Jabiru handover delay urged

The Northern Land Council has urged the federal and Northern Territory governments to delay handing control of the Kakadu hub-town of Jabiru to traditional owners, saying they could become liable if a raft of legacy issues are not fixed first.

Jabiru was established in the early 1980s as a service centre for the Ranger uranium mine; 40 years on, Energy Resources Australia’s head lease is to expire at the end of June, casting the town’s future into doubt.

Authorities in Canberra and Darwin have negotiated for the Mirrar traditional owners to take control of Jabiru, but with just months to go, a township lease is not finalised so business and residents cannot negotiate subleases and everyone faces uncertainty.

Sources told The Australian the council wrote to Environment Minister Sussan Ley, Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner last month calling for the handover to be delayed.

The Australian understands the council fears the Kakadu Aboriginal Land Trust could become liable for any problems that governments and ERA fail to fix.

Some older houses in Jabiru have been cordoned off as uninhabitable, and it is believed there are problems with asbestos contamination. It is also unclear who will supply power to Jabiru, which relies on an ERA diesel generator.

“There may be enormous costs associated with committing to maintaining an operational town, especially if there is no guarantee from government or other stakeholders that they will provide key services,” one source said.

The council is believed to be concerned such commitments could bankrupt the KALT. Local businesses have said prices will rise if they have to pay extra for power, at present included in leases.

The Australian has been told that while a memorandum of understanding signed in 2019 commits the NT government to support the provision of utilities, it does not provide a binding guarantee of those, or of health and education, beyond 2023.

The council is also understood to be concerned about the fate and costs of relocating residents of Manaburduma, a rundown town camp on the outskirts of Jabiru.

A spokesman for Ms Ley said she had “written to the NLC, reassuring them of the government’s commitment to work through the issues”.

Representatives for Mr Wyatt, Mr Gunner and the council were approached for comment.

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