Maris Beck March 28, 2012
Protestors block a bridge near the Muckaty nuclear waste proposed site near Tennant Creek. Photo: Angela Wylie
A nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land should go ahead even if the land’s traditional owners have been incorrectly identified to government, the Commonwealth has told the Federal Court.
If it was found that a land council gave the federal government incorrect information about the traditional owners of Muckaty Station, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, it would not invalidate the government’s 2007 approval for a dump there, Commonwealth lawyer Dr Stephen Donaghue SC said in Melbourne yesterday.
He said the government’s new radioactive waste law requires only that a land council present evidence of who the traditional owners are — not that the evidence be true.
A group of elders, including Ngapa elders Mark Lane Jangala, claim that they are among the traditional owners of the station. The Northern Land Council had excluded the group, identifying the family of Amy Lauder (who has since died) as owners instead. Counsel for the groups, Ron Merkel QC, told Justice Tony North that the land council was a commercial body, that Ms Lauder was a member of the council, and that his clients’ exclusion had involved ‘‘misleading and deceptive’’ conduct. Misconduct was denied by the council, represented by Sturt Glacken SC.
Mr Merkel sought a full trial of the case and accused the Commonwealth of delaying proceedings.
‘‘People are elderly and dying and already the most important person in the case has died,’’ he said.
Mr Merkel said the government would only need to give 10 days notice to declare the site a dump and there was ‘‘only a shortlist of one’’ possible site: Muckaty Station.
The radioactive waste law, which passed Senate this month, has been opposed by environmental and indigenous groups who say the powers it grants to Resources Minister Martin Ferguson are too broad.
Dr Donaghue said the law, which was expected to receive the Governor General’s approval within days, included new requirements that owners be consulted before a final declaration was made.
‘‘Why would an injunction be issued before any of that process has been gone through?,’’ he said.
He said it was a misuse of resources to embark on a trial to identify the traditional owners.
He said payments to traditional owners — which could reach as much as $12 million — were compensation rather than commercial in nature and therefore were not subject to the prohibitions against misleading and deceptive conduct in the Trade Practices Act.