Muckaty station nuclear waste dump will not go ahead: Aboriginal Traditional Owners succeed in legal challenge

19 June 2014
Plans to build a nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land at Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek will not go ahead after the Commonwealth agreed not to act upon the nomination of the site by the Northern Land Council (NLC).

Leading social justice law firm Maurice Blackburn has been acting for Traditional Owners opposed to the dump in a four-year legal fight that was two weeks into a Federal Court trial when it was resolved. 

The parties plan to ask that Justice Anthony North of the Federal Court dismiss the proceedings, which were due to continue in Darwin next week. This settlement is without any admission of liability.

Elizabeth O’Shea, head of Maurice Blackburn’s social justice practice said:

“Aboriginal people at Muckaty have been fighting this plan for more than seven years and are overjoyed to have secured this outcome.

“We are thrilled to share in the relief and excitement our clients are feeling, knowing that their country will not be the site of the country’s first nuclear waste dump.”

The matter has been run by Maurice Blackburn on a pro bono basis.  Barristers including Ron Merkel QC and David Yarrow have also acted pro bono.

“Just like the class actions and other landmark cases brought by Maurice Blackburn, our pro bono cases provide access to justice and make a real difference in terms of public accountability”, Ms O’Shea said.

Lorna Fejo, a Traditional Owner said:

“I feel ecstatic. I feel free because it was a long struggle to protect my land. I feel really happy about this decision because my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren can go to Namerini safely. This is what Australia is: it is a free land and Traditional Owners must always be free to express what they want done on their land.

“My grandmother gave me that land in perfect condition and other lands to my two brothers, who are now deceased. It was our duty to protect that land and water because it was a gift from my grandmother to me. And now that I am 84 years old, and I have had to fight hard to protect this land for my grandchildren and great grandchildren, it is now a gift which I will be able to pass onto them in its perfect condition, like I had received it.”

LEGAL BACKGROUND

A fee simple estate in Muckaty Station was granted to the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust (MLT, a respondent to the proceeding) in 1999 following a claim under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) (ALRA). The MLT holds Muckaty Station on trust under the ALRA for the benefit of the traditional Aboriginal owners of Muckaty Station and of other Aboriginal persons entitled to enter upon or use the land in accordance with Aboriginal tradition. 

The Northern Land Council (NLC, also a respondent) is a body established under ALRA to supervise and administer Aboriginal land trusts in respect of areas in the Northern Territory including Muckaty Station.  The NLC is responsible under ALRA for giving lawful directions to and acting on behalf of the MLT for the benefit of the traditional Aboriginal owners of and the Aboriginal people holding an interest in Muckaty Station.

In June 2007, the NLC purported to nominate a portion of Muckaty Station as a potential site for the management and storage of radioactive waste.

Traditional Owners alleged in the action that the NLC failed to take appropriate steps to ensure the traditional Aboriginal owners understood the nature and purpose of the nomination, and failed to obtain proper consent before nominating the site. 

Legal proceedings against the Commonwealth and the NLC were commenced in June 2010. The Federal Court trial began on 2 June 2014.

 

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