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Working on the Tiwi Islands

‘Everyone who is not Tiwi on the islands is there because they are invited. We say who can come here, who can stay here, and who must go.’

Stanley Puautjimi

The Tiwi Islands are privately owned, they are neither Crown land nor public land.  Permission to work on the Islands must be obtained in accordance with the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The permit system is simply a system of regulated access to Aboriginal land. The system complements Aboriginal responsibility for country and is consistent with the land title held under Australian law. The permit system protects the privacy of Tiwi landowners, promotes awareness and respect for Tiwi land and culture, safeguards the natural environment, protects sacred sites, provides a policing tool for unscrupulous behaviour, and promotes visitor safety.

Companies or organisation based on the Tiwi Islands

Companies and organisations based on the Tiwi Islands for more than three months can apply to the Tiwi Land Council for a Business Login, enabling permits to be issued directly to staff. Employers with Business Logins are responsible for their staff observing the Permit Terms and Conditions, Protocols for Working on the Tiwi Islands and quarantine guidelines. Failure to do so may result in the Business Login being revoked.

Companies or organisation from the mainland

Companies or organisations based on the mainland wanting to work on the Tiwi Islands must apply for work permits for their staff. People with work permits are only permitted to work on the islands. Permits for recreational activities can be applied for here.

Companies or organisations requesting to undertake works on the Tiwi Islands

Companies, organisations or individuals that wish to undertake works on the Tiwi Islands require approval prior to commencing works on any Tiwi lands or waters. This includes applying to use and/or modify land, water and/or natural resources (e.g. sand, gravel, etc). A TLC Land Use Application must be submitted to the Tiwi Land Council. This process triggers the TLC to undertake an internal cultural and environmental assessment of the proposed development area. It also creates an opportunity for Tiwi landowners to express any of their concerns and nominate buffer zones around culturally sensitive areas or other conditions.

Using this land use application process, Tiwi landowners are given the opportunity to make an informed decision in accordance with their traditional decision-making processes. Where informed consent is given, the TLC may direct the Tiwi Land Trust to enter into a Land Use Agreement with the proponent. This process takes time and applications should be submitted a minimum of 3 months prior to the start of proposed works. A fee for service may be charged.

Proponents may also wish to seek further information from the NT sacred sites authority known as the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA). The AAPA recommends that any applicant wishing to undertake work on land or seas anywhere in the NT apply for an Authority Certificate.

As outlined on the AAPA website:

An Authority Certificate protects sacred sites from damage by setting out the conditions for using or carrying out works proposed by a proponent on an area of land and/or sea. These conditions relate to sacred sites in the area or in the vicinity of the proposed works, so that they are not damaged. It is a legal document issued under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act, and indemnifies the holder against prosecution under the Act for damage to sacred sites in the area of the Authority Certificate provided the proposed work or use has been carried out in accordance with the conditions of the Authority Certificate.