Aboriginal Traditional Owners of Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory of Australia have launched a federal court challenge over a proposed nuclear waste dump on their traditional land. In mid 2005, the former Howard government began targeting Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory for a federal radioactive waste dump.
The government worked closely with the Northern Land Council (NLC), one of four Aboriginal land councils in the Northern Territory, to secure the nomination of a site in the Muckaty Land Trust, 120km north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. This occurred despite strong opposition from many Traditional Owners of the Land Trust who had requested the NLC not pursue the nomination process.
Though a small group of Traditional Owners signed a deal for Aus$ 12 million (US$ 10.3 million or 8.4 million euro) in exchange for roads, housing and infrastructure, senior Elders from all five of the clan groups that comprise Muckaty maintain that they did not consent to the waste dump proposal. The NLC has continued to publicly support the group in favor of the dump but has failed to provide similar legal and media support to their other constituents who are opposed. Accordingly, Traditional Owners from all of the five groups requested external legal assistance to challenge the nomination process.
A team of lawyers from around the country visited the small town of Tennant Creek to meet with Muckaty people, and have subsequently launched the federal court action. The Commonwealth government and the NLC are listed as defendents.
Human Rights Lawyer George Newhouse, says “The Northern Land Council and the Commonwealth have a moral and legal duty to look after and protect the interests of the Indigenous people affected by the proposed dump. The most basic principles of justice and fairness do not appear to have been applied in this case.”
Mark Lane Jangala has been campaigning for many years against the proposed site because of its cultural significance.
“I am senior Ngapa man for Muckaty and I did not agree to the nomination of the site, along with other senior Ngapa elders for Muckaty Station who did not agree. We don’t want it. There was not even a meeting in town to consult all of the traditional owners.”
“I want to look after my Country and Dreaming, look after the Sacred Sites I am responsible for and to make sure my children are raised properly in their Country.”
Pursuit of the contentious Muckaty nomination and refusal to release important documents, including the key anthropological report and site nomination, lends little credibility to the promise of Australian Labor Party (ALP) before general elections, of a process that would “restore transparency, accountability and procedural fairness" in siting a nuclear waste facility.
New laws before Parliament in June give Resources Minister Ferguson extraordinary power to make unilateral decisions about site selection, and the power to acquire land in any State or Territory with regard to building, servicing or transporting radioactive material to the facility.
The Muckaty campaign has recently been launched to an international audience, with the release of a short film on You-tube, “Muckaty Voices”. This film was also screened at a conference in the Unites States in early June, America’s Nuclear Waste Future. The gathering was a national summit in Chicago and included papers and participation from academics, public health experts, environmentalists and Indigenous and community organizations from across the USA.
Muckaty Voices can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcuNpT84Ovo
(see also: Nuclear Monitor 708, 29 April 2010: Australia: Aboriginal landowners oppose radwaste storage)
Source and contact: Natalie Wasley, Beyond Nuclear Initiative coordinator, Alice Springs