Federal court case opens on Muckaty Station nuclear waste dump

Aboriginal leader Diane Stokes protests at Muckaty Station. Archive image.

Photo: Angela Wylie

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Jane Lee Sydney Morning Herald 3 June 2014

Aboriginal leader Diane Stokes protests at Muckaty Station. Photo: Angela Wylie

The Northern Land Council did not obtain traditional Aboriginal owners' consent or consult with them before nominating sacred land in the Northern Territory for a nuclear waste dump, a court has heard.

The council - set up to help Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory manage their traditional lands - nominated a section of Muckaty Station as the location of the waste dump in 2007.

Traditional landowners have opposed the move for almost a decade, many of whom say Muckaty Station is a sacred site for various traditional ceremonies, including male initiation ceremonies, on a site called Karakara.

Plans to acquire the land for the dump have been halted ever since, pending the outcome of a long-awaited legal challenge. The case, expected to go for five weeks, began in the Federal Court in Melbourne on Monday.

Ron Merkel, QC, for the indigenous applicants, told the court there had been no proper consultation with Aboriginal peoples interested in the land about the move.

He said the nomination of the site ''bypassed'' the legal requirements set out in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

The applicants argue that the then resources minister unlawfully approved the site for a nuclear waste dump based on advice that the groups consented to the plan. They want the Federal Court to declare that the move has no effect.

Justice Anthony North asked whether there was any public information about the government's intention to make a declaration, paving the way for the dump.

Mr Merkel replied the Commonwealth had no power to make the declaration but said: ''The Commonwealth, on all evidence, needs a nuclear waste facility and if the Commonwealth had made a decision not to have it at Muckaty, my learned friend would have to say so and this case would come to an end.''

Mr Merkel, a former Federal Court judge, said the Commonwealth had previously promised to give the applicants 10 days' notice if it did make a declaration over the site. ''But if there is no power or jurisdiction to make [a declaration] that's ultimately what we're here in court about.''

Kylie Sambo said Muckaty was part of her grandfather's country.

Ms Sambo, from the Milwayi people, said the legal battle was important because traditional dances were still performed at Muckaty, which had to be preserved for future generations.

The case continues.

Jane Lee Legal Affairs Reporter for The Age (Melb)