Part 5: Report of the National Native Title Tribunal

Federal Court of Australia Annual Report 2015-2016

Overview of the Tribunal


The Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (the Act) establishes the National Native Title Tribunal (Tribunal) as an independent body with a wide range of functions. The Preamble to the Act describes it as a special measure for the advancement and protection of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders (Indigenous Australians). The Act is also intended to further advance the process of reconciliation among all Australians.

The Act creates an Australia-wide native title scheme, the objectives of which include:

  1. to provide for the recognition and protection of native title
  2. to establish a mechanism for determining claims to native title
  3. to establish ways in which future dealings affecting native title (future acts) may proceed.

The Act provides that the Tribunal must carry out its functions in a fair, just, economical, informal and prompt way. In carrying out those functions, the Tribunal may take account of the cultural and customary concerns of Indigenous Australians.

Functions and powers

Under the Act, the Tribunal, comprising the President and members, has specific functions in relation to:

  • mediating in native title proceedings, upon referral by the Federal Court of Australia (Federal Court)
  • arbitrating objections to the expedited procedure in the future act scheme
  • mediating in relation to certain proposed future acts on areas where native title exists or might exist
  • arbitrating applications for a determination of whether a future act may be undertaken and, if so, whether any conditions will apply
  • assisting people to negotiate Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs), and helping to resolve any objections to registration of area or alternative procedure ILUAs
  • assisting with negotiations to settle applications that relate to native title, and with statutory access agreement negotiations
  • providing assistance under s 203BK of the Act to representative bodies in performing their dispute resolution functions
  • reconsidering decisions of the Native Title Registrar not to accept a native title determination application (claimant application) for registration
  • upon referral by the Federal Court, conducting reviews on whether there are native title rights and interests
  • conducting native title application inquiries as directed by the Federal Court
  • conducting special inquiries under Ministerial direction.

The President may delegate to a member, or members, all or any of the President’s powers under the Act, and may arrange through the Federal Court Chief Executive Officer (Federal Court CEO) for the engagement of consultants in relation to any assistance, mediation or review that the Tribunal provides.

The President is responsible for managing the administrative affairs of the Tribunal with the assistance of the Federal Court CEO, who is empowered by the Act to delegate his responsibilities under the Act to the Native Title Registrar, Deputy Registrar or staff assisting the Tribunal. The President may direct the Federal Court CEO regarding the exercise of his power to assist the President in managing the administrative affairs of the Tribunal.

Deputy Registrars and staff assisting the Tribunal are made available for that purpose by the Federal Court CEO. The organisation which includes any Deputy Registrars and the staff assisting the Tribunal is referred to in this report as the NNTT.

The Act gives the Native Title Registrar specific responsibilities, including:

  • assisting people to prepare applications and to help them, at any stage of a proceeding, in matters relating to the proceeding
  • helping other people, at any stage of a proceeding, in matters relating to the proceeding
  • considering claimant applications for the purposes of registering on the Register of Native Title Claims those applications which meet prescribed statutory conditions
  • giving notice of applications to individuals, organisations, governments and the public in accordance with the Act
  • registering ILUAs that meet the registration requirements of the Act
  • maintaining the Register of Native Title Claims, the National Native Title Register and the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements.

The Native Title Registrar may delegate to the Deputy Registrar, or to members of the staff assisting the Tribunal, all or any of the Native Title Registrar’s powers. The President may direct the Native Title Registrar regarding the exercise of the Native Title Registrar’s powers under Part 5 of the Act, including to conduct certain searches and to keep and make available public records and information.

The President, Members and the Native Title Registar

Members of the Tribunal are appointed by the Governor-General for specific terms of not longer than five years. The Act sets out the qualifications for membership and defines members’ responsibilities. The Act also prescribes the conditions of appointment and the responsibilities of the Native Title Registrar.

The table below outlines the terms of the Tribunal’s current statutory office-holders.

Table 5.1 – Current Tribunal Statutory Office-Holders

Raelene Webb QC President 1 April 2013 Five years Perth
Helen Shurven Member Reappointed 29 November 2012Five years Perth
Dr Valerie Cooms Member 4 February 2013 Five Years Brisbane
James McNamara Member 31 March 2014 Five years Brisbane

Andrew Luttrell was appointed Native Title Registrar for five years commencing on 3 November 2014. He held the position until 7 April 2016. Robert Powrie, NNTT Practice Director, was acting Native Title Registrar for the remainder of the reporting period.

