Wheeling and dealing to host poisonous nuclear waste - sparks land council squabble

Amos Aikman 16 August 2014

An Alice Springs-based group of Aborigines is pushing to revive plans to host Australia's nuclear waste 30km north of the town, with help from the Northern Territory and federal governments.

Maurie Japarta Ryan CLC's suspended Chairman

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion

Adam Giles Northern Territory Chief Minister

Central Land Council Director David Ross

The proposal has become entwined with ructions inside the powerful Central Land Council (CLC) that have seen chairman Maurie Ryan suspended for the second time this year.

Members of the group told The Weekend Australian they were recognised as traditional owners at a full CLC meeting they attended at Mr Ryan's invitation. They said the office of Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion had intervened to force the reluctant CLC to accept and fund their visit.

The group later met Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles to discuss the dump plan, which is understood to be gathering support. During that meeting representatives of one family group asked to be paid $2 million to negotiate, but were rebuffed.

The site, known as Mount Everard, was put forward as one of four potential sites for a nuclear waste dump under the Howard government.

Lesley Tickner, who believes his family owns the country, said the family could see no problem with storing low-level radioactive waste on ancestral lands. "They're all for it," he said. "We've got some paperwork from Adam Giles."

Russell Bray, another member, said Mr Giles had indicated another site, near Lajamanu, about 900km northwest of Alice Springs, was also being looked at.

Mr Bray accused the CLC executive of improperly trying to overturn his family's declaration as traditional owners, and of neglecting the interests of its Aboriginal constituents. A CLC spokes­woman rejected this.

CLC director David Ross has been locked in a bitter battle for several months with Mr Ryan, with whom Mr Bray and Mr Tickner are aligned. Mr Ryan, who is in a legal dispute with the CLC executive over attempts to suspend him from his chairman's post, called on Senator Scullion to investigate. "I want the Land Rights Act brought back to the Northern Territory so we can do development," he said.

Senator Scullion expressed concern about the CLC ructions, and the expiring three-month window to find an NT dump site. "I would expect that the CLC will listen to the interests of its constituents and I hope that it is up to the challenge, if traditional owners want to pursue this," he said.

Mr Giles said several traditional owners had expressed interest in hosting a nuclear dump.