NT Government call for land rights reform

The Northern Territory government has called for reforms to Aboriginal land right laws.

The law allows for mining on traditional lands to be vetoed and the Territory government claims it is holding up vital exploration in resource rich areas.

The government said there is a backlog of 815 applications by mining companies wanting to explore on Aboriginal freehold land which comes under the 1976 federal Aboriginal Land Rights Act and encompasses almost half of the Territory.

In comparison there are only 212 applications waiting for approval in non-Aboriginal areas.

On average, under the act it takes 43 months between the start of land council negotiations and federal government approval for an exploration grant, The Australian reported.

The act is "considered to be the foremost non-financial barrier to exploration in the Northern Territory", the government said.

The Land Council doesn’t accept with the government’s claims.

Central Lands Council director David Ross said the government had made a wild assertion and the Northern Land Council acting chief executive Robert Graham disagreed with the figures.

Ross said that the act had instead enhanced economic development in the Northern Territory at an otherwise difficult time.

Ross attributed the backlog of applications to exploration companies deliberately placing their requests on hold until adequate funding had been raised.

"Sometimes this can take years," he said.

"What is abhorrent is where the lack of interest on the part of applicants is interpreted as a 'backlog'."

Ross said using these figures to make "inappropriate amendments that privilege explorers and miners at the expense of traditional owners' rights" is wrong.

The Territory’s Department of Mines and Energy made the comments in a submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry.

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