Exploration on Aboriginal freehold land

Your application to explore on Aboriginal freehold land can only be granted if:

  • consent is given by Traditional Owners (TOs) through their representative land council after consultation
  • an agreement is reached by all parties.

TOs have the right to refuse or suspend access to their land for exploration.

They are represented in negotiations by their relevant land council in the Northern Territory.

This includes:

Part IV of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA) sets out how this process must be done on Aboriginal freehold land.

Read more on Part IV or Aboriginal freehold land.

You can also get the flowchart of the ALRA process PDF (506.7 KB).

How to apply

To explore for minerals or petroleum on Aboriginal freehold land, you must first apply for an exploration licence or permit over that land.

Read more on how to apply for a mineral title or petroleum title.

See the application process below or find out about mining on Aboriginal freehold land.

After you apply for an exploration licence or permit over that land, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT) issues a consent to enter negotiations with the relevant land council.

This is done under:

This consent to negotiate activates processes under Part IV of the ALRA.

Once consent to negotiate is issued, you have three months to:

  • lodge an application with the relevant land council and
  • provide a copy to the DITT.

Read more about application requirements under Section 41(6) of the ALRA.

You should also make contact with the relevant land council as soon as consent to negotiate is issued.

The land councils have guidelines to assist you in preparing your application.

The initial negotiating period starts from the date your application is lodged with the relevant land council.

During the negotiating period, the relevant land council will invite you to attend on-country meetings with the Traditional Owners (TOs).

Read more under Section 42 of the ALRA.

The DITT may also attend the on-country meetings. They can provide you with information and make suggestions on how to prepare for them.

Get the on-country presentation template PPS (866.0 KB) or call the DITT's land access officer on 08 8999 6357 for help.

In the on-country meetings, you will need to talk to the TOs about your plans for exploration.

They will provide you with one of the following decisions:

  • yes – you can enter into negotiations with a view of reaching an agreement or
  • no - suspend the application.

If your exploration licence or permit is suspended, it will go into moratorium for five years.

You can apply again at the end of this period. Read more under Section 48(2) of the ALRA.

At any stage during the five years, the TOs through their relevant land council can apply to the DITT to:

  • lift the moratorium and
  • restart negotiations.

Under the ALRA, negotiations towards an agreement must occur within set time frames.

If you don’t reach an agreement in the initial negotiating period, you can get an extension if the relevant land council agrees.

In your exploration agreement, you must also outline potential mining activities.

If the TOs says yes to exploration, they also say yes to mining.

Once you reach an agreement with the TOs through their relevant land council and its signed by all parties, you must:

  • get the agreement assessed for stamp duty by the Department of Treasury and Finance in the NT
  • provide an extract of the agreement to the DITT
  • have relevant land council consent to the grant.

The Native Title and Aboriginal Land Rights Unit ensure requirements under the ALRA process are followed.

This is done before your exploration licence or permit is granted.

After the grant of your exploration licence or permit, the DITT manages your title under the laws and regulations that cover exploration in the NT.

Find out what happens after a mineral title has been granted or read more on mining activities.

Read more on petroleum titles and conditions specific to an exploration permit.

You should also read more on how to apply for exploration and production activity approval for petroleum.


For more information, contact the Native Title and Aboriginal Land Rights Unit by calling 08 8999 5322 or emailing ntalrunit@nt.gov.au.

Last updated: 25 March 2022

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