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Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority v Director of National Parks

Today the Full Court of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory 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.

The constitutional challenge was raised by the previous Commonwealth Attorney-General, after the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) commenced a prosecution against the DNP for unlawfully working on a sacred site at Gunlom Falls.

This finding means that, although the DNP admitted they did work on a sacred site without an Authority Certificate from the AAPA, it is not bound by Territory laws which protect sacred sites within the Territory.

Dr Sophie Creighton, A/CEO of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority said this decision was devastating for custodians and has serious implications for the protection of sacred sites across the Territory.

“It is staggering that the Commonwealth has spent years and thousands and thousands of dollars to argue for the right to ignore custodians and damage sacred sites.

“The senior custodian that began this battle has passed away as the DNP has dragged this through the courts, and now today, the next generation of custodians have been told that despite the NT having the best legal protection of sacred sites in Australia, the laws do not apply to everyone.

“This decision is immensely disappointing not just for the Aboriginal custodians of the Gunlom sacred site; not just for AAPA; but for all Australians interested in preserving our nation’s incredible cultural heritage.

“At a time when the Federal Government is pursuing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, and working to strengthen national laws so that they can better protect sacred sites, they have hypocritically called on Crown immunities and constitutional arguments to undermine and disregard Aboriginal custodians and the NT sacred sites legislation.

“We will be reviewing the detail of the decision, and considering next steps.”

AAPA Chairman Bobby Nunggumajbarr said that the NT Sacred Sites Act is designed to uphold Aboriginal law and culture for future generations of Territorians and visitors alike.

“Trust has been broken between Parks and custodians. This is not joint management. This is deeply disrespectful and arrogant.

“Custodians want to make sure visitors get to see these important places safely and that sacred sites are respected and protected. Parks have started work to fix the path, but with today’s decision they have shown the law is not strong enough to protect sacred sites.”

Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority: (08) 8999 4365