Federal Attorney-General directs Parks Australia to challenge charges of damage to sacred site in Kakadu National Park


Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Case has intervened in a Court dispute over alleged sacred site damage in Kakadu National Park, arguing the Commonwealth is not bound by protections enshrined in Northern Territory law.

A letter written by Attorney-General Cash, released on Friday, directs Parks Australia to plead not guilty over the alleged illegal construction of a walking track to the top pools of Gunlom Falls.

The Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), which has a responsibility to preserve sacred sites, claims the track was built close to a restricted sacred site without proper authority.

Earlier this year, lawyers for Parks Australia flagged possible “constitutional issues” of Commonwealth immunity to the Northern Territory’s Sacred Sites Act, which they said could go to the High Court.

In the letter dated 1st June, Attorney-General Cash instructs Parks Australia Director Jody Swirepik to contest the charges, arguing the Federal Government is not bound by protections enshrined in Northern Territory law, stating

“The (NT Sacred Sites Act) does not apply to the Commonwealth, noting the strong presumption that legislation does not impose criminal liability on the Commonwealth.”

As reported by the ABC, lawyers for Parks Australia indicated the not-guilty plea in the Darwin Local Court on Friday.

Judge Therese Austin adjourned the matter, saying a hearing would need to be arranged and a judge appointed.

In a statement, Swirepik said her intention to fight the charges “does not diminish her commitment to working with Kakadu’s Traditional Owners”.

“I have expressed to Traditional Owners my wish to continue consultation to plan a suitable realignment of the Gunlom walking track,” she said.

“I acknowledge that the Gunlom walking track works caused significant distress to the Traditional Owners of the Gunlom region and other members of the community and express regret for the distress caused.”

A spokeswoman from the AAPA said the organisation acknowledged Parks Australia has raised constitutional matters – and that they may be referred to the Supreme Court for consideration

Parts of Gunlom – one of Kakadu’s biggest tourism drawcards – have remained closed since traditional owners raised issues with the walking track.

Parks Australia has since been authorised by AAPA to carry out remediation work.

The matter was adjourned to 5th August, where it will be decided if the dispute will need to be heard in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.

Australia’s largest national park has dogged by claims of mismanagement and neglect over recent years.

Image of Gulom Falls, Kakadu Nationa Park courtesy of Ian Oswald Jacobs/Parks Australia.

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