Northern Land Council puts out ‘Not Welcome’ mat for site visit at Muckaty. #wasteontrial

One of the hallmarks of an open democracy is the ability of the media and human rights advocates to go freely to contested places where they can report on what they see and learn in the process.

As I have just found, this is not the case in one part of Australia.

In keeping with the tight provisions of the Australian government legislation for a radioactive waste facility, a site on “Muckaty” was ‘volunteered’ by one small ‘local descent group’ (or part thereof) of Warlmanpa people in return for a few million dollars – and then nominated to the Australian government by the Northern Land Council. All done by the book, according to the NLC.

Other Warlmanpa at Muckaty objected to this process – hence the present Federal Court case presently underway in Melbourne, thence Tennant Creek, Darwin, Melbourne.

The Northern Land Council is a respondent in this Federal Court case, along with the Commonwealth of Australia.

Under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act a permit is required to enter onto Aboriginal land (as defined by that Act).

Issuing permits is a function of the relevant Aboriginal Land Council to process permit applications.

Soon after I decided to blow the budget and travel to Tennant Creek to see old friends and listen to Warlmanpa people’s evidence in their Federal Court case, I realised that the Federal Court would travel to Muckaty to view the site nominated for the Australian government’s radioactive waste facility.

This proposed radioactive waste facility site is on Aboriginal Land gained by a traditional Aboriginal land claim under that Act, and has a pastoral lease “Muckaty” over it. Muckaty is in that part of the Northern Territory covered by the Northern Land Council.

Therefore I would need a permit to visit Muckaty and the proposed site if I got the opportunity, either as part of the court case or separately during my short visit, with Warlmanpa people who might want me to help tell their story to the wider world.

Accordingly, I made an application to the Northern Land Council, nominating a couple of different dates and mentioning that I aimed to write about these matters on my http://www.songlines.org.au blog.

When I did not get a reply back I sent an email to the NLC asking about the progress of my permit application. Copies of that correspondence are included below My application does not appear to have been referred to the traditional owners of Muckaty, but the NLC legal section.

On the basis of that I have been effectively blocked from visiting the proposed radioactive waste site.

RESPONSE FROM NLC

1.

Good Afternoon Robert

Just an update to your permit application.
It has been passed onto NLC Legal Section.
I will advise you with its progress as soon as possible

Regards


Administration Officer
Commercial & Community Projects
Northern Land Council

2.

Hi Bruce
Please see responses below from our Legal Section in regards to your permit application.

The Federal Court proceedings in Jangala & Ors v Commonwealth & Ors VID 433/2010 are presently scheduled to take place on 9 June 2014 and you will be welcome to attend those proceedings at Muckaty outstation on that day. It is likely that a view of the proposed waste facility site will take place on 9 June 2014 as part of those proceedings, although arrangements are not finalised at this stage.

Outside this date there are contractual limitations on the use of the Bootu Creek mine haulage road (the contractual limitations have been waived by arrangement for the purposes of any view on 9 June 2014, although no more than 10 vehicles will be permitted to access the haul road for the purposes of undertaking the view).

To be clear – because there are court proceedings on 9 June 2014 he doesn’t require a permit for the purpose of accessing those court proceedings, although he will be subject to any restrictions that the court imposes on those proceedings, including as to use and access to the haulage road.

However, at this point in time he does not have permission to access the Bootu Creek mine haul road – we may have reached the vehicle limit in terms of transporting Cth & Jangala & NLC legal teams and traditional owners that are required. Until such time as vehicle capacity is confirmed which will be as late as Sunday early Monday then he does not have approval to access the Bootu Creek mine haulage road.

As I believe you do not require a permit for the 9th as it is open to the public BUT the mining company that controls the access road have put a limit on the number of vehicles which will not be 100% known how many till Sunday or Monday.

No approval has been received for your visit 13th and 14th.

Administration Officer
Commercial & Community Projects
Northern Land Council

(I then asked if I could hitch a lift in one of the vehicles and not be breach of permit conditions, and what about the 13 and 14th. BR)

3.

Hi Bruce

From what I understand there will not be any room in the 10 allowed vehicles as there are Traditional Owners, judges lawyers etc all needing to be transported out there.
and approval for 13th and 14th have been denied also.

Sorry about that
Regards

Administration Officer
Commercial & Community Projects
Northern Land Council

Yeah, sorry about that.

RAISES QUESTIONS

The main question in my mind is this – “Is the decision of the Northern Land Council to deny me access to visit the proposed radioactive waste site a decision which:

(a) truly reflects the wishes of the traditional owners of Muckaty, in whose name the Northern Land Council operates or
(b) was it a decision based on other than normal considerations and
(c) if it was not normal practice, was the decision in keeping with the relevant legislation regarding the role of the NLC in processing permits?”

There is a very important wider issue in all this – irrespective of my visit – “If the radioactive waste facility goes ahead, will journalists and indigenous rights advocates like me be able to have access to freely visit it and report on any issues associated with its operation?”

And for more on Bootu mine see http://www.aapant.org.au/bootu-creek-site-damage.html

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