The Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act protects sacred sites on all land in the Northern Territory and is administered by the Aboriginal Area Protection Authority (AAPA)
Protecting Sacred Sites
Sacred Sites in the Northern Territory are protected by specific legislation. Sacred and Cultural Sites are further protected under a Township Lease.
The Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act protects sacred sites on all land in the Northern Territory and is administered by the Aboriginal Area Protection Authority (AAPA).
AAPA works with custodians to record the location and sites of physical, spiritual and cultural significance and maintains the Register of Sacred Sites. Anyone who wants to develop land in the Northern Territory must contact AAPA and apply for an Authority Certificate, which sets out where work can be done and any areas that cannot be developed.
The Township Lease contains clauses specific to the protection of Sacred and Cultural sites and ensures that Aboriginal people have continued access to their sacred sites.
The Executive Director must apply for an Authority Certificate for each Township Lease community and will always talk to the Consultative Forum to confirm the location of any sacred sites before any new development is approved.
Once consent for development is provided by the Executive Director, the developer is also required to obtain their own AAPA Authority certificate prior to development.
The NT Sacred Sites Act
The Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act is the law that defines and describes, among other things, how a sacred site is registered, the penalties for damaging a sacred site, and what the role of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) is.
Under a Township Lease, all relevant laws of the Commonwealth and Northern Territory must be obeyed – including the NT Sacred Sites Act. This means that all the laws protecting sacred sites fully apply within a Township Lease. Sacred sites are protected. Developers must obtain sacred sites Authority Certificates from AAPA, and individuals or organisations that illegally enter or damage sacred sites can be prosecuted.
For more information about how the NT Sacred Sites Act works, please visit the AAPA website – www.aapant.org.au
Respect for Culture in Every Lease
Every Township Lease is designed to operate in a way that respects and supports the customs and culture of the Traditional Owners. The Head Lease includes clauses specifically acknowledging Traditional Owners’ spiritual and custodial relationship to land and obligations regarding cultural heritage.
This aspect of the Township Lease is echoed in the provisions that ensure the protection of Sacred Sites, establish the Consultative Forum of Traditional Owners, and direct the Executive Director to ensure that sublessees also respect Aboriginal tradition in relation to the land.
All provisions regarding the protection of Sacred and Cultural Sites are applied to Subleases. Sublease holders, including all developers, are therefore bound by the same measures designed to protect sites of cultural significance that are included in the Head Lease.
Consulting with Traditional Owners
The Executive Director works very closely with the Traditional Owners through an advisory group known as the Consultative Forum. The Consultative Forum gives advice to the Executive Director regarding any specific cultural considerations that need to be taken into account. Together they make decisions about how the land is used in the Township in a way that respects culture, sacred sites and the wishes of the land’s custodians.
For more information read our fact sheet How are sacred sites protected in a township lease?
Sacred sites are protected by legislation under Northern Territory and Commonwealth law. Sacred sites are also protected under the terms and conditions of a township lease.
The Executive Director is required to ensure that sacred sites are managed according to legislation and according to the terms of the township lease.
If the Office of Township Leasing receives a new application for development, there are two areas that protect sacred sites – the legislation as well as the consultative forum, who may also advise if there is anyone like a Traditional Owner that needs to be spoken to about the area.
Sometimes cultural and sacred sites may not be registered. The consultative forum discusses all new development applications and if it becomes apparent that the site is culturally significant then the consultative forum may advise the Executive Director not to allow the development, or ensure that the development does not interfere with this area.
If a township lease is signed Traditional Owners still have access to sacred and cultural sites. The township lease contains clauses that acknowledge the importance of sacred sites and ensures that these sites are preserved and that the rights of the Traditional Owners are honoured. These conditions must be upheld by the Office of Township Leasing and the Executive Director.