Office locations

The NNTT provides services and native title assistance in all Australian States and Territories from offices in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns and the Federal Court Registry in Canberra. The office of the President is located in Perth and, since April 2016, the Native Title Registrar has been located in Canberra.

Strategic vision

Vision: Shared country, shared future

The vision for the NNTT is Shared country, shared future. This vision encompasses the President’s vision of an organisation which:

  • solves problems, working towards a shared country, shared future for all Australians – an organisation which looks for ways to do and to achieve things
  • is outward looking and expansive in its thinking
  • focuses on developing its staff and members, creating succession plans and career pathways
  • motivates individuals and teams to strive for innovative and ground-breaking solutions that enhance the way we do things and create opportunities for growth
  • is collegiate, and in which genuine respect for others – internally and externally – is always shown.

The year in review

Implementation of the organisation’s strategic vision continued to be the major focus for the year under review. This was achieved through organisational change, staff development, collaboration and ongoing native title education for external stakeholders.

Significant developments

President’s Review

A key priority for the 2015–2016 financial year was the implementation of phase two of the President’s Review. The Review, undertaken to revitalise and re-energise the NNTT, was finalised in 2014 and included recommendations for revised governance, streamlined processes and a new organisational structure to enable a front line, multi-stream client capability.

With a new Board of Management in place and senior staff appointed, the focus of this reporting period shifted towards implementing the recommendations for a new organisational structure and revised service delivery processes. These included:

  • The appointment of a Research Director to oversee a new business unit aimed at strengthening internal research capabilities and providing research and related services to both internal and external stakeholders;
  • The establishment of a dedicated Communications team to develop and implement a cohesive communications strategy to improve client interface, and promote the services and capability of the NNTT. The Communications team and Business Systems team operate as one unit, overseen by the newly appointed Communications and Business Systems Director, to ensure the integrity and consistency of the organisation’s information management and distribution;
  • Restructuring the Cairns Office for the creation of a service delivery model to meet the unique needs of Indigenous stakeholders in northern Queensland;
  • The implementation of a national approach to the delivery of key NNTT services. In moving away from the regional model, NNTT services will be provided based on staff availability and workload, rather than geographical location; and
  • Implementation of an advanced training program to cross skill APS level 6 staff and above, building their capacity to provide a range of services across a variety of functions including, future acts, claim registration, ILUA registration and other assistance functions.

Client and Stakeholder Engagement

Client and stakeholder engagement continued to be a major focus in this reporting period. The President, Native Title Registrar, members and senior staff met regularly with key stakeholders and other clients, to provide maximum support and assistance to participants in the native title system.

President Webb, Tribunal Member Valerie Cooms and Geospatial Director Mark McInerney represented the NNTT at Human Rights Commission Roundtables held throughout the year. The Roundtable discussions established a new dialogue between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the government about Indigenous property rights and economic development on the Indigenous estate.

As the focus in the native title system shifts from the pre determination to the post determination environment, the NNTT is receiving an increasing number of requests for assistance related to Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs).

After an extensive round of consultation by the President, a meeting of stakeholders was convened in June 2016 to assess the feasibility of a consortium approach to the delivery of capacity building, training and governance assistance to PBCs. The meeting mapped existing support services available to PBCs and identified gaps. As a lead agency, the NNTT will establish the terms of reference for a PBC forum and develop a scoping paper that addresses alternative models for the delivery of services to these corporations. With 157 PBCs already registered, most of which have no or limited resources, there is increasing pressure to develop a PBC service delivery model that is both affordable and sustainable.

The demand for the President and Tribunal members to speak at conferences and seminars remained high throughout the reporting period.

President Webb returned to the world stage at the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference in Washington DC in March 2016. The theme this year was Scaling up Responsible Land Governance. The President’s presentation, Born Native, Born Digital, focussed on the use of digital technologies for the management of native title. The President noted the lack of a national land tenure database in Australia and called for State and Territory Governments to develop an effective registration system for all Indigenous land. She advocated an online database accessible to Aboriginal people, allowing them to manage their own land in line with Free, Prior and Informed Consent principles.

While visiting Chile in 2016, President Webb spoke at a Land Policy Seminar, where she shared the Australian native title experience with key policy makers interested in exploring new ways to reconcile with their own Indigenous populations. The presentation has been widely distributed via YouTube.

The President and Tribunal members also provided native title education to students from various universities throughout the country, including the Queensland University of Technology and Bond, Deakin, Griffith, Macquarie, Murdoch, Southern Queensland, Sunshine Coast, Sydney and Wollongong Universities. Topics ranged from basic native title concepts and cultural heritage, to property and sea rights, dispute resolution, Indigenous empowerment, working on country and Indigenous Land Use Agreements.

