CTH Introduces the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 

Thursday 21 May 2020 @ 1.21 p.m. | Legal Research

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 (Cth) (the Bill) was introduced into Federal Parliament’s House of Representatives on 13 May 2020 by the Hon Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians. 

The Bill proposes amendments to:

  • the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth); and the
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).


As outlined in the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, the proposed amendments contained in the Bill “will facilitate the grant of a section 19A township lease and the transfer of ownership of the Jabiru Township land to the traditional owners, the Mirarr people.”

The EM states the township of Jabiru was established in 1981 to service the Ranger Uranium Mine. Jabiru is part of Kakadu National Park, on freehold land leased from the Director of National Parks (“DNP”) to the Jabiru Town Development Authority (“JTDA”). The mine will cease operations by January 2021 and current leasing arrangements are set to expire on 1 July 2021.

If passed, the amendment to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 would allow the head lease of Jabiru to be held by a “community entity” of the Mirarr people for up to 99 years.

About the Mirarr People

According to the Mirarr website, most Mirarr land is within the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park including the wetlands of the Jabiluka billabong country and the sandstone escarpment of Djidbidjidbi (Mount Brockman).

The Mirarr estate “extends beyond Kakadu to Western Arnhem Land and also includes the Ranger uranium mine, the Jabiluka mineral lease and the mining town of Jabiru”. Mirarr speak an average of three Aboriginal languages plus English.

Mirarr established the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (“GAC”) in 1995 to represent their rights and interests as well as receiving, distributing and investing royalties from the Ranger uranium mine which was imposed on Mirarr land in 1978.

Brief Overview of the Amendments

Schedule 1 of the Bill proposes amendments to the following legislation:

  • Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 – numerous amendments are proposed to this Act, with the main amendment being to section 19 provisions, which are now redundant. It will make the section 19A Jabiru township leasing arrangements more consistent with the other township leases; and
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 – is amended by substituting paragraph 388(2)(e) to the Act.

Comment and Reaction to the Bill

In his speech, the Minister said:

“… Land security is economic security and it helps drive opportunities for Indigenous Australians to support community development and prosperity. It means generations of traditional owners can benefit from the land and help maintain the ongoing cultural connection with the land … We are embracing this change and I am confident that the Mirarr people will now finally be able to achieve their social, cultural and economic independence …”

ABC News reports that the organisation which is responsible for formulating the plan to revive the mining town said once the Bill passed, said it would "pave the way for future developments".

Justin O'Brien, CEO of the GAC, said:

"The introduction of these amendments is a crucial step for the town and region. The option of a community entity means traditional owners now have the flexibility to take urgent steps to reassure the community and secure the town's future."

Mr O’Brien said while the Bill's introduction had been a “long time coming”, he congratulated the Government “on ensuring these important amendments are made as a priority despite the current interruptions to Parliament”.

Reaction and Comment from Traditional Owners

In a media release from the Northern Land Council (“NLC”), NLC Chairman, Mr Samuel Bush-Blanasi and Chief Executive Officer Ms Marion Scrymgour, welcomed the introduction of the Bill:

… [the Bill] provides for the return of the Jabiru township to Aboriginal control through a township lease that will allow for the transition of the township from a mining town to a regional service centre and tourism hub that will drive economic activity throughout the west Arnhem region …
… these amendments to the Land Rights Act will return land to the control of the Mirarr traditional owners and allow for a long-term township lease of the town area that will provide future opportunities and economic and social certainty for businesses and residents at Jabiru.”

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