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UBC Theses and Dissertations

'Normalising' what? Aboriginal land tenure reform in the Northern Territory of Australia Howey, Kirsty


This thesis examines recent Aboriginal land tenure reform in the Northern Territory of Australia. The Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments have introduced three reforms since 2006: Township Leases, 5-year Intervention Leases and 40-year Housing Leases. Each of the reforms provides for the grant of a “head-lease” on land owned under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) to a government entity, which then has the power to issue sub-leases to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal persons. Scholars have tended to focus attention on the first two reforms, the Township Leases and the 5-year Intervention Leases, and the extent to which they have been successful or otherwise in achieving their policy objectives. Scholars have also tended to interpret one policy objective associated with all three reforms – the so-called “normalisation” of Aboriginal communities – as having a static meaning, often criticising it as a return to the Northern Territory’s colonial past. This thesis takes a different approach, attempting to examine the legal structure of all three reforms as part of wider discourse surrounding Aboriginal land tenure reform in the Northern Territory. I first analyse the legal structure of the reforms as evidenced in legislation and policy documentation, and then qualitatively examine the meaning of the term “normalise” in parliamentary hansard. My analysis reveals that the meaning of the word “normalise” has shifted since the first reform was introduced, and this change has been reflected by a parallel change in the legal structure of the reforms. The first two reforms (Township Leases and 5-year Intervention Leases) exhibit some parallels with the Northern Territory’s colonial property regime. However, the 40-year Housing Leases do not appear to possess the same characteristics and in fact may result in traditional Aboriginal owners of land in the Northern Territory exercising greater legal and economic control over their land.

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