This is a statement read in Darwin earlier today by the Northern Land Council CEO, Joe Morrison.

The Northern Land Council (the NLC) has led the process to settle this case, and the Commonwealth government has agreed with our position.

We have agreed to accept the offer to settle because we have at heart the interests of the family groups who make up the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust.

The NLC remains satisfied that it made the nomination with the consent of traditional owners and after consultation with other Aboriginal people with interests in the land.

Unfortunately, since the NLC’s nomination of the Muckaty site in 2007, important people have died and other important people have shifted their positions on which the NLC relied at the time.

In that context, I’d like to pay tribute to the late Ms A Lauder, who has has now passed away.

Ms A Lauder was a senior traditional owner who was a passionate advocate for the project. There was no doubt that she wanted the financial benefits from this project to benefit Aboriginal people in the region.

Like many people in this region, she understood poverty, and understood the importance of opportunity. It was this she was trying to create for the families of the region.

At stake here is the fundamental right of Aboriginal people to decide for themselves how their land is to be used.

Aboriginal people should be able to arrive at those decisions without influence from outside groups who have their own agendas.

In the Northern Territory, because half of the land is Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act and because most of the rest is subject to native title, there will be pressures on Aboriginal traditional owners to make all sorts of decisions about how to use their land for economic development.

Aboriginal people are not opposed to development.  But they should be left alone to make those decisions, having received the best available advice.

As I’ve said the NLC stands by the processes which led to the nomination of the site at Muckaty.

Rather than there being some sort of conspiracy, as has been bandied around, there are quite reasonable explanations and justifications for why things were done as they were in the lead up to the nomination.

The allegations made against the NLC as to fraudulent and dishonest conduct cannot be substantiated on the evidence, and I reject them utterly.

The statements that were made about the NLC, its processes and senior staff can be broadly characterised as scandalous and have no factual basis.

The evidence of the applicants’ own witnesses is that the NLC did its job properly and consulted widely with the right groups and obtained the consent of the traditional owners.

This came out clearly in the Federal Court hearing at Tennant Creek last week.

Sadly, this case has divided families and clans at Muckaty.

That division and argument are the most unfortunate consequence of this whole business, and it’s been whipped up by special interest groups pursuing their own agendas.

I am determined that those relations at Muckaty be repaired.

The NLC executive met at Barunga the weekend before last, and they too were of one mind — that the most pressing task for us is to bring people back together.

That would have been the vision, too, of the late Ms A  Lauder.  These people are all related to each other and it’s a tragedy that they have become divided.


Bob Gosford is employed as a solicitor at the Northern Land Council.