In addition to an ambitious mediation program, the Tribunal members made a significant contribution to the native title system through committee membership, conference presentations and attendance, and authoring of journal publications.

During the reporting period, Member Shurven was the NNTT’s representative for the Western Australian Dispute Resolution Association and adjudicator
for the National Schools Conflict Resolution and Mediation Program. She also published an article in the Australasian Dispute Resolution Journal, The pros, cons, and maybes of telephone mediation: A conversation about the “fourth party”.

Member Valerie Cooms continued as an active participant on numerous committees, including the AIATSIS Native Title Research Advisory Committee, Australian Human Rights Commission Committees and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Expert Indigenous Working Group. She also coordinated the establishment of a TAFE-accredited course for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that equips them with the necessary knowledge and skills to enable their effective participation and employment in the area of native title and cultural heritage in Queensland.

Member James McNamara presented at a number of external summits and information sessions, including the Torres Sea Summit in Cairns, Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) information sessions, the Queensland Native Title Forum and the National Native Title Conference held in Darwin in June 2016. He also published an article in LexisNexis “Give a little, take a little”: the Ugar traditional boundaries project.

Newly appointed Research Director, Dr Pamela McGrath, made a significant contribution to existing native title knowledge as editor and contributor to a new book The Right to protect sites: Indigenous heritage management in the era of native title. The book is an exploration of the impact of native title on the management and protection of significant places for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

In addition, Dr McGrath published a book chapter titled “The Work of Rights: the nature of native title labour” and was a contributing author to the Managing Information in Native Title (MINT) Survey and Workshop Report. Dr McGrath is currently President of the Australian Anthropological Society and actively supports the native title anthropology community of practice through her involvement in a range of knowledge sharing, research and mentoring activities.

A full list of the President’s and Tribunal members’ presentations is annexed to this report.


Each year the Federal Court of Australia acknowledges outstanding performance through its National Excellent Service Award. This year the NNTT’s Brisbane Office Relocation Team (Relocation Team) were joint winners. They were presented with their awards in May 2015. The Relocation Team demonstrated a commitment to service by accomplishing a well-organised and smooth office relocation. The team minimised costs to the Court and bought benefits to the wider community by donating surplus furniture items to various community organisations, including community legal centres.

Transition of Services

In line with the National Archives of Australia Digital Transition Policy, on 1 January 2016 the NNTT transitioned to an electronic records management system. The purpose of the Digital Transition Policy is to move Australian Government agencies to digital information and records management for efficiency purposes.

In March 2016, the NNTT’s technical integration into the Federal Court of Australia was finalised with the migration of its network to the Federal Court servers in Sydney. The server migration resulted in improved overall performance, an upgraded version of Microsoft exchange and greater data security.

To comply with the Australian Government’s Public Data Policy and to enable economic outcomes, the NNTT also automated the publishing of non-sensitive spatial representations of its statutory registers to

New Look

Following the organisational review and subsequent restructure, the NNTT developed a new look for the agency’s corporate documents and publications. The new look is based on the designs and colours contained in the Shared country, shared future artwork by Bronwyn Bancroft and reflects the NNTT’s new strategic vision.


Ongoing staff development and training was another key priority for the reporting period. The training program was developed to build staff capacity in new and emerging areas of business as well as enhance knowledge in relation to the Tribunal’s and the Native Title Registrar’s statutory functions. All members
of the Practice Team were provided with training from the Australian Government Solicitor reviewing the tenets of Administrative Law. Practical skills for working in nationally dispersed teams were provided to team leaders along with extension of leadership skills for more experienced managers. Other teams undertook training relevant to their specialty areas.

To ensure cultural safety and respect for Aboriginal staff, clients and colleagues, the NNTT contracted cultural respect training for all staff. The training placed a strong focus on non-Aboriginal people in terms of their values, culture and place in society, and how these impact on:

  • their relationships with Aboriginal Australians;
  • the services they provide to and/or engagement they have with Aboriginal Australians; and
  • Aboriginal people’s experiences in non-Aboriginal structures and organisations.

There was a deliberate focus in this training program on systems rather than individuals, and on the operation of power and privilege. Its particular focus was on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s experiences during and since colonisation. It identified issues non-Aboriginal people need to consider, and actions they could take, if they are to develop and improve their personal and organisational capacity for culturally safe and respectful practice.

