeye and Legune.

Funds set aside in each location shown as a percentage of the total income set aside for community development.

Project funds for Wadeye relate to significant accumulated income from township leases, and for Legune relate to the negotiation of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement for a major project, Project Sea Dragon.

Visual graph of growth of community development across the NLC regions from 2016 to 2019.
Growth of community development across the NLC regions

Visual pie chart of the growth of community development across the NLC regions by percentages.
Growth of community development across the NLC regions by percentages

Community Projects

The NLC is working with each group through the eight-step CP&D process toward delivery of a number of initiatives. Of the $6.5 million set aside, more than $2.5 million has been approved by Traditional Owners to undertake 24 community projects. Planning is underway by groups for the remaining funds.

Of the 24 projects, four have been completed and the rest are in different stages of progress. Some projects are a few months from completion and others are two-three years from completion, depending on the type of project. Of the projects, nearly 50% support language, culture and outstations, and 20% support youth engagement. The remaining 30% support law and justice, governance, education and community infrastructure.

Projects that promote sustaining language and culture include on-country culture camps to support intergenerational knowledge transfer of language, songs and stories from elders and Aboriginal rangers, and projects that recognise and promote Aboriginal culture and the use of local languages.

Youth engagement projects include running camps for youth with a strong focus on reinforcing traditional Aboriginal culture and, supporting recreation and sport activities for young people, and youth diversion initiatives. The law and justice project focuses on community legal education and exploring the interaction of western law and local lore systems, and supporting people involved in court.

Raypirri dancers at Gapuwiyak culture camp

Case Study: Galiwin'ku Traditional Owners supporting culture - Raypirri Camps

Traditional Owners in Galiwin’ku are worried for their young people; there are high rates of petrol sniffing and break-ins, and peer group pressure is strong.

Using money identified for community benefit purposes from two leases in town, these Yolngu Traditional Owners are taking action.

Working through the NLC CP&D program, they have allocated over $1 million from their lease money to youth projects, half of which will support raypirri camps for troubled young people.

The raypirri camps are led by community elders who teach young people respect, discipline and how to grow up as a Yolngu person, through immersion in cultural activities and teachings away from the distractions of the town. Traditional Owners want to foster a generation of Galwin’ku children who are proud recipients of their Yolngu culture and who have respect for their people and land. In 2018, a local Aboriginal organisation, Yalu Marnggithinyaraw Indigenous Corporation ran five camps on Elcho Island, with a further 13 camps planned in 2019-20. More recently, funding has been approved to provide logistical support to run camps also on Maroonga Island, partnering with the Crocodile Island Rangers, Miligimbi and Outstation Progress Resource Association. These camps will start later in 2019.

Infrastructure projects vary from improving existing community facilities, such as at the local church and school playground equipment, to improving outstations on homelands. One of those is related to the major aquaculture project, Project Sea Dragon.

One native title holder group is completing the planning and delivery of a $500,000 upgrade to the Marralum homeland. The project also achieved employment and on-the-job training outcomes for some Native Title Holders.

Marralum is near Legune Station, and Native Title Holders are planning to use this strategic advantage to pursue employment and business opportunities from Project Sea Dragon once it is operating.

Case Study: Legune Native Title Holders supporting homelands - Marralum outstation

The Project Sea Dragon Indigenous Land Use Agreement includes $500,000 for the upgrade of Marralum homeland. CP&D have been conducting planning meetings with DjarraDjarrany Native Title Holders who decided the scope of works for its stage 1 upgrade and chose the contractor, Tangentyere Constructions.

Stage 1 included refurbishing three houses, reinstating the power and water system and introducing solar systems with hybrid power units to each house, and a stock fence around the property, including vehicle and pedestrian gates. Six local Aboriginal people, mainly Native Title Holder residents, were employed to upgrade their homeland.

