Aboriginal people have occupied and managed the southwest Gulf Country of the Northern Territory for tens of thousands of years. Today, they make up almost 90 per cent of the region’s population and hold property rights over vast areas of the Gulf Country. Just like their ancestors, they continue to maintain a significant reliance on the environment for their livelihoods and wellbeing. Yet, despite this they have little voice in how the region’s land, waters and natural resources are used, how they are valued, or how they will be managed in the future. This has resulted in the costs and benefits associated with large-scale development in the region being distributed unequally. While substantial benefits flow outside the region, it is the region’s Aboriginal people who bear the cost of development as they experience the contamination of their territories and food resources from mining activity.
After 150 years of white development it’s time for environmental justice in the southwest Gulf, for fair treatment and meaningful involvement of Aboriginal people with respect to development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies in their ancestral lands. The goal must be a fair distribution of the environmental benefits and costs.