Assisting clients meet the needs of the contemporary native title environment

Tenure Support

The NNTT continued to improve the functionality of its tenure portals during the reporting period. Working closely with other service providers in the native title system, access to geospatial information and services was increased. The portals are now in use across a number of jurisdictions, providing negotiating parties with a simple visual display of tenure and its impact on the extinguishment of native title. This allows parties to focus specifically on those areas where it is unclear whether or not native title exists, reducing the time spent on negotiations and increasing the effectiveness of outcomes.

Mapping Products

During the reporting period, the NNTT also updated its mapping production and publishing systems to improve accessibility to mapping products. NNTT mapping and publishing systems now operate on the same platform, and are directly compatible with State, Territory and Commonwealth government mapping systems. Products are more visually accessible and customisable to meet user needs. Products developed on the new systems are functional across a variety of platforms including mobile, web and desktop applications.

In addition, the NNTT developed a range of innovative mapping products to support Indigenous decision making in North Queensland. These products utilised NNTT surveying, mapping and photographic information to prepare portable electronic (and print) maps of traditional boundaries within a determination area. The data contained in the maps identified and substantiated the right people for country, resulting in the timely negotiation of Indigenous Land Use Agreements for much needed infrastructure.

The NNTT has also created a geo-coded database of its research materials containing over 500 records, in preparation for the establishment of a map-based online self-service portal. The concept of a native title research portal has been developed as a solution for the ongoing management of the many hundreds of research reports created by the NNTT over the past 20 years. These reports have enormous value for understanding the cultural, social and historical basis of native title rights but, due to the difficulties associated with providing copies in their entirety, this value cannot currently be realised. By de-aggregating their contents and providing access to them (or information about them) via an online portal, the NNTT aims to make unproblematic elements of these reports more widely available.

Future Act Workshop

On 24 March 2016, in conjunction with Allens, the Tribunal conducted a practical future act workshop in Melbourne, titled Evidence and Future Act Inquiries. The Workshop, which was the third of the series, focused on the operation of two key statutory provisions, ss 39 and 237, relevant to future act determinations under the Act and explored the interaction between native title and the Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement
Act 2010.

The Work of the NNTT in 2015–16

General overview

Services and native title assistance are delivered to all Australian states and territories from offices in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns. Detailed information about statutory functions and trends, together with quantitative data for deliverables achieved by the Tribunal and the Native Title Registrar respectively, is set out below.

Functions of the Tribunal

Future Acts


A key function of the Tribunal, under subdivision P of the Act, is the resolution by mediation or arbitration of issues involving certain proposed future acts (primarily, in practice, the grant of exploration and mining tenements) on land where native title has been determined to exist or where native title might exist.

Table 5.2 – Number of applications lodged with the Tribunal in 2015–16

Objections to expedited procedure 74 915 989
Future act determination applications 1 25 26

A future act which is governed by Subdivision P can only be done if the relevant government complies with the notification requirements set out in s 29(2) of the Act (s 29 notice).

As in previous years, most future act activity occurred in Western Australia, with the remaining future act activity occurring in Queensland.

Expedited procedure objection applications and inquiries

Under s 29(7) of the Act, a government party may assert that the proposed future act is an act which attracts the expedited procedure (i.e. that it is an act which will have minimal impact on native title) and, as such, does not give rise to the procedural right for native title party/parties to negotiate. If a native title party considers that the expedited procedure should not apply to the proposed future act, it may lodge an expedited procedure objection application (objection application) with the Tribunal.

A total of 989 objection applications were lodged during the reporting period, approximately 93 per cent of which were lodged in Western Australia. The ratio of objections lodged to notices issued has remained relatively consistent, with approximately 31 per cent of notices attracting an objection in this period compared to 32 per cent in the 2014–15 period.

Although fewer objection applications were lodged and a lower number finalised (1019) than in the last reporting period, there was a continued decrease in the number of active applications at the end of a reporting period (515 2015–16: 545 2014–15). Approximately 400 objections were withdrawn after agreement was reached between the native title party and proponent and a further 317 objection applications were finalised due to the withdrawal of the tenement application by the proponent.

A total of 33 determinations in respect of objection applications were made during the reporting period, the same number as the previous year. The expedited procedure was determined to apply on 21 occasions, a decrease of approximately 59 per cent from the previous reporting period and on 12 occasions the expedited procedure was determined not to apply, a 40 per cent reduction on the previous year.

