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Parks Australia pleads not guilty in legal battle over alleged damage to a sacred site Kakadu National Park
Parks Australia has started a legal fight over allegations of damages caused to a sacred site at Gunlom Falls in the Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park.
The Federal Government agency today contested charges it breached permission granted for works near a culturally significant sacred site in a dispute likely to head to the Northern Territory Supreme Court.
The plea was entered the same day Gunlom Traditional Owners buried a senior custodian who helped lead the fight for accountability over allegedly illegal works at the iconic Kakadu site.
Parks Australia - which jointly manages the national park with Traditional Owners - is accused of breaching the conditions of the permission obtained to build a walking track near the park's Gunlom Falls infinity pool.
The Northern Territory's sacred sites Indigenous body, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), claims the track was built near a restricted sacred site without proper authority.
Lawyers representing Parks Australia today officially entered a not guilty plea in the Darwin Local Court, following orders flagged by Commonwealth Attorney-General Michaelia Cash in July.
The matter will return to Court in April, with Northern Territory Chief Judge Elizabeth Morris telling the court she expects to refer it to the Territory's Supreme Court.
If found guilty, Parks Australia could face a maximum penalty of $314,000.
The Federal Government argues that Parks Australia, as a Commonwealth body, is immune from prosecution under laws of the Northern Territory.
As reported by the ABC, Commonwealth lawyers have said that, ultimately, the question could be determined by the High Court.
AAPA today welcomed the matter's progress towards the Territory's highest Court.
However, Chairman Bobby Nunggumarjbarr said the battle would go on without a key voice in the fight, with a burial ceremony taking place today for senior Gunlom custodian and Jaowyn traditional owner Mr Markam.
Nunggumarjbarr said Mr Markham left a powerful legacy of protecting Kakadu and caring for country, commenting "while it's good that the Supreme Court is going to consider this matter now, it's very sad that Mr Markham is not going to see justice for his people's sacred site."
In a statement, a spokesperson for Parks Australia said the decision to contest the charges did not "diminish the director's public commitment" to work with Traditional Owners to remediate the site.
The statement explained "the plea of not guilty is in accordance with a direction that the Commonwealth Attorney-General has issued (to) the director of National Parks in relation to the matter, and to ensure the constitutional issues can be properly addressed.”
Parks Australia has also denied the suggestion of delays in remediation works at the site.
"An Authority Certificate has been obtained from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority for Parks Australia to realign the Gunlom walking track and to undertake remediation of the area
"Pending approval of the designs, Traditional Owners agreed work could commence at the site this dry season (2021) and, all going well, the track realignment will be completed next dry season (2022)."
Images: Gunlom Falls. Credit: Kakadu Tourism.
4th October 2021 - G’Day Group buys four Northern Australia caravan parks for $75 million
30th September 2021 - World Heritage Daintree National Park returned to Traditional Owners
22nd August 2021 - Kakadu Bird Week celebrates nature and Indigenous culture
20th August 2021 - Northern Territory events remain an economic driver
1st July 2021 - Kakadu reopens two of its renowned tourism destinations
23rd March 2021 - Kakadu Tourism focuses on upgrades and revitalisation in 2021
15th September 2020 - Parks Australia charged with damage to sacred site in Kakadu national park
18th June 2020 - Uluru and Kakadu National Park set to reopen
4th April 2020 - Kakadu Tourism closes facilities in response to COVID-19
13th February 2020 - Attraction upgrades set to deliver a new era for Kakadu tourism
5th November 2019 - Parks Australia proposes rise in entry fees to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
15th October 2018 - Traditional owners to jointly manage six Victorian National Parks
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