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Authority Certificates

  • Do I have to apply for an Authority Certificate?

    No. However there is a risk that you will be prosecuted if you damage or enter a sacred site to carry out works. An Authority Certificate provides you with certainty as to where sites are located and what can and cannot be done in and around them. A Certificate also provides you with an indemnity against prosecution under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (‘Sacred Sites Act’) provided that you adhere to the conditions set out in the Certificate. Without a Certificate you could be at high risk of causing damage to a site which in turn could cause significant delays and additional costs to your project.

    Works can be large or small in nature, and include building a shed, extending your house, installing fences, road works, vegetation clearing, tree trimming as well as major mining or tourism developments.

    For projects that involve the clearing of vegetation, any disturbance to the physical landscape or ground disturbing works, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (Authority) recommends that you apply for an Authority Certificate. It sets the conditions for using or carrying out works on land and sea on or near sacred sites.

    The Authority Certificate process is built around consultation with Aboriginal custodians of sites. The Authority has built a strong relationship with custodians, having consulted with them for over 35 years.

  • I have a CLC clearance. Do I need an AAPA clearance?

    Yes. Only the Authority can issue an Authority Certificate which is a legal document recognised under the Sacred Sites Act. The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority is the body established under the Act solely responsible for the protection of sacred sites throughout the Territory.

    Under certain circumstances, agreements are made for relevant custodians to be consulted by the Land Council regarding sacred site protection. The Authority can issue an Authority Certificate on the basis of this work on a case by case basis.

  • How much does an Authority Certificate Cost?

    All applicants must pay an application fee. The Authority assesses all applications individually and then advises the applicant of the charges that will apply. An estimate of costs is prepared for the applicant’s acceptance prior to the commencement of any work.

  • How long does the application take to process?

    Once the applicant has accepted the costs, the Authority is required by law to consult with custodians of sacred sites on or in the vicinity of the area to which the application relates within 60 days. Depending on the distances and complexity involved, consultations may take some time to complete. On average it takes up to 180 days or more to complete an application from the time costs have been accepted by the applicant. Applicants are encouraged to discuss timeframes in regards to their application with Authority staff.

  • I am a contractor for a Government agency. Do I need to get my own certificate?

    Government agencies and departments are responsible for applying for the Authority Certificate and are obliged under the conditions of that certificate to pass this information onto contractors. Contractors or agents engaged by the applicant are covered under the Authority Certificate. Contractors do not need to get their own certificate if the agency or department has applied for and received a certificate for the works being carried out.

  • What factors will affect or could delay my application?

    There are several factors that can affect or delay the progress of your application, such as:

    • Location of the Subject Land: Applications in remote areas take longer to progress and will also affect the costs of your application. Applications within town municipals are usually completed faster due to less travel involved and the extent of previous Authority Certificates already issued.
    • Size of the Subject Land: Larger areas take longer to complete.
    • Number of sacred sites within and in the vicinity of the Subject Land: The existence and number of sacred sites will determine the complexity of consultations and the conditions listed on the Authority Certificate.
    • Weather and accessibility: In the wet season, areas can be flooded and many roads and areas can be inaccessible, resulting in field work being confined to the dry season.
    • Complexity of works: Some Authority Certificates take longer to consult over due to the nature of the works and how they impact upon sacred sites. For example, conducting an exploration drilling program is less intrusive than the development of a mine.
    • Availability of custodians: Consultations with custodians need to fit in with work schedules, family, cultural and personal obligations.
    • Authority resources: Availability of field staff, consultants and staff workloads.

Requests For Information

  • What types of information does the Authority hold that I can access?

    In accordance with the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act the Authority provides access to its Registers and data of recorded sites. This information indicates what the Authority currently knows about an area. Sacred site information obtained in this manner and used to inform development can carry significant risks of damaging sites not yet recorded and cause delays to projects.

    An Abstract of Records is a written abstract and map of all of the known recorded and registered sacred sites within an area of land at the time the application is received. It may also contain any Restricted Works Areas (RWAs) that have been created as part of the Authority Certificate process.

    The Register of Sacred Sites can be inspected at the Authority’s offices. The Authority will provide access to information on the location and extent of registered sites within a clearly specified project area, identified by a lot number. Copies are not available. This inspection provides the centre coordinate point of the site, features of the site, geographic description, custodian details and the tradition associated with the site. Information regarding recorded sacred sites is not available.

    The Register of Authority Certificates can be inspected at the Authority’s offices. The Authority will provide access to information on Authority Certificates subject to commercial and secrecy exclusions. The information available includes a list of Authority Certificates granted or refused for a specified area, including the conditions for any works that may have been proposed for that area. The conditions associated with the Restricted Works Areas are specific to the proposed works of that Certificate.

    Copies of certificates can only be granted or authorised by the holder of the certificate(s) and proof of such is required in writing.

    To obtain information from records, please submit an application form from the Authority’s website.

  • Why can’t I view information about recorded sacred sites?

    Recorded sacred sites have not been entered into the Register of Sacred Sites. As recorded sites, they have not been as comprehensively documented as registered sacred sites. Recorded sites are shown with site markers on an Abstract of Records as indicative of their location. They are protected under the Sacred Sites Act in the same way that registered sacred sites are.


