The report of the 2007 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affair reference into Federal implications of Northern Territory statehoodThe long road to statehood notes that the Northern and Central Land Councils boycotted the 1998 NT statehood referendum.

The referendum result was a short sharp slap in the face for its proponents and, with the “No” vote getting a 51.3% majority, represented a loud death-knock for future fundamental constitutional reform in the NT.

Chapter 2 of the committee’s report notes the conclusions drawn from the 2001 inquiry by the Northern Territory Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee (LCAC), which found that key reasons given for voting ‘No’ at the 1998 referendum included:

… inadequate information and understanding about statehood, inadequate consultation, concerns about the Constitutional Convention process, a lack of trust in those responsible for the statehood processes of 1998, and antagonism towards the Chief Minister and politicians.

Of Aboriginal approaches to the referendum, the LCAC found that:

Aboriginal people also cited a lack of understanding about the meaning of statehood, distrust of the Northern Territory Government, concerns about losing existing rights (especially land rights), and concerns about the impact of statehood on law, culture, and language.

Two months before the referendum 800 or so Aboriginal people gathered at Kalkaringi, well west of Katherine, NT. In anticipation of the referendum, the mid-August meeting rejected the proposed draft NT Constitution and agreed to withhold consent to Statehood until good faith negotiations commenced between the NT government and Aboriginal people with a view to developing a Constitution based on ‘equality, co-existence and mutual respect’.

A further Aboriginal constitutional meeting was held at Batchelor following the Kalkaringi meeting that endorsed the Kalkaringi resolutions, and provided its own statement titled Standards for Constitutional Development. According to a 2004 CAEPR discussion paper by D. E. Smith, “further resolutions were passed focusing squarely on governance, sovereignty, self-determination, jurisdictional rights and constitutional issues. The Northern Territory Indigenous Constitutional Strategy
amalgamates the policy positions set out at the two conventions.”

A number of quotes from participants and photos from the Kalkaringi meeting can be accessed at the ArtPlan site here.

Text of the Kalkaringi Statement

The Kalkaringi Constitutional Convention of the Combined Aboriginal Nations of Central Australia
Kalkaringi, 17– 20 August 1998

The Aboriginal Nations of Central Australia are governed by our own constitutions (being our systems of Aboriginal law and Aboriginal structures of law and governance, which have been in place since time immemorial). Our constitutions must be recognised on a basis of equality, co-existence and mutual respect with any constitution of the Northern Territory.

The Constitutional Convention of the Combined Aboriginal Nations of Central Australia is deeply concerned about the implications of Statehood for the rights of Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory. We are conscious of the hostility that the Northern Territory Government has displayed towards Aboriginal peoples since self-government in 1978.

We deplore the failure of the Northern Territory Government to negotiate with the Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory in relation to the proposed move to Statehood, and are disturbed by the inadequate acknowledgment of Aboriginal law and Aboriginal rights in the current Draft Constitution.

We also deplore the lack of provision in the Draft Constitution for the human rights of Territorians generally and for the good governance of the Northern Territory.

Accordingly we adopt this Kalkaringi Statement which sets out the aspirations and concerns expressed by delegates in relation to issues of Statehood, Constitutional development and governance. We resolve:

General Principles

1. That we do not consent to the establishment of a new State of the Northern Territory on the terms set out in the Draft Constitution adopted by the Legislative Assembly on 13 August 1998.
2. That we will withhold our consent until there are good faith negotiations between the Northern Territory Government and the freely chosen representatives of the Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory leading to a Constitution based upon equality, co-existence and mutual respect.
3. That the Northern Territory Government must provide adequate resources and negotiate in good faith a realistic timetable for such negotiations.

Aboriginal Self-Determination and Self-Government

1. That Aboriginal peoples, being the first peoples to own and govern this land, have the right to self-determination and that our inherent right of self-government must be recognised and protected in any Constitution of the Northern Territory.
2. That a Northern Territory Constitution must contain a commitment to negotiate with Aboriginal peoples a framework agreement, setting out processes for the mutual recognition of our respective governance structures, the sharing of power and the development of fiscal autonomies.
3. That the Commonwealth establish an independent Commission of Inquiry to consider the experience of Aboriginal peoples under the Northern Territory Self-Government Act 1978, to review financial arrangements for the provision of services to Aboriginal communities and to make recommendations for future relationships between the Northern Territory Government and Aboriginal peoples.
4. That there must be direct Commonwealth funding of Aboriginal communities and organisations.

