Permit system

Permits have generally been required to enter and remain on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. This system was set up by the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Except in specific circumstances it has been an offence to enter and remain on Aboriginal land without a permit. Permits are granted by Land Councils or traditional owners of the land.

The previous Australian Government legislated changes to these arrangements with the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The changes removed the necessity to obtain permits for certain people in certain circumstances. All those involved with the NTER, including medical teams and volunteers, do not require a permit for the period of the NTER.

From 18 August 2007 Government employees and contractors no longer require a permit to enter Aboriginal Land in the NT to perform relevant duties. These changes are permanent and do not lapse at the conclusion of the five year Emergency Response period.

The 2007 NTER legislation package also introduced limited public rights of access to common areas in 52 major communities - by air, by sea or by the use of roads identified in a determination made by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs - without the need to obtain a permit. These changes took effect on 17 February 2008.

The current Australian Government does not believe that the changes relating to public access are in the best interests of Aboriginal people and the wider community. While attempts to repeal the changes through new legislation failed to pass the Senate in late 2008, it remains Government policy to reinstate the permit system in relation to public access.

Consistent with this approach, the Government will not be making a determination specifying which roads can be used to gain access to communities.

People wishing to visit communities by road will therefore require a permit to use roads leading to communities unless the roads are public roads.

The Government encourages people wishing to access Aboriginal land to continue to contact the relevant Land Council regarding visits to communities.

The permit system continues to apply to the vast majority of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. 

Content Updated: 22 May 2012