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Environment and Land


For over 60,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have actively managed their lands and waters. Indigenous land and water management projects:  

  • deliver jobs  
  • preserve Australia’s unique natural and cultural resources  
  • build economic capacity. 

The work done to establish Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) and host Indigenous Ranger Program (IRP) groups protects a diverse range of land and water country. It also provides real skills and employment opportunities in remote and rural areas.  

You can find a short description of each of the NIAA funded IRP projects and Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water funded IPAs on the interactive project map.

You can see the locations of the IPAs and IRP funded groups in this PDF map (1.31 MB).

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ have rights and interests recognised in over 50 per cent of Australia’s land mass. 

Connection to land is of central importance to First Nations Australians. The recognition of Indigenous rights in land and waters has been fundamental to the process of reconciliation. 

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) works with First Nations Australians so that Indigenous land can become an economic, cultural and spiritual asset. 

We assist First Nations people in generating economic and social benefits from their land assets. This includes supporting: 

  • traditional owners to make informed decisions about use of their land 
  • long-term tradable tenure and land administration 
  • land and sea claims under Commonwealth native title and land rights legislation. 

Land rights

The Commonwealth has responsibility for Land Rights in the Northern Territory (NT) through the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth).  

Under this Act, traditional owners hold decision-making powers over the use of Aboriginal land. Land Councils assist traditional owners to secure and manage their land. 

The NIAA has a role in: 

  • Administering the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA). The ABA receives funds from the royalties of mines located on Aboriginal land in the NT. Through grants, these funds are used to benefit Aboriginal people living in the NT.  
  • Negotiating township leases. These are long-term leases (up to 99 years) over communities on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. Township leases can support economic development outcomes by providing long-term tradable tenure.

Reforms on the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory)

The Northern Territory Aboriginal Investment Corporation (NTAIC) has been established to support self-determination for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory (NT). 

The NTAIC makes payments and investments from the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) to benefit Aboriginal people living in the NT. 

This follows NT Traditional Owners asking for better support for their economic, cultural and social goals. This support was given in the reforms to theAboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Economic Empowerment) Act 2021.  

Other reforms have: 

  • modernised and streamlined provisions relating to exploration and mining on Aboriginal land 
  • improved land administration and local decision making. 

For further information on the NTAIC, please visit NT Aboriginal Investment Corporation

The Aboriginal Land and Waters (Jervis Bay Territory) Act

Jervis Bay Territory is a Commonwealth administered territory located approximately 250 kilometres east of Canberra and approximately 200 kilometres south of Sydney.

Under the Aboriginal Land and Waters (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986 the Commonwealth has vested about 90 per cent of the land in Jervis Bay Territory in the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council. The Council holds title to, and manages, the Aboriginal land including by granting residential leases to its registered members.

The Australian Government worked with the Wreck Bay community over a number of years to jointly develop a Bill to strengthen local governance and decision making, and help to facilitate home ownership style leases. The Government is also investing in housing in Wreck Bay, and is working in partnership with the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council to roll out the work.

Native title

Native Title includes rights and interests that relate to land and waters that are: 

  • held by Indigenous people  
  • governed under traditional laws and customs 
  • recognised by the common law in accordance with the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). 

We fund a network of Native Title Representative Bodies and Service Providers to assist native title groups. Further details are available at Native Title Representative Bodies and Service Providers

Native title corporations (known as ‘Prescribed Bodies Corporate’, PBC) hold, manage and protect native title on behalf of Traditional Owners. The Australian Government assists these bodies through grant funding (see Grants below). 

Recent changes have been made to Native Title legislation that will affect PBCs. More information is available at Changes to Native Title legislation affecting PBCs

The Attorney-General’s Department provides legal advice on the proscribed sections of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). More information is available at  Attorney-General's Department

Ministers’ Meeting

Native title ministers’ meetings involve all Australian, state and territory ministers with responsibility for native title. They provide a forum to discuss key issues in the native title system and cross-jurisdictional actions to address them.  

At the meeting, on 15 October 2021, the Native Title Ministers issued the following Communique and Guiding Principles: 

Representative Bodies and Service Providers Performance Reviews 2023-24

The Nous Group has been engaged to perform the work set out in the following Statement of Work. The reviews will start in early in 2023 and are expected to be completed by July 2024. As indicated in the Statement of Work, results will be published on this website.  

Economic development

We are supporting Indigenous land owners and native title holders to use their land for economic development. 

The COAG Investigation into Indigenous Land Administration and Use recommended governments support economic development by: 

  • making it easier to recognise Indigenous rights and interests in land 
  • supporting bankable interests in Indigenous land 
  • improving the processes for doing business on Indigenous land and land subject to native title 
  • investing in the building blocks of land administration (e.g. town planning, cadastral surveys and infrastructure) 
  • building accountable land holding and representative bodies. 

NIAA has commissioned a Guide for Economic Development Opportunities on Indigenous Land - DOCX 155 KB to assist First Nations communities pursue land-based economic opportunities.  

NIAA has also worked with CSIRO to conduct research on how best to attract investment on Aboriginal land. This has included collecting knowledge from the scientific, Indigenous and business communities.  Information on this project is available at Developing Indigenous land and water enterprise opportunities in northern Australia

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