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Australian Aboriginal land rights commission: reports

Aboriginal people (Australia) Land use Land rights Australia Northern Territory

The Aboriginal Land Rights Commission ran from 1973 to 1974 and had the purpose of inquiring into appropriate ways to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory.

Gough Whitlam had appointed Justice Edward Woodward to run the Commission, which became known as the 'Woodward Royal Commission'.

This is the first time digitised versions of the Commission's reports have been made publically available.

The Commission produced two reports. The first report was presented to the Australian Government in July 1973. One of its key recommendations was the establishment of land councils in the Central and Northern regions of the NT to represent the views of Aboriginal people. These councils were subsequently established.

The Commission's second report was presented to the Australian Government in April 1974 was based on the land councils' submissions. The second report recommended that land rights legislation be introduced with the following requirements:

"( i ) Aboriginal land rights legislation should be introduced into the Australian Parliament. It should not be capable of being affected by Northern Territory Ordinances.

( ii ) A number of consequential changes to Ordinances of the Northern Territory will be required.

( iii ) The operation of existing legislation relating to Aboriginal reserves should be preserved, at least for some time.

( iv) The establishment of Aboriginal regional councils in the States should be encouraged.

( v) Those councils should have administrative assistance to hold meetings and legal aid to formulate land rights claims.

( vi ) There should be consultation between regions, which could be arranged under the guidance of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee.

( vii ) The respective claims of the regional councils should finally be sent to the government for consideration.

( viii ) The Central Australian Reserves in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory should be jointly administered if common or reasonably parallel legislation can be agreed upon.

( ix ) In the meantime there should be as much co-operation as possible across the State borders. The communities in the States having affiliations with Northern Territory communities should be represented on the Central Land Council. Any requests by the Central Land Council for action in the States should be sympathetically considered. The costs of the Council of its involvement across State borders should be separately funded from appropriate government sources.

( x) All arrangements resulting from this report should be formally reviewed in conferences between the Land Councils and the government at regular intervals. The first such conference should be held after three years and thereafter at seven year intervals.

(xi) The main recommendations of this report should be carefully explained to Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. To assist in achieving that purpose they should be translated into Aboriginal languages."

These reports were the foundation of Australia's first land rights legislation, introduced by the Fraser government in 1976 and passed with bipartisan support.

The Commission was chaired by Justice Albert Edward Woodward and assisted by Nicolas Peterson (Research Officer) and Denise Goodman (Secretary).

Part of the Policy History Collection. Digitisation of this report has been supported by the National Library of Australia.

Reproduced with permission of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

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