Indigenous landowner claims she was threatened over Muckaty nuclear dump

Court hears that Northern Land Council officer told her if her clan did not approve the proposal ‘we'll do it for you'

Jeannie Sambo of the Milwayi clan told the media 'our land is more important than money'.
(Photograph: Neda Vanovac/AAP)

AAP, Wednesday 11 June 2014 13.38 AEST

Jeannie Sambo of the Milwayi clan told the media 'our land is more important than money'. Photograph: Neda Vanovac/AAP
If Indigenous clans at Muckaty wouldn't accept a nuclear waste dump on their land, the Northern Land Council (NLC) threatened to decide for them, the federal court has heard.

The court is sitting in Tennant Creek this week to hear evidence from four clans that are against the radioactive waste storage facility being placed on their land, 120km north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

The clans say their will was overruled by a fifth clan, which worked with the NLC to approve it.

The case hinges on which group is the traditional owner of the two square kilometres that will house the dump on the 221,000ha Muckaty Station.

The court previously heard that the Lauder branch of the Ngapa people were identified as the owners during on-site tours and in an NLC survey and consented to the waste facility being built after a long consultation process.

But the land belongs to the Milwayi, that clan says, and is not the Lauders' to give away.

"Our ancestors passed it to our elders and our elders passed it to us, and we want to pass it to our young ones," said Ronald Morrison, of the Milwayi. "The dump would destroy our land and bush tucker for our living, and for our next generation. We want to keep it clean for all of us."

The site is represented in Milwayi dreaming paintings as a sacred place, said Jeannie Sambo.

"I think our land is more important than money," she said.

Yapa Yapa traditional owner Dianne Stokes told the court on Tuesday that she had had a loud disagreement with Kwementyaye Lauder, who drove the decision to accept the site nomination and has since passed away.

She said the NLC's principal legal officer, Ron Levy, threatened to take the decision out of her hands.

"[He] said, 'if youse don't do this, we'll do it for you'," Stokes said, alleging that Levy said he would sue her for going to the media about the issue.

But defence counsel Tom Keely said there was no mention of threats in her brief of evidence.

"You know one of the major parts of this case is about the integrity of the consultation process, whether it was straight or not, but you wait until now to tell His Honour about threats made against you?" he said.

"I suggest to you that this is an invention on your part to put the land council in a bad light."

Stokes denied this.

Keely said the Milwayi claim to the land was recent and that no elders spoke out against the dump in the months before the nomination was made. He said part of the NLC's role was to determine who the rightful traditional owners of land were.

"Our traditional owners know who the traditional owners are," Stokes replied.

Outside court, researcher Paddy Gibson, of the Jumbunna House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney, called on the federal government to drop the nomination after eight years of struggle.

"The Commonwealth government needs to face up to what it's done to this community, pushing forward this incredibly divisive proposal, and it needs to back off," he said.