Indigenous people in the country surrounding the proposed Muckaty nuclear waste dump have reiterated plans to block the Stuart Highway.
The government tabled the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 on Wednesday, on the back of a deal from Northern Territory Nationals Senator Nigel Scullion which would see an initial $10m in federal funds for health infrastructure in the N.T., in return for Coalition support.
The Northern Territory government and various local clan groups are opposed to the plan to build a medium-level nuclear waste dump on the aboriginal land north of Tennant Creek.
Penny Philips, a member of the Wintiku clan, told SBS the federal government will have a fight on its hands if local people block the Territory's principal road.
“We're going to do it if they're going ahead with it…we'll get people to block it, get traditional owners from other countries if they can block it as well.”
Despite Senator Scullion's deal, anti-nuclear activist Nat Wasley says the Coalition was always going to support the bill.
"It's almost a carbon copy of the current legislation that was written by the Howard government, the main difference being that it specifically names Muckaty as a site.”
Senator Scullion doesn't deny that support was forthcoming amongst the opposition.
"I guess we would have", he says. "But It's appropriate that there should be a charge."
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has tabled a number of amendments to the bill in the Senate, set to be discussed over Wednesday and Thursday.
Effectively, they seek to remove the minister's discretion over choosing a site, which would end up sidelining Muckaty.
“They go to different ways in which we think the bill will not pick on vulnerable communities”, Ludlam said.
“Procedural fairness does not seem unfair to us.”
But with bipartisan support, the bill will likely pass the Senate, if not this week, then probably by the end of the month.
OWNERSHIP IN QUESTION
But despite the focus on the Senate, the dispute over who owns the land in question continues to complicate affairs.
The NLC (Northern Land Council), which represents traditional owners in their dealings with Canberra, has deemed members of the Ngapa clan as sole owners. They nominated the land in exchange for millions of federal dollars for the area; much of which hasn't come yet.
But other groups who say they have incorrectly not been recognised as T.O.s (traditional owners) say the land is sacred to them, with a male initiation site on the station. Prior to a disputed NLC anthropological report, it was long agreed the land was shared amongst local groups, they say.
Despite being tight-lipped today, the NLC has previously said its consultations were 'comprehensive.' The Darwin-based land council is fighting its case in a federal court in Melbourne, and Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, along with the land council, has long promised to respect the outcome of the court case – which could sideline the plans for a dump at Muckaty.
Last year, the traditional owner who signed the deal with Canberra passed away. In the public arena, no other members of the Ngapa clan have stepped up to take her place and speak for the dump, bringing the importance of the court case to the fore.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson's office confirmed on Wednesday the government “will not progress Muckaty until the outcome of the federal court case is known.”
But his office denied the court case may nullify the importance of the bill, which, they say, is not intended as a vehicle simply to nominate Muckaty.
“Once it becomes law, we'll have a framework under which to pursue consultations”, a spokesperson said.
With an eye firmly on the case in Melbourne, the government's 'Plan B', the spokesperson said, is a return to the nationwide voluntary nomination process – the same process by which Muckaty came to be put forward.