The Northern Territory’s four land councils will receive a $10 million federal funding boost “targeted towards homelands and smaller communities,” according to Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt’s office.

The funding was announced as part of the Minister’s Indigenous response to COVID-19 earlier this month, which will see $123 million become available over the next two financial years.

“All Australians are beginning to access a variety of supports and we are making sure that the unique issues facing Indigenous Australians are specifically addressed through discrete measures,” Minister Wyatt said.

Of the $10 million allocated to the four land councils: $4 million each will go to the larger Central Land Council and Northern Land Council, and $1 million each to the smaller Tiwi Land Council and Anindilyakwa Land Council.

It has been suggested the funding should be given to Indigenous health and medical services, however, a spokesperson for Minister Wyatt said the land councils are “well-placed to assist communities” during this time.

“The Aboriginal Land Councils in the Northern Territory have strong, established relationships with Indigenous communities and other stakeholders across their regions,” the spokesperson said.

“[They] are already playing an important role in the administration of biosecurity travel requirements in the Northern Territory, including responding to requests for people seeking to access communities inside the designated biosecurity areas, issuing permits and coordinating support with the Northern Territory Government.”

The spokesperson said the funding will allow the land councils to support community COVID-19 responses, including temporary accommodation, small generators, tools or other items to ensure people can stay healthy while remaining in community.

NIT spoke to two of the four land councils, with the common theme emerging that the funding will be used to support travel measures and community comfort across the Territory.

Central Land Council (CLC) CEO Joe Martin-Jard said the council will “provide immediate support to residents of Aboriginal communities who have been affected by the [travel] restrictions” put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Martin-Jard said CLC is exploring a range of options to provide immediate community support, without actually confirming which path the land council was taking.

“The funding would be used to cover the cost of goods and equipment that would provide a level of comfort and amenity for residents living remotely on designated areas for up to six months,” Martin-Jard said.

He said while their support is unrelated to health and medical services, CLC is working closely with health services.

Martin-Jard also said CLC is exploring ways to work with Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (ACCHOs) and other service providers, who he said are best placed to support remote residents to stay in communities and outstations.

In a similar response, Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC) said the funding would be used to assist Traditional Owners in returning to the Groote Archipelago as necessary.

“[This would include] the provision of accommodation and food to assist those people to self-quarantine for 14 days,” said ALC Head of Legal and Executive Operations, Conor O’Bryan.

O’Bryan said Groote Archipelago Traditional Owners are “some of the most vulnerable people in Australia” to COVID-19 and that ALC has already incurred significant costs to ensure their safety.

He said ALC will also use part of the $1 million allocated to them to build self-isolating facilities on-island if necessary, as no such facilities currently exist.

Outstation facility upgrades will also be carried out to allow Traditional Owners to isolate on Country, with camping packs and essential goods like hand sanitiser, personal protective equipment and nutritious food to be secured.

NIT contacted Northern Land Council, Tiwi Land Council and Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) for comment, however no response was received by time of publication.

By Hannah Cross