Emily Lau

Native Title
Summer 2012

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to complete an Aurora Native Title internship during 18 January 2012 – 24 February 2012. Whilst I was based in the Native Title Services (NTSCORP) head office at Redfern, I was doing work for the National Native Title Council (NNTC) and NTSCORP.

About the Aurora Native Title Internship program

The Aurora Project was created in response to the professional development needs of the lawyers working for Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs). The Aurora Native Title Internship Program is one of the initiatives of the Aurora Project. The program recruits law, anthropology and social science students and graduates to help out at NTRBs, Indigenous corporations, community groups, policy organisations and not-for-profit organisations throughout Australia.


NTSCORP is a Native Title Service Provider (NTSP), primarily funded by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FAHCSIA). NTSCORP provides assistance to Indigenous peoples who wish to exercise their legal rights under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). In particular, NTSCORP facilitates native title claims, notifies Indigenous peoples of Future Acts, helps to make Agreements, offers research assistance and aids dispute resolution processes.

Role of NNTC

The NNTC is the peak representative body for NTRBs and NTSPs in Australia. Some of its functions include engaging with the government, promoting international covenants, promoting law reform affecting traditional owners, developing research programs and increasing community awareness of its objectives.

How native title processes work (future acts, claims process)

The 2 main processes involved in native title law are the claimant application process and the Future Acts process.

The claimant application is an application for a determination that native title exists in the area. The following steps are involved:

A native title claim group must authorise the making of the application.
The application (using Form 1 Native Title Determination Application (Claimant Application) ) along with affidavits sworn by the applicants must be filed in the Federal Court.
Then the Native Title Registrar decides whether the claim passes the registration test, which has 12 conditions under ss 190B (relating to the merits of the claim) and 190C (relating to the procedural matters) Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). If a claim is registered, the native title claim group has certain procedural rights.
The National Native Title Tribunal advises the public and others whose interests may be affected by the native title determination. Persons with an interest have 3 months to apply to become a party to the application.
The Federal Court must refer each application to mediation so that the parties can reach agreement regarding native title.
If there is an agreement reached, the Federal Court may make a consent determination without a hearing. If there is no agreement reached, the application will be determined by the Federal Court after a trial.

The Future Acts process allows native title claimants and project proponents to negotiate projects with potential consequences for native title (‘future acts’).

Proponents can validate a future act via:

Non-claimant application (seeking a determination that native title does not exist). If there is no indication of native title after 6 months, the future act is valid.
Indigenous land use agreements. An indigenous land use agreement between a native title group and other stakeholders allows developments on land without an application for a determination of native title. OR
Specific future acts processes. Certain developments, such as the management of airspace, have tailored validation processes.

My work-related activities

Working for NNTC and NTSCORP ensured that there was never a dull moment. My activities as a legal intern ranged from researching a particular section of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) to painting an Aboriginal flag on the face of a 14-week-old baby at the Yabun Festival.

NNTC asked me to compile its members’ annual reports, help prepare a submission and summarise the financial positions of its members. I even learnt a few things about accounting in the process.

I was based in the policy and communications section of NTSCORP. My research centred on current affairs, industry sectors, case law and legislation. Other tasks included assisting in the preparation of policy submissions and general administrative duties.

One of the highlights was definitely the Yabun Festival held in Victoria Park on Australia Day. I helped with the face-painting at the NTSCORP store. At the end of the day, the NTSCORP staff had the privilege of attending a live performance by Jessica Mauboy.

Social activities

 During my internship, I participated in many social events. There were lunches, coffee sessions, after-work drinks, a Sandwich Day and Master Chef Challenges. I ended my internship with a dinner of a hamburger and fries at Madam Cha Cha’s with some NTSCORP employees and my fellow Aurora interns. I definitely formed lots of friendships and will keep in touch with the people I met.