Aboriginal Law

That a Northern Territory Constitution must recognise Aboriginal law through Aboriginal law makers, and Aboriginal structures of law and governance.

Aboriginal Land Rights and Other Rights

1. That the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 must remain Commonwealth legislation administered by the Commonwealth.
2. That the rights of Aboriginal peoples in relation to land (including land subject to current or historical pastoral leases, reserves and national parks) must be respected and afforded effective Constitutional protection.
3. That the rights of Aboriginal peoples as owners of land which is currently (or in future) national park must be recognised by the implementation of cooperative management structures that give them effective control.
4. That our common law and statutory rights (including those currently contained in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976), as well as those recognised or negotiated in coming years, must be recognised and afforded Constitutional protection.
5. That arbitrary time limits on the capacity of Aboriginal land owners to assert their rights over land and waters must be removed.
6. That any changes to a Northern Territory Constitution which concern Aboriginal rights must be approved not only by a majority of electors at a referendum, but also by a majority of people of the Aboriginal nations of the Northern Territory.
7. That there must also be recognition and protection of the rights of all Indigenous peoples of Australia in the Commonwealth Constitution.

Sacred Sites and Significant Areas

That a Northern Territory Constitution must provide for Aboriginal control in relation to, and the effective protection of, Aboriginal sacred sites and significant areas.

Political Participation

1. That procedures relating to the election of members to a Parliament of the Northern Territory should ensure effective levels of representation of Aboriginal people, including through multi-member electoral divisions.
2. That any Constitution for the Northern Territory must provide effective mechanisms for the accountability of governments, including:
(a) Freedom of information legislation;

(b) An independent, adequately resourced Ombudsman Office;

(c) An independent, adequately resourced Auditor-General;

(d) An independent commission against corruption;

(e) An independent electoral office;

(f) Adequate provision for judicial and administrative review of government decisions;

(g) Measures to ensure fairness in government contracts.

Human Rights

1. That any Northern Territory Constitution must guarantee the human rights embodied in the principal human rights instruments to which Australia is party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
2. There must be a particular prohibition of discrimination on any ground such as race, sex, language and religion.

Essential Services and Infrastructure

1. That a Northern Territory Constitution must recognise the right of all residents to equal access to essential services and infrastructure, including health, housing, clean water, roads, communications, education, training and employment. Special measures should operate in relation to people living in remote areas of the Northern Territory.
2. That there must be special measures for the immediate and continuing improvement of the economic and social conditions of Aboriginal people.
3. That Aboriginal peoples have the right to determine our own health, housing and other economic and social programs, and to deliver such programs through our own adequately resourced institutions.


1. That there must be recognition of:

(a) the right of Aboriginal children to all levels and forms of education of the State;

(b) the right of Aboriginal communities to establish and control our own educational institutions, providing education in our own languages, in ways appropriate to our cultural methods of teaching and learning;

(c) the right of children living outside their communities to have access to education in their own culture and language.
2. That there be culturally appropriate, compulsory components in the curriculum of Northern Territory schools in relation to the histories and cultures of Aboriginal peoples in the Territory.

Justice Issues

1. That the Northern Territory Government must negotiate in good faith with Aboriginal communities regarding:
(a) the administration and resourcing of community justice mechanisms; and
(b) the effective participation of Aboriginal people in the justice mechanisms of the Northern Territory.
2. That a Northern Territory Constitution must recognise the right of Aboriginal people to understand and be understood in legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.
3. That the Northern Territory mandatory sentencing legislation is contrary to Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international human rights instruments, and must be repealed.


Further reading

 – “The Kalkaringi Statement” [1998] IndigLawB 73; (1998) 4(15) Indigenous Law Bulletin 14;

 – From Gove to Governance: Reshaping Indigenous Governance in the Northern Territory. D.E. Smith. CAEPR Discussion Paper, No. 265/2004

– Kalkaringi Statement. Accessed at:

– House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, The long road to statehood.Federal implications of statehood for the Northern Territory, 2007.

Photo 1: Alison Anderson at Kalkaringi, August 1998. Accessed at

Photos 2 & 3: Signatures to the Kalkaringi Statement. Accessed at


Follow the links below to see the rest of the documents in this series.