More than 250 people gathered outside the office of the Northern Land Council in Tennant Creek and marched to the local Peko Park on May 25, protesting against the proposed radioactive waste dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory.
The Muckaty site is part of a Land Trust, which is shared by five interrelated groups — Milwayi, Ngapa, Ngarra, Wintirku and Yapayapa.
Traditional owners call the Muckaty Land Trust “Manuwangku”. Members of all five groups were present at the rally.
The Muckaty site was nominated by the Northern Land Council seven years ago, despite opposition from many traditional owners. Under federal legislation, a site nomination can be deemed valid even if the Aboriginal Land Council does not have consent from all affected people.
Federal Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources Ian MacFarlane can override state and territory laws that may “hinder” the dump being built and is exempt from following key Aboriginal heritage and environmental protection legislation during the site selection phase.
The National Radioactive Waste Management Act can be used to impose a nuclear waste dump in the NT against the wishes of both Aboriginal landholders and the NT government. Many people see the legislation as racist.
The diversity of people at the rally reflected the breadth of opposition to the dump.
Speakers included traditional owners who have been leading the fight against the dump for seven years, unionists, activists, academics, doctors, conservationists and the local member for Barkly electorate. People travelled from Alice Springs, Darwin and as far away as Melbourne to be part of the rally.
Protestors called for NT Chief Minister Adam Giles to publicly state his position regarding the dump. While Giles has refused to comment, former prime minister Bob Hawke recently revealed that Giles is an “ardent supporter”.
If approved, the dump would house radioactive waste from federal agencies, with states also able to negotiate storage of waste. The most dangerous waste includes spent fuel rods produced at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, near Sydney, that are returning from overseas reprocessing.
Contrary to industry spin, most nuclear waste earmarked for Muckaty is not from nuclear medicine procedures.
The waste would be transported by road to Muckaty, putting communities along the transport routes at risk. Emergency workers in the NT have expressed concern they are inadequately prepared or equipped if an incident occurrs.
The vast distances the waste will be transported, including through remote areas, means that accident response times may be slow. Representatives from the Maritime Union of Australia spoke at the rally of their concerns about the risks of bringing the waste through the port of Darwin.
The protest occurred a week before a Federal Court hearing challenging the proposal for the dump begins in Melbourne. The case will continue in Tennant Creek before finishing in Darwin on July 4.
The campaign against the dump is being led by traditional owners and supported by the Beyond Nuclear Initiative.
[For more information and to support the fight against the dump, visit beyondnuclearinitiative.com/muckaty.]