Muckaty Waste Dump: Indigenous land challenge Nomination

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has refused repeated requests to meet traditional owners opposed to the nuclear dump. He bases his plan on an anthropological report that he refuses to publicly release or even share with affected traditional owners.

The New Lawyer 3 June 2010

The Commonwealth Government and the Northern Land Council will face a Federal Court legal challenge over plans for a radioactive waste dump in the Northern Territory.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is working with NSW law firm Surry Partners, and Julian Burnside QC, to commence proceedings challenging the nomination of the Indigenous land, at Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek.

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.

Lane Jangala has instructed Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Surry Partners and Julian Burnside QC, to commence proceedings the use of the site for disposal of radioactive waste.

Muckaty Station was formally returned to the traditional owners after a long land claim in 2001, Maurice Blackburn said. 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, the firm said.

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

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," he said.

"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."

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."

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - March 2008

United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Article 29
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection
of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands
or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement
assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation
and protection, without discrimination.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or
disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories
of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed
consent.
3. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed,
that programmes for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the
health of indigenous peoples, as developed and implemented by the
peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented.

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - pdf



Legal challenge to nuke dump launched

Dnaiel Bourchierb NT News June 3rd, 2010

Tennant Creek protest against Muckaty waste dump
Click to expand

Image: Tennant and District Times
Tennant Creek protest against Muckaty waste dump

A legal challenge to the Federal Government's plan to establish a national nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory has been taken to the Federal Court.

A team of lawyers from across the country launched the action today to challenge the nomination of the land at Muckaty Station.

Senior Ngapa traditional owner for Muckaty Station, Mark Lane Jangala, said he and many other senior elders never gave consent and were not consulted over the selection of their land.

The area in question is owned by five groups, the Ngapa, Wirntiku, Milwayi, Yapayapa and Ngarrka clans.

Traditional owners claim the Northern Land Council and Federal Government have signed into secret deals with one family in the area.

In a statement released following the launching of legal action, Mr Lane Jangala said he has been campaigning against the use of the 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," he said.

"We don't want it."

A Senate Inquiry chaired by Trish Crossin into the National Radioactive Waste Management Act came under fire for refusing to convene in the Barkly and give all residents of the region a chance to be heard.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, together with NSW firm Surry Partners and Julian Burnside QC, have begun the legal action.

Surry Partners human rights lawyer George Newhouse 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."

Government rediscovers secret report on Muckaty waste dump

Scott Ludlam greensmps.org.au 15th March 2010

The Federal Government has admitted it has possession of a secret anthropological report which provides the foundation and sole basis for the nomination of Muckaty Station, near Tennant Creek, as the most likely site for a radioactive waste dump.

Last week Resources Minister Ferguson insisted that neither he nor his office ‘are or had ever been in possession of an anthropological report commissioned by the Northern Land Council' and supplied to then Minister Julie Bishop in 2007.

"Today we saw Minister Kim Carr backflip and admit that Martin Ferguson has the report, but that it won't be put in the public domain," said Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

"This government cannot on the one hand claim the previous process was corrupt and a sham, and on the other continue to withhold the very piece of evidence that the Muckaty nomination rests on. The report should be tabled immediately.

"The Muckaty nomination should be scrapped and a new transparent process set in motion," Senator Ludlam said.



Mark Lane Jangala of the Ngapa clan and other elders challenge nuclear dump in court

Lindsay Murdoch Sydney Morning Herald June 4, 2010

... Mark Lane Jangala, a senior elder of the Ngapa clan, says he and many other senior elders were not consulted about the nomination of their land.

They say the proposed dump, on the disused Muckaty cattle station, would threaten a sacred male initiation site.

"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 the country," Mr Jangala said yesterday.

The traditional owners have instructed a legal team that includes the lawyers George Newhouse and Julian Burnside, QC, and lawyers from Maurice Blackburn to begin proceedings challenging the government and the Northern Land Council, which nominated the site on behalf of one Ngapa clan group.

The government and the land council have refused to make public an anthropological report the land council says shows that one clan owns the nominated 1.2 square kilometre site 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek.

Martin Ferguson
Click to expand

Federal Resources Minister
Martin Ferguson

However, the court action will centre on a finding by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner in 2001 that five owner groups have joint and overlapping traditional ownership of the land.

The Maurice Blackburn senior associate Martin Hyde said most 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," Mr Hyde said.


Muckaty was nominated in 2007 as a possible dump site by the Northern Land Council and a small group of Traditional Owners hoping for a combination of cash and improved services like roads, housing and education. Many other Traditional Owners remain opposed to the plan and have been highly critical of the process and approach taken by Resource Minister Martin Ferguson.

The governments push for Muckaty has sparked widespread criticism from trade unions, national health and environment groups and Indigenous groups, including the Central Land Council.

In Opposition the Labor party described the former Howard governments waste dump laws as ‘draconian’, ‘sordid’ and ‘arrogant’ however in government Labor have borrowed heavily from the Howard legislation.