11 December 2023
Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority v Director of National Parks in the High Court this week
The High Court of Australia will hold two days of hearings this week on the question of crown immunity for Commonwealth body corporates, and whether the Director of National Parks (DNP) can be prosecuted for offences under section 34 of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989 (Sacred Sites Act).
The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority is appealing a decision by the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory that found the Director of National Parks had the benefit of crown immunity.
The matter arose when the DNP conducted works on the Gunlom Falls sacred site within the Kakadu National Park against the wishes of Aboriginal custodians and without consultation with the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA).
Dr Benedict Scambary, AAPA Chief Executive Officer said the original prosecution of the DNP began more than three years ago, and he welcomes the opportunity to have the full bench of the High Court finally resolve the question of immunity.
“To have Commonwealth corporations claim Crown immunity leaves Aboriginal sacred sites vulnerable across the whole of the Northern Territory.
“The vibrant living culture of the Northern Territory and the continuation of Aboriginal tradition, ceremonies, and songs depend on these powerful and ancient sacred sites being protected for all Australians, now and into the future.”
AAPA Chair Bobby Nunggumajbarr said that custodians need to know their sites are safe and that the law is strong.
“Kakadu is an important place for the whole nation. It is meant to be cared for under joint management between Traditional Owners and the Commonwealth Government, but custodians feel disrespected and angry.
“We have come to Canberra to show the High Court the importance of this issue.”