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Tribunal's role

Overview of the NNTT

Establishment

The Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (the "Act") creates an Australia-wide native title scheme, the objectives of which include:

  • providing for the recognition and protection of native title;
  • establishing a mechanism for determining claims to native title; and
  • establishing ways in which future dealings affecting native title (future acts) may proceed.

The Act establishes the Tribunal as an independent body with a wide range of functions. The Act is, itself, a 'special measure' for the advancement and protection of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders (Indigenous Australian peoples). The Act is intended to advance the process of reconciliation among all Australians.

Functions and powers

Under the Act, the Tribunal, comprising the President and Members, has specific functions, including:

  • mediating in native title proceedings, upon referral by the Federal Court of Australia (Federal Court)
  • determining 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
  • determining applications concerning proposed future acts
  • assisting people to negotiate Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs), and helping to resolve any objections to registration of ILUAs
  • assisting with negotiations for the settlement of applications that relate to native title
  • providing assistance 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
  • conducting reviews concerning native title rights and interests (upon referral by the Federal Court)
  • conducting native title application inquiries as directed by the Federal Court, and
  • conducting special inquiries under Ministerial direction.

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 Australian peoples.

The President

The President is responsible for the management of the business of the Tribunal, including its administrative affairs, and the allocation of duties, powers and functions. The President is assisted by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Principal Registrar of the Federal Court. The CEO and Principal Registrar may delegate his or her responsibilities under the Act to the Native Title Registrar, or staff assisting the Tribunal. Staff assisting the Tribunal are made available for that purpose by the Federal Court.

The Members

With the President, the Members perform the arbitral, mediation and educational functions of the Tribunal, with the support of the Registrar and staff.

The Registrar

  • is responsible to the President for general administration and staff management;
  • is primarily responsible for the maintenance of the Registers of the Tribunal, subject to any direction of the President; and
  • performs other statutory functions.

The Registrar is also actively involved in the mediation and educational functions of the Tribunal.