Future act determination applications, negotiation and good faith requirements and inquiries

If a proposed future act does not attract the expedited procedure, the parties proceed to negotiate to gain the agreement of each native title party to the doing of the future act, either without conditions or subject to conditions. Any party may request Tribunal assistance in mediating amongst parties to obtain agreement. During the reporting period, 114 new requests for Tribunal mediation assistance in negotiating future acts were made; 23 per cent fewer requests than for the previous reporting period.

The Act prescribes a minimum six months period, including negotiation in good faith, to obtain the agreement of native title parties. After this period, any party to the negotiation may lodge a future act determination application. During the reporting period, 26 applications were lodged, two more than in the previous reporting period. The Act requires that negotiations about a proposed future act must occur in good faith. If there has been a failure to negotiate in good faith by a party, other than a native title party, the Tribunal has no power to make a determination on the application. If any party asserts that negotiations in good faith have not occurred, the Tribunal will hold a preliminary inquiry to establish whether or not that is the case. During the reporting period, there was only one ‘good faith’ determination. The Tribunal determined that good faith negotiations had not occurred and the parties were required to negotiate further before the matter could be brought back to the Tribunal for arbitration.

Fifteen future act determination applications were finalised during the reporting period. In nine cases, the Tribunal determined that the future act may be done. The remaining six future act determination applications were not accepted, withdrawn or dismissed. Three applications were withdrawn due to agreement being reached.


Section 203BK(3) of the Act provides that a Representative Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander body may seek the assistance of the Tribunal in performing its dispute resolution functions, subject to reaching agreement for payment for the assistance. In the reporting period, the Tribunal provided assistance, under this section, in five instances. Prior to this reporting period, assistance had only been provided twice under this section.

Assistance in negotiating an agreement under s 86F of the Act was also provided on one occasion and was finalised during the period.

Assisting clients meet the needs of the contemporary native title environment

During the reporting period the Tribunal received six assistance requests in negotiating ILUAs pursuant to s 24BF (body corporate agreements) of the Act. All of these requests were in Queensland.

Functions of the Native Title Registrar

Table 5.3 – Number of applications referred to or lodged with the Native Title Registrar for registration in 2015–16

Claimant (new) 4 3 12 5 2 7 33
Claimant (amended) 1 0 14 0 0 6 21
Non-Claimant 5 3 7 1 0 0 16
Compensation (new) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Compensation (amended) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Revised Native Title Determination 0 0 0 0 0 2 2

Claimant and amended applications: assistance and registration

Sections 190A – 190C of the Act confer upon the Native Title Registrar the responsibility of considering native title determination applications (claimant applications), and applications for certain amendments to a claimant application, for acceptance for registration on the Register of Native Title Claims. To that end, the Federal Court CEO provides the Native Title Registrar with a copy of new or amended claimant applications and accompanying documents which have been filed in the Federal Court.

The Native Title Registrar considers the relevant applications against the requirements of the Act. The Native Title Registrar may also undertake preliminary assessments of such applications, and draft applications, by way of assistance provided pursuant to s 78(1)(a) of the Act.

During the reporting period, the Native Title Registrar received 33 new claimant applications, four more than in the previous reporting period, and 21 amended applications, which was four less than the year before. The majority of new applications and amended applications were filed in Queensland and Western Australia.

Forty-five applications were considered for registration during the reporting period; 35 were accepted, and ten were not accepted for registration following consideration of the claim in the application pursuant to s 190A of the Act. This included seven amended applications considered and accepted for registration pursuant to the test prescribed by s 190A(6A) of the Act.

Excluding decisions made under s 190A(6A), 89 per cent of the applications were considered for registration within six months of receipt. The average time taken to apply the registration test to an application was just over three months.

Preliminary assessments of 11 applications were also provided during the reporting period.

Indigenous Land Use Agreements: assistance and registration

Under ss 24BG(3), 23CG(4) and 24DH(3) of the Act, the Native Title Registrar can provide assistance in the preparation of applications to register ILUAs. Often, this assistance takes the form of pre-lodgement comments upon the draft ILUA and the application for registration.

During the reporting period, assistance in the form of comments on draft ILUAs was provided on 64 occasions and on 147 occasions mapping assistance and related information pursuant to s 24BG(3) and s 24CG(4) of the Act was provided to parties to assist them to prepare applications to register ILUAs.

Under the Act, parties to an ILUA (whether a body corporate agreement, area agreement or an alternative procedure agreement) must apply to the Native Title Registrar in order for the agreement to be registered on the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements. Each registered ILUA, in addition to taking effect as a contract among the parties, binds all persons who hold, or may hold, native title in relation to any of the land or waters in the area covered by the ILUA.

