Nuclear waste dump would 'dispossess' Indigenous landowners in NT

Researcher says commonwealth's offer of financial help should not be conditional on outcome of court case over proposed site

muckaty ronald morrison
Ronald Morrison of the Milwayi clan says 'the dump would destroy our land'. (Photo: Neda Vanovac/AAP)

AAP 11 June 2014 11.30 AEST

The commonwealth government is dispossessing Indigenous people by seeking to place a radioactive waste storage facility on their land, a researcher says.

The federal court is sitting in Tennant Creek this week to hear from traditional landowners, who say they were not consulted when the Northern Land Council (NLC) and the commonwealth decided to put forward the site for consideration in 2007.

Four clans from the Muckaty area, 120km north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, say they were cut out of the process in favour of the Lauder family of the Ngapa clan.

The family were paid $200,000 and promised a further financial package of $12 million to pay for a road, educational scholarships and other initiatives benefiting all indigenous groups on Muckaty Station.

Paddy Gibson, a researcher with the Jumbunna House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney, said the money should be released to the traditional owners regardless of the outcome of the case.

"It's not money going into people's back pockets as cash, it's money they're saying is going to be spent on basic services," he told reporters in Tennant Creek on Tuesday.

"It's an absolute disgrace that Aboriginal people in this region, who are some of the most impoverished people in the country, are being told they're not going to be able to access basic services if not for establishing a nuclear waste dump."

An ongoing argument is which clan has primary claim to the site, given the criss-crossing and overlapping of songlines and dreamings of all five groups.

The Milwayi clan say they have principal ownership of the Muckaty land, something the Lauder Ngapa clan and the NLC dispute.

"Our ancestors passed it to our elders and our elders passed it to us and we want to pass it to our young ones," said Ronald Morrison of the Milwayi. "The dump would destroy our land and bush tucker for our living and for our next generation. We want to keep it clean for all of us."

The site is represented in Milwayi dreaming paintings as a sacred place, said Jeannie Sambo.

"I think our land is more important than money," she said.

The site nomination is about stripping away Aboriginal rights to deal with problems Aboriginal people did not create, Gibson said.

"The commonwealth government needs to face up to what it's done to this community, pushing forward this incredibly divisive proposal, and it needs to back off."

The hearings continue.