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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?