One thousand and ninety seven ILUAs are currently on the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements, the majority of which are in Queensland. This trend continued in the reporting period as 81 per cent of all agreements registered were in Queensland and, consistent with previous years, many provided for the exercise of native title rights and interests over pastoral leases.

Other registered ILUAs dealt with a wide range of native title related matters, including local government issues, mining, state-protected areas and community infrastructure such as social housing.

During the reporting period a total of 108 ILUAs (25 body corporate agreements and 83 area agreements) were lodged with the Native Title Registrar for registration. In the case of area agreements, this was almost one-and-a-half times as many as in the previous reporting period; in the case of body corporate agreements, this was almost half as many as in the previous reporting period.

Eighty-eight of the 108 applications to register ILUAs covered land and waters in Queensland.

Thirty-one body corporate and 74 area agreement ILUAs were accepted for registration and entered onto the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements during the reporting period. One area agreement ILUA was not accepted for registration. The number of registration decisions is similar to that of the previous reporting period, although there were fewer decisions in relation to body corporate agreements.

The average time taken to register an area agreement was less than five months where there was no objection or other barriers to registration; the average time taken to register a body corporate agreement was less than three months.


During the reporting period a total of 39 native title determination applications were notified, compared with 51 in the previous reporting period. Twenty-four claimant applications were notified, compared with 32 in the previous year and fourteen non-claimant applications were notified, four fewer than in the previous reporting period. One revised determination application was notified during the reporting period.

In addition, the Native Title Registrar gave notice in respect of three amended applications.

Eighty-six Area Agreement ILUAs and 31 Body Corporate ILUAs were notified during the period.
This represents a 33 per cent increase in notification of Area Agreement ILUAs and a 39 per cent decrease in Body Corporate ILUA notifications compared with the previous period.

Other forms of assistance

Assistance in relation to applications and proceedings

Section 78(1) of the Act provides for the Native Title Registrar to give such assistance as s/he thinks reasonable to help people prepare applications and to help them at any stage of the proceeding; it also provides that the Native Title Registrar may help other people in relation to a proceeding. During the reporting period, assistance was provided pursuant to s 78 of the Act on 239 occasions, which is 18 per cent less than the previous reporting period. Consistent with previous years, a significant number of the requests were for the provision of geospatial products.

Searches of registers

Pursuant to s 78(2) of the Act, 1357 searches of registers and other records were conducted to assist applicants and respondents during the reporting period. The volume of this activity was similar to the previous period.

The register of Native Title claims

Under s 185(2) of the Act the Native Title Registrar has responsibility for establishing and keeping a Register of Native Title Claims. This Register records the details of claimant applications that have met the statutory conditions for registration prescribed by ss 190A – 190C of the Act.

As at 30 June 2016, there were a total of 249 claimant applications on the Register of Native Title Claims. This number represents a decrease of 20 applications from the previous reporting period.

The National Native Title Register

Under s 192(2) of the Act, the Native Title Registrar must establish and keep a National Native Title Register which records approved determinations of native title. During the reporting period, a total of 43 determinations of native title were registered on the National Native Title Register, an increase of 44 per cent compared with the previous reporting period.

As at 30 June 2016, a total of 358 determinations of native title have been registered: 295 determinations that native title exists, and 63 determinations that native title does not exist.

A map of registered native title determinations as at 30 June 2016 is set out in Map 1.

The Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements

Under s 199A(2) of the Act, the Native Title Registrar must establish and keep a Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements, on which area agreement, body corporate and alternative procedure ILUAs are registered. During the reporting period, 105 new ILUAs were registered, and six were removed from the Register. At 30 June 2016, there were a total of 1097 ILUAs registered on the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements.


The 358 registered determinations as at 30 June 2016 covered a total area of about 2,479,520 sq km or 32.3 per cent of the land mass of Australia and approximately 99,502 sq km of sea (below the high water mark). Six determinations yet to take effect (four in Queensland, one in South Australia and one in Western Australia) were still awaiting registration, and two determinations in Queensland were in the process of being registered at 30 June 2016. Upon registration, these determinations will increase the area to approximately 2,524,880 sq km or 32.8 per cent of the land mass of Australia and approximately 100,240 sq km of sea: see Map 1.

Registered ILUAs cover about 2,161,392 sq km or 28.1 per cent of the land mass of Australia and approximately 12,328 sq km of sea: see Map 2.

