Muckaty nuclear waste plan DUMPED!

Some fantastic news today- the Commonwealth Government has committed not to pursue plans for a national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty!

Lawyers from Maurice Blackburn Social Justice Practice announced the exciting development in Melbourne  this morning and a delegation of Muckaty Traditional Owners travelled to Alice Springs for a press conference- see featured photo.

The announcement comes mid-way through the Federal Court trial examining the process under which the nomination of Muckaty was made by the Northern Land Council and accepted by the Commonwealth Government in 2007.

Two weeks of the trial were completed with hearings in Melbourne, Tennant Creek and on country at Muckaty outstation. The Northern Land Council and Commonwealth Government have agreed to settle with the Applicants by committing not to act on the proposal or nomination, so the hearings scheduled for Darwin (June 23-July 4) have been cancelled.

This campaign has followed the successful campaign by the Kupi Piti Kungka Tjuta to stop a nuclear dump in SA and been built from the ground up in Tennant Creek with help from supporters across the NT. Over the last 7 years, the community has marched in Tennant Creek every year, hosted trade union delegations, written songs and poems, made films and toured photo exhibitions. People have travelled tirelessly around the country to build awareness and support, having conversations over cups of tea in regional areas and walking the corridors of Canberra Parliament House to lobby Ministers.

The community used the May 25 rally and media attention on the federal court proceedings to reiterate they would continue campaigning until the dump was stopped- including blocking the road if needed.

So the deadly news is now public – please tell everyone that together we dumped the Muckaty plan! Traditional Owners and the broader community in Tennant Creek are very excited and relieved and looking forward to a big celebration in the coming few weeks.

We will then set about collating photos, footage and other materials from the campaign, so stay tuned for the call out to copy and/or send these to the Arid Lands Environment Centre for archiving.

There is a lot more to say but we are still all a bit shocked and processing the news so will send more updates and reflections in the coming week.

One important point is that Traditional Owners have been absolutely clear that they will wholeheartedly challenge any attempts to nominate any other sites on the Muckaty Land Trust- an idea suggested by NT Senator Nigel Scullion today.

I was asked to finish this note with a huge thanks to everyone who has been part of this campaign and supported the Muckaty mob to be heard- every action, letter, conversation, trip to Tennant, fundraising gig and movie night has helped bring about this victory!!

Muckaty will be nuclear free!

Muckaty Court Report Day 8 -June 11-via CAAMA radio

Image (c) Monica Napper: Mark Lane Jangala heading into the court hearing.

Click here to link to Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) report on Muckaty Federal Court proceedings.

Features Paul Wiles from CAAMA News interviewing Paddy Gibson.

Follow court proceedings on twitter using the hashtag #wasteontrial or by following @IndigenousX and @paddygibson.



Muckaty court report : Guest post by Bruce Reyburn

Below is an excerpt of a Songlines blog post written by Bruce Reyburn.

Read the full post here.

Excerpt from “A sniff of a long overdue refreshing change in the wind?” by Bruce Reyburn | June 12 2014.

The Federal Court is sitting in Tennant Creek at the request of Warlmanpa people opposed to the radioactive waste facility which the Commonwealth Government seeks to establish on Aboriginal land (anywhere) but especially at Muckaty – 100km up the road from here. The very concept is racist in its inception.

I understand that there was opposition to the Federal Court coming here to Tennant from the other side (not clear on details) so it is to the great credit of the Federal Court – under Justice North – that they are here this week listening to evidence from Warlmanpa people opposed to the radioactive future.

And it has to be said that this form of legal process is one initiated by Warlmanpa opponents to the radioactive waste facility. Lacking any other legal option (i imagine) they brought their case to the Federal Court.

I say this because they processes of this form of Western justice strike me as being at real odds with the workings of indigenous society in this part of the world.

The way the system works is that a single person is called to give evidence, and is then cross-examined. Then that witness is dismisses by the Judge and allowed to stay and listen to the evidence of others or leave.

But before anyone can give evidence they are not allowed to sit in Court and hear what other witnesses are saying. There is good legal reason for this – it ensures that the evidence people give is not unduly influenced by something they may have just heard from a person giving evidence.

The thing is – individualism of this kind is a comparatively recent development in Western life – and is not something which exists at a deeper level in the lives of First Peoples here. There is, by contrast, a very strong notion of being part of a collective – a group – which has (amongst other things) two complementary opposite parts – kirda and kurtungurlu – (like yin and yang).

