National Archive documents unearthed by the legal team representing Aboriginal elders opposed to a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory provide compelling new evidence that the Northern Land Council (NLC) did not correctly identify and obtain consent from the traditional owners of the land before the site was nominated.
Law firm Maurice Blackburn, Surry Partners and Julian Burnside QC are representing traditional owners who are challenging the nomination in Federal Court proceedings.
"This is vital information for the case," said Martin Hyde, Maurice Blackburn senior associate.
By law, before a site on Aboriginal land can be nominated, the traditional owners must be identified, consulted with and provide their consent.
"The Muckaty Land Claim documents obtained from the National Archives show two things: first, that the nominated site is not exclusively owned by the Lauder family, as is claimed by the NLC and, secondly, that according to the NLC's own expert anthropological evidence tendered in the Muckaty Land Claim, all Ngapa land on Muckaty Station is owned in common by three Ngapa family subgroups and that no Ngapa land on Muckaty Station is owned by one family group."
"There are serious questions to be answered by the NLC in light of the information contained in these documents," said Mr Hyde.
Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek is the only site being openly considered for the construction of the radioactive waste facility. A group of Aboriginal traditional owners from the region mounted a Federal Court challenge to the nomination of their land in June 2010.
With the unearthing of the new documents, other prominent senior elders, including Lorna "Nanna" Fejo have applied to the Federal Court to lead the Court challenge to the nomination. Ms Fejo is a member of the stolen generation and her story was recounted by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in his National Apology in February 2008.
"Lorna feels very strongly about this. As a child she was taken away from her land by the government and now she feels the government is about to take her land away from her" said Mr Hyde.
Traditional owners are particularly outraged that a sacred male initiation site is being threatened by the move.
The Muckaty Land Claim was the subject of a final report in 1997 by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Federal Court Judge Peter Gray. Documents and evidence from the Muckaty Land Claim obtained by Maurice Blackburn from the National Archives include:
- transcripts of evidence of senior men taken at Karakara, including Lorna Fejo's brother, Kumanjayi Jackson, confirming that Karakara belonged to the Japurla Japurla (aka Yapa Yapa) people and was a very important male initiation site;
- the transcript of evidence given before Justice Gray by a senior member of the Lauder family, Geoffrey Lauder, pointing to Karakara and confirming that it belonged to the Yapa Yapa people and not to his family;
- the NLC's own written submissions to Justice Gray in the Muckaty Land Claim confirming that that Karakara was an important male initiation site for which the Yapa Yapa people were the traditional owners;
- a report by three senior anthropologists commissioned by the NLC for the Muckaty Land Claim which confirmed that that all Ngapa land on Muckaty station was held in common by the three Ngapa family groups and that no Ngapa land on Muckaty station was owned exclusively by any of the three Ngapa family groups.
Lawyers have been working with traditional owners of the land to collect evidence for the case. Traditional owners from five different groups are part of the legal claim.
A mediation held earlier this year failed to reach agreement over the land. The Senate is due to debate the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill, on Tuesday May 10. The Muckaty Station site is the only nominated site in the new Bill.
According to Mr Hyde, "the Muckaty Station nomination is untenable in light of the National Archive documents". The legal case will still proceed regardless of the passage of this legislation.
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