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Parks Australia pleads not guilty in legal battle over alleged damage to a sacred site Kakadu National Park

Parks Australia pleads not guilty in legal battle over alleged damage to a sacred site Kakadu National Park
October 8, 2021

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.

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30th July 2021 - Federal Attorney-General directs Parks Australia to challenge charges of damage to sacred site in Kakadu National Park

1st July 2021 - Kakadu reopens two of its renowned tourism destinations

18th June 2021 - Northern Territory Government looks for external investment in Watarrka National Park

6th May 2021 - Parks Australia commits to work with traditional owners following move to close Kakadu’s Gunlom Falls

4th May 2021 - Small businesses in Northern Australia to benefit from Federal Government reinsurance pool

23rd March 2021 - Kakadu Tourism focuses on upgrades and revitalisation in 2021

30th October 2020 - Historic native title settlement agreement reached with Gibson Desert Nature Reserve traditional owners

15th September 2020 - Parks Australia charged with damage to sacred site in Kakadu national park

28th August 2020 - Parks Australia Director James Findlay resigns after Kakadu traditional owners call for sacking

6th July 2020 - Traditional owners in Kakadu National Park call for resignation of Parks Australia executives

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

28th October 2019 - Parks Australia launches new destination branding for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

11th July 2019 - Traditional Owners partnership delivers new way forward for Cape York’s national parks

2nd July 2019 - Traditional owners say heritage is ‘non-negotiable’ in Grampians rock-climbing dispute

21st June 2019 - Parks Australia’s management of Federal protected areas slammed in National Audit Office report

12th January 2019 - Traditional owners withdraw support for National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs

15th October 2018 - Traditional owners to jointly manage six Victorian National Parks

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