Happy to see Minister but not much joy

Xavier La Canna
NT News

DID Federal Resources Minister Gary Gray cost taxpayers thousands of dollars because he didn't want to stay in Tennant Creek?

That's what locals are asking after the Minister flew to a meeting at Muckaty, near Tennant Creek, yesterday but returned to Darwin last night before flying back nearly 900km to Tennant Creek today.

While Mr Gray could not be contacted, a spokesman said the Minister returned to Darwin "for meetings" but would not elaborate on what the meetings were. A return charter flight from Darwin to Tennant Creek costs about $9000, industry experts say.

"He is returning to Darwin for meetings tonight (Thursday night)," the spokesman said yesterday.

"These are important meetings and then he will fly from Darwin down to Tennant tomorrow."

The spokesman said while the Minister went to Muckaty yesterday, about 120km from Tennant Creek, he did not travel to Tennant Creek. There is an airstrip at Bootu Creek, close to Muckaty, which the Minister could also have used to get to the site of the proposed dump.

But angry Tennant Creek residents are convinced they were snubbed by Mr Gray.

"It is a snub, a snub to the whole town," said a prominent resident, who did not wish to be named. "For him to fly back to Tennant Creek, what a waste of taxpayers' money. There's some good accommodation here."

Penny Phillips, who is a traditional owner from Muckaty, the site of a planned nuclear waste dump, said the Minister should have stayed the night in Tennant Creek rather than fly back to Darwin if he was returning to the area the next day.

"You think he would have come and met the locals," Mrs Phillips said.

The allegations about the Minister came after he yesterday met with traditional owners at Muckaty.

His itinerary shows he will be in Tennant Creek today and Nhulunbuy tomorrow. 

TRADITIONAL owners from Muckaty, where a nuclear waste dump is planned, have welcomed a meeting with Federal Resources Minister Gary Gray but said little progress was made in their bid to convince the Government to abandon the proposal.

Dianne Stokes, a traditional owner at Muckaty, praised Mr Gray for taking the time to come to her homeland to discuss the planned dump.

"He sat down with us and listened to us," she said.

During the two-hour meeting yesterday at Muckaty, about 120km north of Tennant Creek, Ms Stokes said she made it plain to the minister that the dump was not wanted by many of the traditional owners.

"I said people see me on TV, people hear me on the news and I am facing you for the first time, a minister here that has come to us, and I said that traditional owners from the Muckaty Land Trust are saying no to the nuclear waste dump," Ms Stokes said.

The dump site has been supported by the Northern Land Council and some traditional owners from Muckaty, but is opposed by other families who have connections to the land there.

A Federal Court case is under way in Melbourne as some traditional owners try to fight the dump decision. A spokesman for Mr Gray said he would not talk about the private meeting.

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