Map 1: Map of native title determinations as at 30 June 2016

Map of native title determinations as at 30 June 2016

Spatial data sourced from and used with permission of: Landgate (WA), Dept of Natural Resources & Mines (Qld), © The State of Queensland, Land & Property Management Authority (NSW), Dept of Lands, Planning & the Environment (NT), Dept for Planning, Transport & Infrastructure (SA), Dept of Environment and Primary Industries (Vic) and Geoscience Australia, Australian Government, © Commonwealth of Australia.

GeoTrack Number: GT2016/1174

Map 2: Map of Indigenous Land use Agreements as per the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements at 30 June 2016

Map of Indigenous Land use Agreements as per the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements at 30 June 2016

Spatial data sourced from and used with permission of: Landgate (WA), Dept of Natural Resources & Mines (Qld), © The State of Queensland, Land & Property Management Authority (NSW), Dept of Lands, Planning & the Environment (NT), Dept for Planning, Transport & Infrastructure (SA), Dept of Environment and Primary Industries (Vic) and Geoscience Australia, Australian Government, © Commonwealth of Australia.

GeoTrack Number: GT2016/1174

Management of the Tribunal

Tribunal governance

The NNTT’s key governance group, the Board of Management, is accountable for setting the strategic direction of the NNTT and ensuring effective and efficient service delivery to clients.

The Board is chaired by the President and includes the Native Title Registrar, Member McNamara and Deputy Registrar, Dr Debbie Fletcher. The Board met regularly during the reporting period.

The President and Members also met regularly in Members’ Meetings.

Financial review

The Federal Court’s appropriation includes funding for the operations of the NNTT. This funding is set out as sub-program 1.1.2 in the Court’s Portfolio Budget Statements. $10.960 million was allocated for the NNTT’s operations in 2015–16.

The financial figures at Appendix 1 are the consolidated results for both the Court and the NNTT.

A summary of the NNTT’s income and expenditure for 2015–16 is set out in the following Operating Statement.

Table 5.4 – Financial Operating Statement for year ending 30 June 2016

Revenue 10,960 10,960 0
Service receipts 0 7 7
Total revenue 10,960 10,967 7
Expenses staff and office holders10,061 8,995 1,066
Supplies and services 899 1,471 -572
Total Expenses10,96010,466494
Operating Result 0 501 501

The NNTT managed its financial resources carefully throughout the reporting period and at 30 June 2016 recorded a surplus of $0.501 million most of which related to savings in staff salaries.

External scrutiny

Judicial decisions

There were no judicial decisions, decisions of administrative tribunals, or decisions by the Australian Information Commissioner, that have had, or may have, a significant impact on the operation of the Native Title Registrar’s responsibilities or on the Tribunal during the reporting period.

Accountability to clients

The NNTT maintains a Client Service Charter (Commitment to Service Excellence) to ensure that service standards meet client needs. No complaints that required action under the Charter were received during the reporting period.

Members' code of conduct

Members of the Tribunal are subject to various statutory provisions relating to behaviour and capacity. While the Native Title Registrar is subject to the APS Code of Conduct, this does not apply to Tribunal members except where they may be, directly or indirectly, involved in the supervision of staff.

Tribunal members have voluntarily adopted a code of conduct, procedures for dealing with alleged
breaches of the members’ voluntary code of conduct and an expanded conflict of interest policy. During the reporting period, there were no complaints under either document.

Online services

The NNTT maintains a website at During the reporting period, further online functionality of NNTT services was expanded in relation to statistical and geospatial information.

Australian Human Rights Commission

Under s 209 of the Act, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner must report annually on the operation of the Act and its effect on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.
The NNTT continues to assist the Commissioner as requested in this exercise.

In memoriam

The President, members and staff of the NNTT were deeply saddened by the passing of Native Title Registrar Andrew Luttrell on 7 April 2016.


President's presentations

President’s presentations 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016

