Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Secret NT nuke waste deal cuts into dreaming

May 29, 2007: Northern Territorians should feel let down by the consultation process for a nuclear waste site at Muckaty Station - eight kilometres from where people live at the station homestead. The Northern Land Council has nominated the site, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, as a national nuclear waste repository.

"Our dreamings cross right into that land where they want to put that dump...

If the Federal Government approves the site, the site's traditional owners will hand over control of the land for about 200 years and receive a one-off $12 million payment. Only a handful of people were consulted and the voices of the overwhelming majority are not being listened too.

The only way in which a modern government like the Howard Government should be addressing this issue is to ensure that it has the full consent of communities involved in every way when it comes to the location of a facility, like a radioactive waste dump.

This process has still got a very long way to travel and we haven't seen the details of what has actually been agreed between the NLC, the relevant traditional owners and the Minister - we've only got the reports that we've seen on the wire and heard on the radio.

The secretly negotiated deal has bitterly divided traditional owners of the 2241- square-kilometre Muckaty Station, where the Government wants to build a dump storing 5000 cubic metres of nuclear waste.

Bindi Jakamarra Martin, a Warlmanpa man from the Ngapa clan, said building the dump on a 1.5-square-kilometre would "poison our beautiful land" and "change our dreamings". "Our dreamings cross right into that land where they want to put that dump," he said.

The deal was revealed on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the landmark 1967 referendum granting Aboriginal citizenship rights. The agreement allows the Federal Government to take the Ngapa clan's land for up to 200 years to store nuclear waste from all the states and territories.

Truckloads of radioactive material would be driven from Sydney's Lucas Heights and Woomera in South Australia to the site, which is 10 kilometres from the busy Stuart Highway and eight kilometres from where people live at the station homestead.

Experts will now study the sparsely vegetated site to see if it is scientifically suitable to store nuclear waste.

The Muckaty deal has angered the Northern Territory Government, whose legislation against developing a dump in the territory can be overridden by Canberra. "This potential facility could compromise the social, cultural and traditional ties of Aboriginal people to their country," said Elliott McAdam, a minister in the NT Labor Government. Environmentalists have called on federal Science Minister Julie Bishop to reject the site.

A traditional owner of another site under consideration for a nuclear waste dump has questioned whether all residents of Muckaty Station agree with the nomination. Kathleen Martin from Mount Everard, north-west of Alice Springs, says there was some division over the proposal in the community.

"I'm asking, was that in agreeance with everybody on Muckaty?" she said. "Because the message that came down a couple of weeks ago was that the older people - the older men - had told some of the people there, you sell the land, you sell your soul."

Martin said they decided to vote against the dump after attending several meetings with the Northern Land Council and elders were taken to Sydney to tour Lucas Heights.

William Jakamarra Graham, another traditional owner, said: "We don't care about the money — $12 million is nothing to us. But we care about our land and what will happen to the children of the future. We don't want to leave them a nuclear dump."

Natalie Wasley from the Arid Lands Environement Centre, who has been campaigning against all of the sites proposed, says many of the traditional owners do not support the proposal. "I've spoken with a Ngapa elder this morning, Bindi Martin from the Muckaty area, and he said he still has strong opposition to the dump proposal," she said. "I believe this is a view held by other elders as well.

"I think the Science Minister Julie Bishop will have a hard time showing that there is consent within the Ngapa group let alone the whole Muckaty community for this nomination for the waste dump."

Dave Sweeney, nuclear campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation, said Muckaty Station was not selected on a scientific basis and turning it into a dump would be "environmentally irresponsible and socially divisive".

The Northern Land Council says it has all 70 traditional owners' support.

The Age
The Age

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