The process of living on the homeland while upgrading it, along with having planning discussions with builders, allowed residents to identify the important next priorities for Marralum. Together, the DjarraDjarrany group then funded the stage 2 upgrade, which includes further upgrades to the water system, such as a high-grade filtration system with float valve and pressure pump, upgrades to security, including solar street lights, strong locks and community signs, and improvements to the power system, such as increased battery storage capacity, and replacing old air conditioners with new energy efficient split systems.

Residents and Native Title Holders are proud of their planning and work. Within the $500,000, Native Title Holders have also planned a contingency, management and repairs and maintenance project to help carry the benefits of the community project long into the future. Since the upgrade, the new infrastructure of the homeland qualified it for Homelands Services. In 2019, residents received the good news that their application was successful. Marralum now receives municipal essential services, and housing and repairs maintenance – a great result for sustainability.

Meeting notes

Looking back

To assess the value of the CP&D work, the NLC has made solid progress on its objective to monitor and evaluate (M&E) the CP&D program. Since development of its M&E framework in 2017 and M&E Implementation Plan in 2018, NLC was successful in November 2018 in securing funds under section 64(1) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 for a three-year monitoring research project.

The research project involves the detailed design and implementation of a comprehensive monitoring system to support a process of critical reflection, assessment and improvement of the CP&D program. Three different monitoring approaches will be trialled with Aboriginal groups, and over time adapted towards an approach that is most appropriate for projects managed through the program.

One approach will engage Traditional Owners in more depth to identify their perceived benefits for community projects and what measures they want to use to check that projects meet those values. The second approach will work with groups to examine social and wellbeing values to better understand the value of the CP&D process in supporting group cohesion, leadership and self-determination and other key principles of the CP&D program.

The third approach builds on the program’s existing monitoring practices that are used in delivering all community projects. CP&D staff will continue to seek feedback from all other groups using the CP&D program to deliver their community projects on what is working well and not so well in program delivery.

To support this delivery, a dedicated Project Officer has been recruited to the CP&D Unit and La Trobe University has been engaged to oversee the research. This includes supporting development of methodology around social and wellbeing values with Native Title Holders for Legune who are party to the Project Sea Dragon Indigenous Land Use Agreement.

Those Native Title Holders have agreed to participate in the project and so far completed one workshop. Already their views reflect well on the program, in terms of its process to support groups working together, managing money, being good leaders, communicating and negotiating ideas collectively.

Charles Darwin University has also been engaged to undertake a participatory, ground-up monitoring approach with groups in Galiwin’ku and Gapuwiyak. Both groups have agreed to participate in the project, and in Galiwin’ku Traditional Owners are already developing their approach and engaging local researchers to conduct the work.

All the information will be documented and reported on each year to the council, constituents, government and nongovernment stakeholders to update progress, share learnings and promote the value of community-led development.

Looking forward - consultations at a Community Planning & Development workshop at Ngukurr, Roper River district

Looking forward

After three years, the NLC CP&D program is well established within the organisation. Importantly, Aboriginal people are increasingly aware of the program process and the outcomes it is starting to generate, and are looking to opt in.

Growth in the CP&D program is predominantly from groups already using the program and continuing to put more money aside and developing more projects.

However, the CP&D Unit has not been able to take on more groups in other NLC regions. So, the number of locations and NLC regions has not increased since last year.

To deliver this important work across more NLC regions and locations, more staff and operational resources are needed, as well as overall organisational capacity, should the CP&D program continue to grow.

To manage the growth of the program and balance capacity of program resources and Aboriginal group expectations, the CP&D program caps the minimum amount of money groups need to set aside for community benefit projects at $250,000. This cap will be reviewed as the program continues to develop, dependent on staffing capacity to take on more projects of lesser value without compromising the CP&D process with Aboriginal groups.

To ensure the next stage of program growth is strategic and sustainable the NLC aims to develop a five-year strategic plan (2020-25), with a clear focus on securing quality development outcomes.