High Court of Australia Building

Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority takes Gunlom case to the High Court

The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has today filed an application for special leave to the High Court of Australia.

The Authority is seeking to appeal the decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory which found that the Director of National Parks (DNP) cannot be prosecuted for offences under section 34 of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989.

Under the Act, work must not be carried out on a sacred site without an Authority Certificate, issued by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA). The Certificate sets out any conditions for proposed works to ensure the protection of sacred sites.

Although the DNP has admitted they did work on a sacred site without an Authority Certificate, the Supreme Court ruling means that the DNP cannot be held to account under the Sacred Sites Act.

Dr Benedict Scambary, AAPA Chief Executive Officer said the principles relied on by the Supreme Court, that the Commonwealth and its statutory corporations is presumptively immune from criminal laws of general application, has no place in modern times.

“It is an outdated principle. It is unacceptable that Commonwealth officers and corporations are free to desecrate Aboriginal sacred sites with impunity.”

AAPA Chair Bobby Nunggumajbarr said custodians across the Territory are angry.

“Our Aboriginal sacred sites and cultural heritage is important to the people of the Northern Territory and the nation.

“No one should be above the law. All people, all corporations and all government entities, should work with custodians to respect and preserve our sacred sites."

“The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority will take all steps to ensure that the Director of National Parks is held accountable for the offence to the sacred site at Gunlom Falls.”

The matter now rests with the High Court.

THE ABORIGINAL AREAS PROTECTION AUTHORITY (AAPA) IS AN INDEPENDENT STATUTORY ORGANISATION ESTABLISHED UNDER THE NORTHERN TERRITORY ABORIGINAL SACRED SITES ACT, AND IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OVERSEEING THE PROTECTION OF ABORIGINAL SACRED SITES ON LAND AND SEA ACROSS THE WHOLE OF AUSTRALIA’S NORTHERN TERRITORY.