Muckaty nuclear waste proposal in Federal Court today

Lauren Fitzgerald

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

Muckaty Station, 600 kilometres north of Alice Springs, was nominated by the Howard Government as its preferred site for storing low and intermediate level nuclear waste in 2007.

That policy, continued under Labor, has been met with vocal resistance from some traditional owners since its inception.

Muckaty Station was declared Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act in 1997, with seven different clans identified as part of the Muckaty Land Trust.

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 say they also lay claim to that particular area.

Dianne Stokes is one of the traditional owners opposing the dump. She says she has waited a long time to have her case heard in court.

"While I was waiting we went around to all the big cities to protest, went to public meetings to let everyone know that we're still going ahead on this court challenge," she said.

"The Commonwealth and the Northern Land Council weren't talking to the traditional owners and they weren't consulted properly at the beginning."

But the Northern Land Council's Chief Executive Joe Morrison says they did everything by the book.

"The NLC stands by it's processes in relation to all matters that relate to the court case," he said.

"And we believe that we've done everything properly, lawfully, and it was done comprehensively."

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

Maurice Blackburn Social Justice Practice will represent the Traditional Owners opposing the facility, on a pro-bono basis.

Lawyer Elizabeth O'Shea says the case is significant for a number of reasons.


"It's a proposal that concerns burying radioactive waste on Aboriginal land, and that throws up all sorts of questions about whether you can apply the process of obtaining consent and to what extent you need to make extra effort to ensure people know what they're consenting to," she said.

"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 some 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 we're ready to undertake that process and give traditional owners the opportunity to be heard."

She says that if the case is successful, she hopes the decision will give Traditional Owners more say over particular land use proposals.

"It's an interesting matter because we've got disputes between Traditional Owners who, we say, own the land in an accompanying relationship, so together as a group.

"And how you manage that kind of disagreement is something we hope that this case will provide guidance on."

Muckaty operates as a cattle station and the manager, Ray Aylett, says he doesn't know what all the fuss is about.

"I'm all for it, it's going to be very safe. There's 2,241 square kilometre of country on Muckaty and it's only going to take one square kilometre of it," he said.

"They tell them that they're just going to dump it on the ground, raw uranium dumped on the ground and all that, which is a load of bloody rubbish and it stirs everybody up."

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

"But if it does go ahead, we're going to still be making noise at the other end. We'll still let the government know that we're fighting against it."


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