Muckaty

Traditional Owners call the Muckaty Land Trust ‘Manuwangku’.

Muckaty was the fourth site to be assessed as a potential radioactive waste dump site in the NT.

After a plan for a dump in South Australia was defeated, three Commonwealth Department of Defence sites -Harts Range, Fishers Ridge and Mt Everard- were named by former Science Minister Brendan Nelson with no consultation with affected communities or the Northern Territory Government.

In 2007 the Muckaty Land Trust was nominated as an additional site by the Northern Land Council, despite opposition from many Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the area. Key anthropological and site nomination documents remain secret and while some members of the Muckaty Land Trust support a national waste dump in return for cash benefits and access to improved general services (roads, housing and infrastructure), many do not.

The Muckaty site is part of a Land Trust, which is shared by 5 interrelated groups-

Milwayi, Ngapa, Ngarrka, Wintirku and Yapayapa.

Manuwangku men outside a Senate inquiry hearing in Darwin, April 2010.

Waste Dump Laws

The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill that has been introduced by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is a recycled version of the former Howard Government’s Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA).

The new Bill fails to restore fundamental rights suspended by the former Act. The new laws can be used to impose a nuclear waste dump in the NT against the wishes of both Aboriginal landholders and the NT Government.

Provisions of the CWRMA which suspend procedural fairness and administrative law rights will still apply to the contested nomination of Aboriginal land in the Muckaty Land Trust.

Under Minister Ferguson’s legislation site nominations by Land Councils will remain legitimate even if their consultation process has not complied with the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. Minister Ferguson has the power to ride roughshod over all State and Territory laws and is exempted from following Aboriginal heritage and environmental protection legislation when establishing a dump.

The final section of this Act stipulates that nominations made under Howard’s laws will continue to be subject to provisions of the CWRMA, excluding Traditional Owners from the meagre protections granted by the new legislation such as procedural fairness rights and the full operation of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.

In Opposition Labor called the CWRMA sordid and draconian. They strongly criticised the nomination at Muckaty. Labor promised an open and transparent process for dealing with nuclear waste but has only recycled existing flawed legislation.
Saying this new Bill restores rights to affected communities is blatantly deceptive.

The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill that has been introduced by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is a recycled version of the former Howard Government’s Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA).


The new Bill fails to restore fundamental rights suspended by the former Act. The new laws can be used to impose a nuclear waste dump in the NT against the wishes of both Aboriginal landholders and the NT Government.


Provisions of the CWRMA which suspend procedural fairness and administrative law rights will still apply to the contested nomination of Aboriginal land in the Muckaty Land Trust.


Under Minister Ferguson’s legislation site nominations by Land Councils will remain legitimate even if their consultation process has not complied with the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. Minister Ferguson has the power to ride roughshod over all State and Territory laws and is exempted from following Aboriginal heritage and environmental protection legislation when establishing a dump.


The final section of this Act stipulates that nominations made under Howard’s laws will continue to be subject to provisions of the CWRMA, excluding Traditional Owners from the meagre protections granted by the new legislation such as procedural fairness rights and the full operation of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.


In Opposition Labor called the CWRMA sordid and draconian. They strongly criticised the nomination at Muckaty. Labor promised an open and transparent process for dealing with nuclear waste but has only recycled existing flawed legislation.
Saying this new Bill restores rights to affected communities is blatantly deceptive.


Muckaty mob at a community protest in Tennant Creek, April 3, 2010.

Radioactive Waste Management Options

In 2008 a Senate Inquiry recommended repealing the flawed Howard era CRWMA and called for a new approach to handling radioactive waste based on the foundation principles of voluntary engagement, international best practice, inclusion, transparency and legal recourse.


There is an urgent need to do things differently and better withradioactive waste management in Australia.


Many groups have called on the federal government to end any plans for imposed remote waste dumps and have a fresh look at how best to address this issue.


The following groups all support a new approach and an independent and comprehensive public inquiry into radioactive waste management options in Australia:


Beyond Nuclear Initiative, Friends of the Earth Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Top End Aboriginal Conservation Alliance, Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, Medical Association for Prevention of War, Arid Lands Environment  Centre, Australian Student Environment Network, Public Health Association Australia, Anti Nuclear Alliance of WA, The Wilderness Society, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Environment Centre of the NT, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Unions NT.
There is no compelling case for Australia to pursue a remote dumping option.

Senior advisors to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation – the operators of the Lucas Heights nuclear facility in southern Sydney and Australia’s biggest producer of radioactive waste, have  acknowledged publicly that remote siting is being promoted for ‘political reasons’.

It is time to put sound science, proper process and community consent ahead of political expediency.

After all, radioactive waste lasts a lot longer than politicans and their promises.

International Best Practice

Australia is far behind international best practice in community involvement in radioactive waste facility siting and management. Successive government’s attempts to force a radioactive waste dump on communities have failed due to top down decision-making and an unwillingness to engage with affected communities.

Prior to the 2007 federal election Muckaty was considered a “highly controversial site nomination” with the ALP pointing out it was made  “before scientific testing of the area”.

Labor was “disappointed” at the acceptance of the Muckaty nomination, adding that “…Labor understands that many families in the area are strongly opposed to the waste dump idea, and that these families are concerned their rights have been ignored in the process”.

The approach taken by Minister Ferguson is out of step with international industry best practise on radioactive waste management and Australia’s international obligations including those under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN-DRIP).

Article 29 of the UN-DRIP requires that 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.

Traditional Owners have said for many years that they do not consent to the waste dump being located anywhere in the Muckaty Land Trust. The role played by both the Commonwealth and the Northern Land Council in the Muckaty nomination is now being challenged in the Federal Court.

“I am going to court for that Muckaty Land Trust that all of the people represent. The Northern  Land Council nominated that place without consulting all of the Traditional Owners. There are 5 different groups in there, not just individual people.We don’t want it. There was not even a meeting in town to consult all of the traditional owners. 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.” Mark Lane Jangala.

It is increasingly recognised internationally that participation in decision-making processes is integral to the success of any radioactive waste management project. This includes genuine consultation with and the informed consent of affected communities. A responsible and effective radioactive waste management regime requires a high degree of procedural transparency.

The processes enshrined in the ALP’s National Radioactive Waste Management legislation are not significantly different from the Howard era laws once derided by Labor as ‘sordid’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘draconian.’

In August 2009 Minister Martin Ferguson’s office declared “there would be no consultation with concerned Northern Territory traditional owners until a final decision was made on where to build a nuclear waste facility.” Such an approach is in stark contrast to international best practise and federal Labor’s clear policies and promises.

The United Kingdom’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management made a series of recommendations that are important in the Australian context.

CoRWM Chapter 14 Recommendations, pages 111-115:

Recommendation 10: Community involvement in any proposals for the siting of long term radioactive waste facilities should be based on the principle of volunteerism, that is, an expressed willingness to participate.

Recommendation 12. Experience in the UK and abroad clearly demonstrates the failures of earlier ‘top down’ mechanisms (often referred to as ‘Decide-Announce-Defend) to implement long-term waste management facilities….There is a growing recognition that it is not ethically acceptable for a society to impose a radioactive waste facility on an unwilling community.

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