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  • (2023) Weepers, Jayne
    Since 2006, remote communities on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory (NT) have been the target of a series of land tenure reforms, mostly government-initiated. The three most significant are: the roll out of section 19 leases over individual lots, and the grant of government-entity and community-entity township leases over entire communities. These reforms are widespread and long-term. Beforehand, leasing in communities was rare. After these reforms there are now thousands of leases (mostly section 19 leases) over almost every lot in remote communities. Despite their extensive and varied impacts on land rights and remote community governance, there has been little research on the reforms, and none providing the views of Aboriginal people most impacted. Adopting a mixed methods research design, and through a case study on the region of one of the two largest Land Councils, the Central Land Council (CLC), the research examines both the structural impacts and lived experience of these reforms to Aboriginal land rights in the NT. Through interviews with Aboriginal community residents and traditional owners, the research attempts to elevate their voices and experiences. Applying an Aboriginal land governance lens helps to make visible the governance impacts of the reforms, which have been almost invisible in official discourse about the reforms. The research examines the process of the tenure reforms as well as their outcomes. For the first time the insights of those ‘inside’ the policy processes have been collected, helping to shed light on what led to the reforms and why they took the form they did. The research found that the reforms have several consequences that did not appear to be anticipated in government statements about their purpose. These include: modification of the rights of Aboriginal traditional owners and the reframing of their relationship to community residents; and impacts on the role and reach of the Land Councils by both increasing their practical jurisdiction within remote communities, while also creating two additional land rights institutions. Further, these reforms have resulted in a welcome new rental stream for Aboriginal traditional owners, although this too brings governance challenges. The research suggests how future land tenure policies should be designed, and emphasises the need for a governance development approach, rather than a legal, technical one, to designing and implementing tenure reforms in remote communities.