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A Township Lease is a voluntary, long term lease over a Township on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.



Township Leases held by the Executive Director

A Township Lease is a voluntary, long term lease over a Township on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

When the terms and conditions of the Township Lease are agreed, a ‘Head Lease’ is granted by the Aboriginal land trust to the Executive Director of Township Leasing who then manages the land in the Township for the Traditional Owners for up to 99 years.

A Township Lease is a mechanism to ensure that Traditional Owners can receive an economic return from their land through economic development opportunities and the collection of rent.

A Township Lease boundary is agreed to by Traditional Owners. The boundary of the lease  usually covers all of the land in the Township, including important infrastructure like barge landings and airstrips, and will include areas for growth and future use.

Township Leasing on Indigenous Lands Fact Sheet – (PDF - Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website)
Township Leasing (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website) 


So what is a township lease and what does it mean for me and my community?

1976 – a landmark decision for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. For the first time through law government recognised Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners of their custodial lands across the Northern Territory.

Despite this, Aboriginal communities have often lacked infrastructure, economic opportunities and commercial development. In 2006, to help fix this, the Land Rights Act was amended to allow for township leasing.

So let's look at what township leasing means. Township leasing is a voluntary agreement between Traditional Owners and the Australian Government. Traditional owners negotiate the terms of the township lease with help from their land council. Traditional Owners also agree to the boundary of the Township Lease area. A township lease does not change the ownership of the land. It always has and always will remain Aboriginal land.

So here is the land. On this land is a township. Here is a school, here is a clinic, over there is the council office. This is your community. A township lease is negotiated for all of the land of the township including important infrastructure like barge landings and airstrips, but it only covers a Township as well as some land to allow for the community to grow in the future. It does not cover the country outside of the community.

A township lease is an agreement that lasts for a very long time – for up to 99 years. The Executive Director of Township Leasing will manage this lease on behalf of traditional owners and community. He is a dedicated impartial land administrator who grants subleases over lots in the township to businesses government and service providers.

A Traditional Owner consultative forum is established to talk about land use and the development in the township. The Executive Director makes the final decisions, however all decisions about important development and changes in land use is discussed and endorsed by the consultative forum members.

In the middle of town you may have a sacred site. Township leases protects sacred sites. No one can develop land where there is a sacred site in the township lease area. The township lease recognises the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Act and advice from Traditional Owners about cultural sites that need to be observed.

Not signing a township lease does not mean that the Australian Government will stop providing services. Important services like clinics and schools will continue with or without a lease.

Once a township lease is finalised the Executive Director will then issue occupiers a sublease. A sublease provides occupiers with a secure tenure. This means people or organisations can use the land they sublease with security, which encourages them to develop the land and promote economic development.

Traditional Owners will receive rent for the use of their land through payments made by the sublease holders. Rent money can be used by Traditional Owners to invest in a community or get a loan from a bank, which can then be invested in a business.

A township lease is not for every community and the negotiations can take some time. This is so that Traditional Owners are not being rushed into an important decision. A township lease requires full engagement and participation by Traditional Owners to help plan and work for the development and economic empowerment of their communities.

For more information read our fact sheet What is a Township Lease?

Township Leases held by a Community Entity

In 2017 the first of a new kind of Township Lease was agreed, where a local Aboriginal organisation (called a ‘Community Entity’)  can take over the management of the lease after an initial period of administration by the Executive Director.

As part of the lease agreement, the Executive Director will implement a capacity building programme to make sure that the Community Entity will have the skills to administer the Township Lease.

Like a Township Lease managed by the Executive Director, a Community Entity-administered Township Lease covers an area agreed by the Traditional Owners and covers important infrastructure and land to allow the community to grow. The land remains Aboriginal land.