Australia and global media attention required – Muckaty radioactive waste plans court case.

DEPLETED URANIUM-TIPPED THIN EDGE OF THE WEDGE

Given the proven record of a systematic and sustained pattern of abuse of Australia’s First Peoples, the plan by Commonwealth of Australia’s plan to use Warlmanpa speaking peoples country in the Northern Territory as the first site for a radioactive waste facility requires that it is exposed to the very highest level of public scrutiny.

One highly credible scenario is that, once a low-level radioactive waste business is commenced, the short-term profit seeking plans of those in the uranium industry will – one way and another – convert this deleted uranium tipped thin-edge of the wedge into a site for the storage of long-term radioactive waste of uranium mined in Australia and ‘leased’ overseas.

Despite the official denials, we can be sure that clever business people in remote Board rooms are presently working out how to implement these plans. Major markets for Australian uranium energy abound – India, China, Indonesia etc. We have recently seen the corrupt links between business and mainstream political party funding. Easy peasy.

The record for our form of society’s use of radioactive materials has demonstrated that we lack the maturity (and technology) required to properly handle this otherwise wonderful material. There is little prospect of real social change in the near, intermediate or long-term future which would enable us to properly handle radioactive energy.

The use of First Peoples country for the storage of radioactive waste would set up the potential for radioactive contamination of First Peoples country for, in effect, the rest of eternity.

BRIEF BACKGROUND SKETCH

The present plan is for a low-level and intermediate level radioactive waste facility to be located on Warlmanpa land – also held under the title provided by the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act – and known generally by the cattle station/pastoral lease name of ‘Muckaty’.

Muckaty is located about 100km north of the town of Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory of Australia. The NT is a self-governing Territory of the Commonwealth of Australia, and, where necessary, subject to the powers and legislation of the Federal Parliament.

The Muckaty radioactive waste facility comes about as a result of a Federal (Howard Government) Act. This Act was replaced in part by the Rudd government’s Act, which is still in force under the “Australia is open for business” Abbott government.

The previous history of the Commonwealth government seeking a site for radioactive waste ran into problems from a State government (South Australia). The Northern Territory – not being a State – does not present this level of difficulty.

These pieces of Commonwealth legislation were designed, in part, to remove other forms of protection which had been built into, for example, the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act.

Basically, seeking a patina of respectability and legitimacy, the workings of these unconscionable pieces of legislation require a site for the proposed radioactive waste facility to have been volunteered by indigenous traditional owners.

Faced with crippling poverty and extremely limited prospects for the future, one small group of Warlmanpa people took up the offer, via the Northern Land Council, to nominate a site in return for – it is reported – a mere $12 million dollars. Less than a dollar per Australian to solve the nation’s radioactive storage problem. The life of the facility is said to be measured in terms of hundreds of years.

The Commonwealth legislation was framed in terms of the obsolete notions of indigenous land tenure enshrined in the 1976 definition of ‘traditional Aboriginal owner’. In exercising its duty of care, the Northern Land Council had identified a small group of Warlmanpa people who they (the NLC) assert comply with the legislative requirements as members of a ‘local descent group’.

The Warlmanpa people nominating the site are said to be ‘local descent group’ which is a smaller segment of the ‘local descent group’ as found by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Gray J, when he heard a traditional land claim to the Muckaty Pastoral lease in the 1990s. His formal findings were reported to Parliament.

FEDERAL COURT CASE

Other Warlmanpa people who have links to the country at ‘Muckaty’ have contested the claim by the nominating group. They have commenced a court case in the Federal Court of Australia. The case is known as “VID433/2010 Title: Mark Lane Jangala v Commonwealth of Australia & Anor”. Both the Commonwealth of Australia and the Northern Land Council are respondents in the case.

The case of the Warlmanpa people opposing the nomination is being conducted for them pro bono by Maurice Blackburn lawyers, and it was lodged in 2010. After a long process, including the change to the Federal legislation under the Rudd government, the formal Federal Court Hearing is set to commence under Justice North in June 2014.

Sittings will be conducted in Melbourne (where the case was lodged due to that city being the location of relevant part of Maurice Blackburn lawyers), Tennant Creek (NT) and Darwin. (See April 2014 Federal Court Orders now posted to http://www.songlines.org.au)

LACK OF EFFECTIVE MEDIA COVERAGE

It is extremely difficult for interested members of the public to follow what is happening the the Melbourne Federal Court.

The legal and anthropological issues involved in the case are complex and demanding to stay abreast of, let alone get on top of. The lack of good information about what is actually happening makes it even harder to try and get a handle on what’s happening with this case.

Unless you live in Melbourne it is not possible to attend the many Directions and Interlocutory Hearings with Justice North in the Federal Court,

There is no broadcast of proceedings and the privatised cost of written transcripts is completely prohibitive. Important documents are handed up in written form and are not available to members of the public. Following proceedings is virtually impossible.

The major players – like the Northern Land Council – are quick to invoke the cloak of commerical-in-confidence. It is not easy to gain good information about this case.

As an interested member of the public I just tried to find out, from the Federal Court, the answer to the simplest of questions – – would the Court be sitting in Tennant Creek on 9 June as that is a statutory public holiday (Queen’s Birthday) – only to be given a non-answer (see earlier songlines blog posting).

From Minister’s of the Crown down, there is a very high-handed attitude at work in relation to us non-professional stakeholders – members of the public.

The Tennant Creek Federal Court sitting dates information is important to me as I am hoping to be able to travel to Tennant Creek for a week in June to listen to (and report on) any part of the proceedings open to the general pubic. Lacking any budget (let alone the lavish legal profession/bureaucrat travel allowance funding) – it makes a real different to me to know if I need to aim to be in Tennant Creek on Sunday or Monday.

Our stake in both the protection of First Peoples and potentially radioactive futures (for us all) is equally real to those who measure and deem things as significant only when they have been blessed by large amounts of money.

Some properly resourced and funded reporters are required to do justice to the challenge of accurately reporting this case to the wider public.

There has been very little real media coverage of this fundamentally important court case. Maurice Blackburn lawyers have put out a few media releases, which cover the barest of details. Beyond Nuclear Initiative has also been active in providing information in connection with those opposed to the Muckaty radioactive waste site. There have been a few media reports, none of which I find come to real grips with the more subtle issues.

But much more needs to be done over the coming months – both within Australia and overseas.

What is urgently required is to ensure that this vitally important case – avoiding hot radioactive future for First Peoples – is subject to competent and comprehensive coverage in the mainstream and alternative media as it unfolds in June.

The light of day provided by public attention is the only effective counterbalance to the highly effective use of concentrated power within de facto and de jure restricted proceedings.

For my small part, watch this space.

Bruce Reyburn