Back to search results

printable versionPrint this page

The Engagement of Traditional Owners in the Economic Development of Northern Australia

Category: Event
Binomial Name: Australian Commonwealth Government
Date: 31 January 2022
Sub Category:Report


State/Country:ACT, Australia
Subject Matter:Agriculture | Aquaculture | | Economic Development | Law - Policy and Justice
Summary Information:

The engagement of traditional owners in the economic development of northern Australia (the Report) was tabled in the Parliament of Australia on 31 January 2022.  

The Report identified and addressed the limitations on land use in northern Australia and the implications of those limitations on the economic development of Northern Australia. 

'Looking to future economic opportunities, the Committee took particular interest in openings in emerging sectors of the economy. There is growing potential in areas such as cultural enterprises and tourism, as well as environmental protection initiatives such as savanna burning, land management, carbon abatement and renewable energy. These opportunities have the special strengths of using traditional knowledge of country, as well as supporting efforts to stay connected with country and to fulfill traditional obligations of custodianship. The Committee is particularly supportive of the expansion of the Indigenous Rangers program.' 

Furthermore, the Committee was 'united in its commitment to the fundamental importance of the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent as endorsed by Australia in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.' 

(Report, Foreword) 


The Report makes 10 recommendations on ways to encourage and support Traditional Owners in the economic development of Northern Australia. These recommendations call for:

  1. an increase in funding for Prescribed Body Corporates (PBCs) and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies with a role in the native title and land rights systems;
  2. an increase in the level of capacity building support provided to PBCs and Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs)/Service Providers (SPs);
  3. a review of systems for the appointment of PBC Directors in an attempt to reduce the turnover of PBC leadership;
  4. tailored business development, legal and research support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses to help promote economic opportunity;
  5. initiatives that aim to make use of land tenure systems across northern Australia;
  6. an increase in financial resources for organisations such as Supply Nation, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) and Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) to enable them to expand their presence in northern Australia;
  7. Commonwealth, state and territory governments in northern Australia to work with Traditional Owners to support research and development on community-based economic activities such as fire control, carbon abatement and renewable energy;
  8. enhance support for the Indigenous Rangers program, including secure long-term funding to facilitate strategic planning for sustainable environmental outcomes; 
  9. support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and Traditional Owners to work with mining advocates and pastoral interests for long-term benefits from these agreements, including employment and training strategies; and
  10. amendment of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (Cth) to allow Traditional Owners and mining advocates to negotiate agreements at both the exploration and mining stages of mining projects. 
Detailed Information:

Terms of Reference

The Report identifies seven terms of reference which define the scope of the Committee's inquiry:

  1. Current engagement, structure and funding of representative bodies, including land council's and native title bodies such as PBC's
  2. The role, structure, performance and resourcing of Government entities (such as Supply Nation and Indigenous Business Australia) 
  3. Legislative, administrative and funding constraints, and capacity for improving economic development engagement 
  4. Strategies for the enhancement of economic development opportunities and capacity building for Traditional Owners of land and sea bodies 
  5. The principle of free, prior, and informed consent
  6. Opportunities that are being accessed and that can be derived from native title and statutory titles such as the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976
  7. The overall impact these are having on encouraging investment and existing investment 

Chapter Overview

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Chapter 1 introduces the main challenge addressed in this Report. This challenge is centred around limits in relation to land use and how this has economic implications on the development of Northern Australia. This chapter also provides an overview of the function of native title law in Australia. 

Chapter 2 - Strengthening Representative Bodies 

Chapter 2 highlights the need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies to be better supported through funding. In 2020, the Productivity Commission supported this idea by highlighting how the broader strategic outcomes resulting from native title agreements will not be met when PBCs continue to struggle with adequate funding to meet basic obligations of the organisation. 

Chapter 3 - Role and Performance of Government Entities 

Chapter 3 highlights the negative impact that funding constraints have in relation to the main national Indigenous economic development agencies, Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), and the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC). Although not a government agency, Supply Nation is also considered as a key organisation with a role in facilitating Indigenous economic self determination.

The Indigenous Reference Group to the Ministerial Forum on northern development noted that the statutory remit of the government agencies under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth) meant that these agencies are limited in their ability to adequately support Northern Australian economic development (Report, 3.53). The Central Land Council further stressed that these agencies are not designed to meet the needs of Aboriginal people in remote and very remote areas (Report, Chapter 3.56). On another point, the National Native Title Council highlighted Traditional Owners and their organisations as reporting that these government economic development agencies do not have the capacity to respond to applications within a commercially viable timeframe (Report, Chapter 3.57).

Chapter 4 - Pathways to economic development

This chapter provides an overview of the ways that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have used their native title rights and interests to strengthen economic and social development.

There have been concerns around the idea that the development of Aboriginal land tenure, culture and rights in the north may constrain economic development (Report, Chapter 4.7). However, Dr Janet Hunt from the Australian National University says that this fear has been shown to be unfounded. Since the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) and the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), says Dr Hunt, 'the northern economy, rather than grinding to a halt, has diversified and grown' (Report, Chapter 4.13). Several Aboriginal Land Councils shared this view and suggested that if governments recognised the capabilities of Traditional Owners their cultural knowledge, authority and wisdom could be leveraged to strengthen economic development (Report, Chapter 4.11).

Kimberley Land Council (KLC) stated in its submission that when Traditional Owners are 'engaged by government and industry in good faith', they are 'empowered to identify commercial opportunities which use resources sustainably, thus protecting Indigenous-held core values of country and culture...' (Report, Chapter 4.8).

The Contribution of the Indigenous Business Sector to Australia's Economy Report by PwC Indigenous Consulting (PIC) in 2018 noted that many Indigenous business owners made use of economic opportunities and utilised their businesses to drive change not only for their family but also for the wider community, with social returns on investments into Indigenous businesses such as creating $4.41 of economic and social value for every dollar spent (Report, Chapter 4.4).

Related Entries

  • Indigenous Business Australia
  • Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation
  • Supply Nation
  • PwC Australia
  • Kimberley Land Council Aboriginal Corporation
  • Central Land Council
  • National Native Title Council
  • Legislation
  • Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth)
  • Native Title Act 1993 (Cth)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 (Cth)

  • References

    General Reference
    Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia (31/01/2022) The engagement of traditional owners in the economic development of Australia

    Top of page

    Was this useful? Click here to fill in the ATNS survey