Added to this there is a marked distinction between the worlds of men and women. Mens business and womens business are worlds clearly distinguished.

There has been a lot of evidence about both these facts of Warlmanpa life in proceedings in Tennant Creek this week


Earlier attempts to resolve this dispute by mediation (both by Warlmanpa Ways and through the Western legal process) have not been successful. They appeared to lack serious support from those involved in the nomination of the radioactive waste site but i don’t really know why mediation was not a successful healing process. That is what is needed.

When I worked on land claims here in Central Australia the approach of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner was very different. People were always treated in ways which accommodated these fundamentally important features of their social Being. Kirda and kurtungurlu were present. Men and women treated according to the appropriate protocols.

Speaking about country and Dreamings requires the right people to be present. I noticed Dianne S (a very strong women with – as she says – culture) look trapped on one occasion when she was being cross-examined – she looked around the court room for the right people for that moment, but they were not in the room. She could not escape and had to continue.

Given the great importance of this case, procedures are required that ensure people can give their very best evidence.

I hope to tease out some of these matters when i return to Wollongong since there is so much happening here at the moment i need some quiet time to reflect on these things.

Yesterday in Court we heard from a very strong woman P Brown who was very capable and spoke strongly about key matters – but she was followed but a far less confident women who – isolated and alone – worried about other matters – situated in the middle of the intense focus of non-indigenous men – was subject to gruelling hours of cross-examination by Northern Land Council lawyers.

It just felt so wrong i had to leave the room – one less non-indigenous man i thought. Later on other Warlmanpa women expressed their concern about how she was being treated and ensured that they were in the court room to give her some support.

Read the full post here.

Muckaty Court Report Day 6- June 9

Day 6 – Federal Court comes to Muckaty

By Padraic Gibson

The nuclear waste dump trial traveled to the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust on Monday June 9, to hear testimony from Traditional Owners opposed to the nomination of their land.

First, a convoy of ten vehicles traveled out to the nominated site. The site is located about 12 kms west of the Stuart Highway, on the southern boundary of the Land Trust. It can be reached along a bituman “haulage road”, built to cart manganese from the Bootu mine out to the Adelaide – Darwin railway line. Having the dump on this well developed road, with access to two major transportation routes – the highway and the railway line – would be perfect for the government, helping explain why they are fighting so hard to defend the Muckaty nomination.

Senior Warlmanpa man Dick Foster, one of the applicants challenging the waste dump, gave the court (and a throng of journalists) a short explanation of the dreaming stories that are significant to the nominated site and how these impact on the rights and responsibilities of different clan groups. His account is in sharp contradiction with the anthropology relied upon by the NLC to justify the waste dump nomination. His traditional knowledge and cultural authority is respected by all sides of this dispute. Mr Foster will give detailed evidence next week.

The convoy then proceeded further north into the Land Trust, stopping at an outstation about 5kms from the Stuart Highway to set up properly to hear evidence.

There was only time to hear the start of evidence from Bunny Nabarula, an 84 year old Warlmanpa Elder who has been a leading spokesperson in the campaign against the dump for 7 years now.

Bunny told wide-ranging stories about her history in the region. The court heard how she worked long hours as a domestic on Muckaty Station, heading home each night to breast-feed babies in the nearby camp. They heard about the many children stolen from Aboriginal families by “welfare”, while working on stations in the region. They heard about the long struggle to win back Aboriginal ownership of Muckaty under the Land Rights Act, and how Bunny danced along with many others from the Milywayi group at the hand-back ceremony in the 1990s.

The court then heard about the frustration and pain she has felt through the whole nuclear dump ordeal. Bunny alleged that the NLC have strongly supported the small family group who nominated the dump, the “Lauder branch of the Ngapa clan”, while attempting to exclude those opposed to waste dump from access to some consultation meetings. Bunny is very strong that her clan the Milwayi have primary responsibility for the nominated site, but also that numerous clans have overlapping dreamings and responsibilities in the area, meaning that they would all need to be involved in major decisions such as the introduction of a nuclear waste dump.

Throughout her presentation, Bunny shared songs related to sections of the Milwayi dreaming track to reinforce her cultural knowledge of the area.

