Alyawarr Ingkerr-wenh

Ampilatwatja sewerage dump
Sewerage dump at Ampilatwatja

Public and environmental health

The object of the Public and Environmental Health Act (NT) 2011 is essentially to protect and promote the health of individuals and communities in the Territory. However there is a wide disparity between remote Aboriginal communities and townships of the Northern Territory.

The Act binds the Crown in right of the Northern Territory and, to the extent the legislative power of the Legislative Assembly permits, the Crown in all its other capacities. This is an important aspect because of the extent to which the Crown operates across all of its manifestations on Aboriginal lands.

In Atyeo v Aboriginal Lands Trust (1996) 93 LGERA 57, a public health officer (Atyeo) was unsuccessful in bringing an action against the Aboriginal Lands Trust for the provision of water and sewerage to a family in Halls Creek, WA. The reasoning was that the Aboriginal Lands Trust was an agent of the Crown and the Health Act (WA) 1911 did not bind the Crown.

Now that the Shires have taken over the provision of services on Aboriginal lands, they may be responsible for the provision of adequate public and environmental health services. In the case of Pyranees Shire v Day (1998) 151 ALR, Brennan CJ found that the council was under a public law duty to enforce the legislation relating to a matter under its control and was liable for failure to do so, where such failure was 'irrational'. The open sewerage pit outside of Ampilatwatja could be seen as one such 'accident waiting to happen'.

Given the high intersectoral dependency in the provision of public and environmental health services, these would be better coordinated on Alyawarr lands by a regional Alyawarr government or health service. Support for this approach is found within Article 25(4) of ILO 169, viz: