Fed court to decide future of nuclear waste dump at Muckaty station

Lauren Fitzgerald

A row over the future site for Australia's first nuclear waste dump hits the Federal Court today.

It's eight years since Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory was nominated by the Howard government as its preferred site for storing low and intermediate level nuclear waste. That policy, continued under Labor, has been met with vocal resistance from some traditional owners since its inception.

Lauren Fitzgerald reports from Alice Springs

LAUREN FITZGERALD: Muckaty Station is 600 kilometres north of Alice Springs and is Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act.

When the Northern Land Council nominated a small part of that property to host a nuclear waste facility, they did it on behalf of the Ngapa clan. But four other groups in the Muckaty Land Trust also lay claim to that particular area.

PROTESTERS: Don't waste the Territory, dump the dump now!

LAUREN FITZGERALD: Dianne Stokes is one of the traditional owners waiting to have their case heard in court.

DIANNE STOKES: While I was waiting we went around to all the big cities to protest and went to public meetings to let everyone know that we're still going ahead on this court challenge.

LAUREN FITZGERALD: Why are you challenging this decision?

DIANNE STOKES: Because the Government, the Commonwealth and the NLC wasn't talking to the traditional owners and they weren't consulted properly at the beginning.

LAUREN FITZGERALD: But the Northern Land Council's chief executive Joe Morrison says they did everything by the book.

JOE MORRISON: Oh yeah, absolutely. I'm stating that the NLC stands by its processes in relation to all matters that relate to the court case and we believe that we've done everything properly, lawfully, and it was done comprehensively.

LAUREN FITZGERALD: The court case begins in Melbourne today before holding hearings on and near Muckaty and then on to Darwin.

Elizabeth O'Shea is one of the lawyers representing the groups opposing the nuclear waste facility. She says the case is significant for a number of reasons.

ELIZABETH O'SHEA: It concerns burying radioactive waste on Aboriginal land and that throws up all sorts of questions about whether you can apply the same process of obtaining consent and to what extent you need to make extra effort to ensure people know what they're consenting to.

There's also some provisions about misleading and deceptive conduct, which is traditionally consumer protection, and we're alleging that the Northern Land Council was engaged in that behaviour.

And it will test provisions as well that the Commonwealth is relying on, so some technical legal stuff.

But mostly I think it's interesting because the Northern Land Council is never usually put under this level of scrutiny and so we're ready to undertake that process and give traditional owners the opportunity to be heard.

LAUREN FITZGERALD: Whatever the outcome, Dianne Stokes say she will accept the decision of the Federal Court. 

DIANNE STOKES: But if it does go ahead, we're going to still be making noise at the other end, because we'll still let the Government know that we're still fighting against it.

LAUREN FITZGERALD: A decision isn't expected until later in the year.

More articles in this section ...