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Commonwealth liable for sacred site damage: High Court

Commonwealth bodies are criminally liable for damage to Indigenous sacred sites, following a High Court ruling over Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park.

Commonwealth bodies are criminally liable for damage to Indigenous sacred sites, following a High Court ruling over Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park. Photo: AAP

The Commonwealth can be held criminally liable for damages to Indigenous sacred sited, the country’s highest court has ruled.

The High Court on Wednesday overturned a decision from the Northern Territory Supreme Court after Parks Australia caused damage to an Indigenous sacred site in Kakadu National Park in 2019.

The case had centred on damage to Gunlom Falls within the national park, after the construction of a walkway was built too close to a sacred men’s site.

After a legal challenge by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority against the Director of National Patks, the NT Supreme Court found while the track works weren’t properly authorised, the Commonwealth could not be held legally responsible for the damage under territory.

The Director of National Parks had previously pleaded not guilty to charges due to arguing that as a government body, it held the privileges and immunities of the Commonwealth.

But following an appeal to the High Court, it found the Director of National Parks can be held criminally liable for breaching the Sacred Sites Act.

“It is not a presumption against construing a statute to impose criminal liability on a natural person or a body corporate, such as the (Director of National Parks),” the court said in its ruling.

The ruling is set to create a precedent of how Indigenous sacred sites are protected.

The cascading waterfalls at Gunlom Falls had gained prominence in the classic Australian film Crocodile Dundee.

While the location had been a population destination for visitors to Kakadu National Park, it had been closed following the damage to the sacred site.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

– AAP

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