27-28 July 2015 Prevention is Better Than Cure & Emerging Trends, Challenges and Opportunities in Current Practice Alternative Dispute Resolution in Indigenous Communities Conference 2015 Native Title Services Victoria Ltd
13-15 October 2015 Native Title Sea Rights & Fisheries Torres Strait Island Sea Summit Native Title Office and Torres Strait Regional Authority
29 October 2015 Native Title in Australia Presentation to Shandong Lawyers and Judge Tsot Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, Victoria University
03 December 2015 Reducing Delay in Native Title Proceedings Presentation to Samoan Land and Titles Court Pacific Judicial Development Programme
04 December 2015 Future Acts and Tribunal Arbitration CPD presentation State Solicitor’s Office State Solicitor’s Office Western Australia
04 February 2016 Winton Local Government Information Session Workshop for Pastoralists Winton Local Government
09 March 2016 Introduction to Native Title Native Title Information Session Dept of Premier and Cabinet NSW
09 March 2016 Making a Difference: The Role of the National Native Title Tribunal 2016 Eminent Speakers Series, Perth Notre Dame University
15 March 2016 Born Native, Born Digital Annual World Bank Conference on Land & Poverty 2016 – Scaling Up Responsible Land Governance, Washington DC World Bank
04 April 2016 Victorian Future Act Workshops – Interaction between the Land Use Activity Regime and the Future Act Regime – Evidence and Future Act Inquiries Future Act workshop – Melbourne Allens/National Native Title Tribunal
25 April 2016 Native Title in Australia Land Policy Seminar Chile Sofofa Education Management
04 May 2016 Native Title Forum with Queensland Legal Practitioners Native Title Forum National Native Title Tribunal
05 May 2016 Role and Function of the National Native Title Tribunal in the Native Title System Lecture Queensland University of Technology
23 May 2016 Native Title and Mining Lecture with Alex Ripper Murdoch University
3 June 2016 On Country, Online: Using Information Technology to Support Effective Participation of Indigenous Australians in Land Management Decisions National Native Title Conference, Darwin AIATSIS
16 June 2016 A Look at the National Native Title Tribunal
in 2016
Native Title Conference, Perth Legalwise Seminars

Members' presentations

Helen Shurven’s presentations 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016

18 September 2015 Using Telephone Mediation in Multi Party Disputes kon gres Mediation Conference Resolution Institute
6 April 2016 Native Title Presentation to visiting Sri Lankan Judges Deakin University
12 April 2016 Native Title in Property Law Presentation to Property Law Students University of Wollongong
23 May 2016 ADR in Native Title – The New South Wales Regime Context Australian Dispute Centre Panel Australian Dispute Centre
26 May 2016 Land Rights: Guest Lecture on Native Title Presentation to Indigenous Settler Relations Class Macquarie University
26 May 2016 ADR in Native Title – Resolving Disputes in a Statutory Framework Presentation to Remedies, Reparations and Resolution in Law Class Macquarie University
27 May 2016 Native Title in Property Law Presentation to Property Law Class Macquarie University
16 June 2016 A Look at the National Native Title Tribunal in 2016 Native Title Conference, Perth Legalwise Seminars

James McNamara’s presentations 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016

15 September 2015 Native Title Exploration and Mining Activities Video Presentation to Associate Degree in Mining Students University of Southern Queensland
Torres Strait Island Sea Summit
13-15 October 2015 Give a Little, Take a Little Presentation to Torres Sea Summit Native Title Office and Torres Strait Regional Authority
14 December 2015 Understanding ILUAs Cape York Peninsular Presentation ILUA Information Session National Native Title Tribunal
22 April 2016 Understanding ILUAs Cape York Peninsular Presentation ILUA Information Session National Native Title Tribunal
29 April 2016 Tenure Portal – Online Collaboration Tool Queensland Native Title Forum Federal Court of Australia

Valerie Cooms’ presentations 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016

07 July 2015 Sensitivities of Native Title, Laws Relating to Native Title and the Challenges that
Indigenous People Face when Attempting to Secure Native Title
Presentation to NAIDOC Event Bond University
18 August 2015 Emerging Themes in Native Title Forum Presentation to National Native Title Tribunal Staff National Native Title Tribunal
25 August 2015 United Nations International Policy and Practice Presentation to Humanities and Geography Students University of Sunshine Coast
22 September 2015 Native Title and Cultural Heritage Presentation to Humanities and Geography Students Griffith University
29 September 2015 Policy Success and Policy Failure in Aboriginal Affairs Presentation to Masters Students Griffith University
24 November 2015 Native Title and Indigenous Empowerment Panel Discussion Sydney University
30 November 2015 Responding to the Challenges of Delivering ADR Services in Courts and Tribunals AAT Panel Discussion Griffith University
11 March 2016 Prescribed Bodies Corporate Presentation to the Kalkadoon PBC Queensland South Native Title Service
29 April 2016 Governance in Native Title Presentation to the Queensland Native Title Forum Federal Court of Australia
03 May 2016 Ideas for Developing a National, more Integrated Approach to Native Title Presentation to Legal Practitioners Native Title Tribunal
30 May 2016 Native Title and Working on Country Presentation to Students and Alumni University of Sydney