Indigenous owners launch Federal legal challenge over Australia’s first nuclear waste dump

3 June 2010
The Commonwealth Government and the Northern Land Council (NLC) will face a Federal Court legal challenge over plans for a radioactive waste dump on Indigenous land at Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

Mark Lane Jangala, a senior Ngapa traditional owner for Muckaty Station claims he and many other senior elders never gave consent and were not consulted over the nomination of their land for Australia's first radioactive waste dump.

They are particularly outraged that a sacred male initiation site is being threatened by the move.

By law, before a site on Aboriginal land can be nominated by government, the traditional owners must be adequately consulted and give consent.

Mr Lane Jangala has instructed Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, together with NSW firm Surry Partners and Julian Burnside QC, to commence proceedings challenging the nomination of the land at Muckaty Station as a site for the disposal of radioactive waste.

Muckaty Station was formally returned to the traditional owners after a long land claim in 2001.The Aboriginal Land Commissioner Justice Gray determined that five traditional owner groups had joint and overlapping traditional ownership of the Station: the Ngapa, Wirntiku, Milwayi, Yapayapa and Ngarrka clans. However, the NLC and Government now claim that a single sub-group of one of these clans owns the relevant land for the waste dump, so that only their consent is required.

This claim of ownership, which is contrary to the findings of Justice Gray and the traditional knowledge of senior elders of the five clans, is based on a secret anthropologist report which the Commonwealth Government and the NLC refuse to release to the traditional owners.

Maurice Blackburn and Surry Partners represent Mark Lane Jangala and senior elders from all five groups of traditional owners.

Mr Lane Jangala has been campaigning along with many other traditional owners 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," he said.

Under the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and the proposed new National Radioactive Waste Management Act, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson can at any time make a declaration confirming Muckaty Station as the site of the waste dump.

Maurice Blackburn senior associate Martin Hyde said most of the traditional owners were not given the opportunity to make an informed decision.

"If you are going to take away people's land in perpetuity and fill it with radioactive waste, you have a legal and moral obligation to ask the owners first and seek their informed consent. It appears that simply did not happen".

George Newhouse, human rights lawyer with Surry Partners said: "This is an important case not only because it is about the dumping of nuclear waste on Aboriginal land but it will set out the principles that will guide the way that Indigenous Land Councils treat the people that they are supposed to represent."

Related media statements
Fresh evidence boosts traditional owners legal challenge to Muckaty Station nuclear waste dump, 9 May 2011
Law firm takes step towards Aboriginal reconciliation, 24 March 2011

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