  • What’s the difference between an Authority Certificate and Abstract of Records?

    An Authority Certificate is a legal document that sets out the conditions for using and carrying out works on land and sea on or near sacred sites. It is a legal document issued under the Sacred Sites Act and indemnifies the holder against prosecution under this Act for damage to sacred sites in the area of the Certificate. This is provided that the proposed work or use has been carried out in accordance with the conditions of the Certificate.

    An Abstract of Records is a snapshot of the Authority’s spatial database at that point in time when the request is received. They are not a definitive way of determining the location of sacred sites, nor do they define the conditions under which works may or may not occur. They do not provide any indemnity from prosecution under the Act. There is a risk that a sacred site previously unknown to the Authority is identified after the commencement of works, leaving no option but to cease works or possibly breach the offence provisions of the Act. An Abstract of Records is useful in the preliminary planning stages of projects.

  • Can I request digital information of sacred sites?

    The Authority does not generally provide the digital data of sacred sites and their boundaries. Requests are considered on a case by case basis by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

    To request sacred site digital data, send an email to stating the information required, how and what it is to be used for. It will be considered by the CEO and if approved a digital data agreement will be prepared.

    The Authority will supply the digital data of the Restricted Work Areas back to the applicant of a certificate.

    To request this, an email should be sent through with information regarding the request for data and the certificate number. A digital data agreement will then be prepared for approval.

  • What is the difference between Aboriginal Sacred Sites and sites protected by Heritage Branch?

    According to the Sacred Sites Act, a sacred site is a site that is sacred to Aboriginal people or is otherwise of significance according to Aboriginal tradition, and includes any land that, under a law of the Northern Territory, is declared to be sacred to Aboriginals or of significance according to Aboriginal tradition.

    The Heritage Act protects both natural and cultural heritage places and objects. Cultural heritage places protected by the Act include buildings, a range of structures and places associated with European settlement and maritime heritage. In addition, all Aboriginal and Maccassan archaeological sites are protected.

    Indigenous Heritage can include places such as artefact scatters, shell middens, earth mounds, quarries, stone arrangements, rock shelters, rock art, burial sites and places that provide evidence of early contact between Aboriginal people and Europeans.

    For further information contact the Heritage Branch, Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment on (08) 8999 5039 or email

  • If a recorded site has the same protection as a registered site why then does it need to be registered?

    Custodians must agree for a site to be registered before a recorded site proceeds to registration. For this to happen, a custodian has to divulge a certain level of public information about the site to have it meet the requirements of registration and for placement on the public register.

    The registration of sacred sites is the highest level of protection that can be afforded to a site. Registration of a site also enables users of land to have the best possible information regarding the site’s location and extent. For Aboriginal custodians, registration of a sacred site means that it will be accepted by a court as prima facie evidence that a place is a sacred site.

  • If a place is a sacred site, how does this affect access?

    Unauthorised entry into a sacred site is punishable under the Sacred Sites Act. There are many places where unrestricted access is usually granted. Recreational places, National Parks and Reserves, common landmarks and prominent features often fall into this category. For proposed works or other unstipulated use on a sacred site, permission is required from custodians or approval from the Authority. A person may enter or carry out works on a sacred site if they have an Authority Certificate stating they may do so.

  • Can we get digital data of all AAPA sites?

    No. The Authority’s database is constantly being updated and amended. What is current today could be out of date tomorrow.

  • If I wish to access Aboriginal Land for work, what do I need to do?

    For access to any Aboriginal Land in the Northern Territory you must contact the relevant Land Council to seek a permit to do so. If you are a Government employee you can be granted certain access without a permit.

Site Damage

How can I prevent site damage?

Site damage can be prevented by obtaining an Authority Certificate prior to commencing works in an area and by registering sacred sites.

When someone wants to undertake any kind of work on land or sea anywhere in the Territory, they should seek an Authority Certificate. Once an application is made and costs are accepted by the applicant, the Authority begins consultations with the Aboriginal people responsible for that area. Through these consultations, the Authority is able to advise about any sacred sites that need to be protected when the work takes place. The applicant receives an Authority Certificate with a map that clearly shows the location and extent of sacred sites in the area. The Certificate advises of any restrictions which may apply in order to avoid damaging the sites.

Custodians who are Aboriginal people responsible for a sacred site can request that the site is registered and placed on the Register of Sacred Sites. Registration of a sacred site means that it will be accepted by a court as prima facie evidence that a place is a sacred site. Other protective measures like fencing or erecting signage at the sacred site telling people to keep out of the site area can also be used when necessary.

How can I report damage to a sacred site?

If at any time you have concerns that a sacred site has been damaged, or is under threat of being damaged, you should notify the Authority as soon as possible at the contacts shown below. The more information you can provide to us, the better we will be able to quickly investigate the situation.

Some kinds of information that will help us to investigate the site damage include:

  • The location of the site;
  • What kind of damage has occurred;
  • Who discovered the damage;
  • Who or what caused the damage;
  • Using a camera or mobile phone to take a photo of the damage.

The Authority will send a staff member to investigate the damage as soon as possible, and will act quickly to prevent further damage from occurring.