When asked what would happen to the land if the waste dump went ahead, Bunny became very upset, jumping out of her chair and threatening to finish her testimony. She said no one had listened to the cries of Traditional Owners and that if the dump did go ahead, she would stand in front of road trains with her children and grandchildren to block access to Muckaty. She said she would rather be run down by these road trains than have a dump imposed on her land.

Evidence from more Traditional Owners opposed to the dump will be given in the court house at Tennant Creek for the rest of this week. For many people, who feel they have been pushed aside and ignored through this whole process, they are eager to put their case to the court. It’s important to note that both the Commonwealth and the NLC argued strongly against the Court coming to the NT. Both parties strongly defend their consultation process. But they also argue that whether or not this nomination was put forward with genuine consent should not actually matter legally, due to draconian provisions in the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act passed in 2005.

Muckaty Court report Day 4- June 5

Court report Day 4- Commonwealth and NLC argue for dump even if Traditional Owners have not consented
By Padraic Gibson

Dr Donoghue continued submissions for the Commonwealth for most of the morning session. He restated an argument that both the Northern Land Council and Commonwealth have used in the lead up to this trial during Directions Hearings; that the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (2005) had been clearly designed to shut down legal avenues for Aboriginal people wanting challenge the nomination of their land for a waste “facility”. 

Dr Donoghue explained that the Commonwealth had been attempting to establish a remote “facility” since the 1980s in numerous locations. But consistent opposition, including successful litigation, had prevented them from doing so. With this in mind, the Howard Government went out of it’s way to ensure Traditional Aboriginal Owners were explicitly stripped of their rights in the 2005 Act.

Dr Donoghue cited a number of legal avenues explicitly closed to anyone wanting to challenge a national radioactive waste dump, including the exclusion of procedural fairness and a clause allowing nominations on Aboriginal land to remain valid even if a Land Council had not complied with obligations under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976.

If this argument is accepted by the court, the nomination of Muckaty as a nuclear waste dump will stand even if the Traditional Owners are found never to have consented to the nomination. Or, as Dr Donoghue put it, “the fact of consent being validly given is not legally relevant”.

This line of argument, not to mention the Radioactive Waste Management Act itself, demonstrates the extreme contempt in which the Commonwealth holds the rights of Aboriginal people.

Another attack on Land Rights contained in the Act also became clear in the course of the Commonwealth submissions. So far, arguments in court have focussed on whether the NLC followed proper process in nominating the particular site now earmarked for the waste dump. The quality of consultations with other Traditional Owners, said to hold responsibility for land on Muckaty that is required for transport of the radioactive materials, has also been discussed. But Dr Donoghue made it clear that if the nomination of the waste dump site is allowed to stand, Aboriginal owners of adjacent lands would lose any rights to stop developments on their land needed to facilitate the dump. The Act gives power to the Commonwealth to simply compulsorily acquire any further land that they need to allow the dump to operate.

Unfortunately, I was unable to be in court for the full submissions from the NLC which began in earnest after lunch. My understanding is that they put forward detailed legal analysis to try and demonstrate how actions of the NLC through the nomination process were all in accordance with the Land Rights Act. They also argue a similar line to the Commonwealth however, that under the draconian radioactive waste management law, the nomination should stand regardless. Significantly, the NLC also argued that the Land Rights Act does not create a “fiduciary duty” to Aboriginal people whose land they manage, and they can not be held to that standard.

NLC barrister Mr Glacken at one point said it was “scandalous” that Mr Merkel QC had raised the allegations of serious misconduct against NLC Principal Lawyer Ron Levy, citing his long career working for Aboriginal people. There is no doubt they are extremely serious allegations, the truth or otherwise of which will be explored in detail in the coming week when the Aboriginal owners of Muckaty finally get to tell their stories about the nomination process and their connections to the land.

But regardless of this, three scandals are undeniable. Firstly the Commonwealth held impoverished Aboriginal communities to ransom, withholding funding for essential services unless they accepted a nuclear waste dump. Secondly, as Dr Donoghue made clear yesterday, they did so using legislation which strips Aboriginal people of their actual rights to land. And thirdly, a major Aboriginal Land Council has, from the outset of this case, been hiding behind an argument which says a nuclear waste dump should proceed at Muckaty even if it is found that Traditional Owners do not consent. This is a sad indication of the extent to which Land Rights in Australia were seriously pushed back under the Howard Government.