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.
The AAPA will issue an Authority Certificate when it is satisfied that the use of, or work on, the area in question can proceed without there being a substantive risk of damage to, or interference with, a sacred site on or in the vicinity of the area. An Authority Certificate may also be issued if an agreement has been reached between the Aboriginal custodians of any affected sites and the applicant for the Authority Certificate.
Applying for an Authority Certificate
Online: To obtain an Authority Certificate please apply through our online application system at AAPA Online
It is important that applicants provide as much detail as possible about the proposed use of, or works on, the land or sea area under application. The final Authority Certificate will be issued only for the proposed use or works specified by the applicant, and any use or works not specified on the Authority Certificate will fall outside of the legal protection afforded by the Authority Certificate.
An application cannot be processed until a boundary is determined. The AAPA may refuse an application if insufficient information is provided.
Processing the application
Once the applicant has accepted the costs, the AAPA is obliged to consult with custodians of sacred sites on or in the vicinity of the area to which the application relates. By law, these consultations must commence within 60 days of the acceptance.
However, depending on the distances and complexity involved, the consultations may take some time to complete. In some cases it may take up to 180 days to process an application from the time it has been accepted by the AAPA. Applicants are encouraged to discuss timeframes applying to their application with AAPA staff.
In 2016–17, 83% of Authority Certificates were issued within 6 months.
Fees and Charges
What does it cost?
All applications are charged a lodgement fee of $67 (please note GST is not applicable).
Once an application is lodged the Authority will issue an estimate of cost to the applicant. Work on the application will not commence until costs are accepted.
Cost are based on staff time, travel expenses, custodian fees and administration cost as defined by the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Regulations.
The AAPA does not make a profit from the charges and only recovers the cost of processing Authority Certificate applications. You can request a breakdown of the cost estimates or final charges. The AAPA endeavours to keep costs to a minimum.
Costs typically include any of the following:
- Staff fees - set rate per day.
- Consultants' fees - set rate per day.
- Custodian payments.
- Translator payments.
- Travel and accommodation expenses (including vehicle costs, airfares).
- Communication costs (satellite phones etc).
- Equipment hire charges (Digital GPS, helicopter, fixed wing aircraft, boat charter, etc).
- Photography, Mapping and production of documents (printing, binding, etc).
- Transcription costs.
- Incidental costs.
- Cost of staff time spent on research.
- Cost of staff time spent supervising and liaising with other agencies/bodies.
- Administration costs (staff and/or consultant arrangements).
Any other costs reasonably incurred.
Conference with Custodians
Under section 19G of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act, an applicant can request for a conference with custodians of the relevant sacred sites to discuss the terms and conditions of an Authority Certificate.
The AAPA’s role is restricted to arranging the conference between the applicant and the custodians. An applicant can request in writing for the AAPA to arrange a conference between the applicant and the custodians. The AAPA will then determine whether the conference will incur costs. Where the conference involves significant costs, the AAPA will notify the applicant in writing and provide the applicant with an estimate of the conference costs.
Costs for such meetings will be calculated the same way charges are applied for Authority Certificates (see above) and in accordance with Schedule 3 of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Regulations.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 Authority Certificate. Without an Authority 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 AAPA 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 AAPA has built a strong relationship with custodians, having consulted with them for over 35 years.
What factors will affect or could delay my application?
Timeframes for the issuing of Authority Certificates are largely affected by staff resources and completing consultations with Aboriginal custodians. This continues to be impacted by factors such as:
- The increased complexity of project proposals;
- Changes to traditional land tenure due to cultural transitions that result from the generational changes of custodians;
- The availability of Indigenous custodians; and
- The remoteness of application areas and the associated access due to the weather.
I have a Central Land Council sacred site clearance. Do I need an AAPA sacred site clearance?
Yes. Only the AAPA can issue an Authority Certificate which is a legal document recognised under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act. The AAPA is the body established under the Sacred Sites 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 AAPA can issue an Authority Certificate on the basis of this work on a case by case basis.
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.