The federal government is exploiting the Northern Territory's constitutional weakness by planning to build a nuclear waste facility there against traditional owners' wishes, Senator Nova Peris says.
This week it was decided that a Federal Court trial would sit in Tennant Creek and Darwin in June to take evidence on the proposed dump, which is fiercely opposed by four of the five traditional owner groups at Muckaty, about 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek.
Legal proceedings have been running against the federal government and the Northern Land Council (NLC) since June 2010, with those opposed accusing the NLC of breaching its duties by failing to properly identify the traditional Aboriginal owners of the nominated land, not consulting adequately and not getting proper consent before recommending the site.
"The Northern Territory is not our nation's dumping ground," Senator Peris told a Muckaty dinner in Darwin on Thursday.
"The only reason the dump was proposed to be built here is because we are a Territory and not a state. Exploiting our constitutional weakness is not acceptable."
Ms Peris called for a scientific and rational approach to determining how Australia would deal with its nuclear waste.
Lawyer Elizabeth O'Shea said it was a victory for traditional owners to have part of the trial sit in Tennant Creek.
"We're very concerned about the health and age of a number of our witnesses," she said.
"It's hugely important that the court has taken this step and we're very pleased, and it's caused great comfort for our clients."
The Muckaty decision affects all of Tennant Creek, traditional owner Penny Phillips says, so it's important for the community to be able to observe the legal process.
"All the people there, the old people and the young ones too, they can step up and start talking up," she said.
"Our people fought for country for years and years - you get back country and you have to look after it.
"If you put the dump there, who's going to look after the next generation?"
The trial will begin in Melbourne on June 2.