Save Lee Point

Traditional Owners considering legal options

Traditional Owners are devastated by the Albanese Government's decision to allow a controversial development at Lee Point in Darwin to proceed, which they say will desecrate a significant Aboriginal area. 

Defence Housing Australia (DHA) wants to bulldoze Aboriginal cultural heritage to deliver its multi-million-dollar Lee Point residential development, 17 kilometres from Darwin. 

Elders and other experts made representations about the significance of the area, but Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has not listened to their voices and has refused to declare that Lee Point is a significant Aboriginal area. 

Larrakia Danggalaba Traditional Owners are considering all legal options and have vowed to continue the fight to protect Lee Point from bulldozers.  

DHA has confirmed that it will not be commencing clearing work prior to Monday 8 April 2024.

Traditional Owners are concerned the development cuts through a significant cultural landscape where several Dreamings connect. 

"We're devastated and disappointed by this decision. It's disrespectful to our Culture and Country.

They should come and talk to us face to face, but they've got all the power, so it's done with a pen and paper. It's not right.

We want to share our Country with everyone in Darwin that loves the outdoor lifestyle and all the tourists, so it's just devastating for everyone."

Larrakia Danggalaba Traditional owner Tibby Quall

Aboriginal culture and heritage

Represented by lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia, Larrakia Danggalaba Traditional Owners last year applied to permanently protect Binybara - Lee Point under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.

There is a lot of material before Minister Plibersek supporting the application by Larrakia Danggalaba Traditional Custodian Tibby Quall. The material includes representations from Elders and expert reports.

Historically, Australia has done a terrible job of protecting areas of significance to Aboriginal people, so the application to protect Lee Point is seen as a big test for Minister Plibersek.

"We’re not doing this for ourselves, we’re defending our lands to honour our Elders.

This is the only place left close to Darwin where we can teach the next generation about the history and culture of Larrakia people. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

The Government is not ready to think about our existing traditional governance systems and what cultural heritage really means for our people.

At the end of the day, money talks, and we get left out of decision-making."

Larrakia Danggalaba Traditional owner Lorraine Williams

Allegations that DHA has breached approval conditions

DHA appears to have breached its approval conditions by not submitting offset plans for endangered mammals by the deadline and its approval to develop Lee Point should be revoked.

Environment Centre Northern Territory (ECNT) has raised allegations that DHA breached a condition of its approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act as it was required to submit an offset plan for the Black-footed Tree Rat in the first 12 months after the project commenced. ECNT understand this did not happen in time.

With works commencing by at least September 2021, ECNT have been informed that a Black-footed Tree Rat offset plan is yet to be approved by the Minister.

Similarly, the Minister approved the destruction of Gouldian finch habitat without seeing the relevant offset plan for that threatened species.

It’s deeply concerning for the Minister to say the impacts of land-clearing can be offset based on a vague commitment from a developer.  

Gouldian finch habitat under threat

Alongside rich cultural heritage, Lee Point is home to rainbow coloured Gouldian Finches, mammals, and migratory shorebirds of international significance.

Evidence gathered by environmental group, Friends of Lee Point shows the development will destroy 75 percent of Lee Point’s woodland trees.

ECNT is calling on DHA to put this development at other available brownfield sites, instead of destroying habitat of threatened species.

Gouldian Finch at Lee Point taken by Tobias.

“Our client and his family are devastated by the Minister’s decision not to protect Country at Lee Point - Binybara. 

Let's be clear: Larrakia Danggalaba people have cared for this land for tens of thousands of years. 

We are concerned that the Minister hasn’t listened to what Larrakia Traditional Owners, Elders and experts have said about the significance of this area. 

The system is geared towards approving development and decision makers are failing miserably when it comes to protecting First Nations’ culture and heritage. 

Our client is considering all legal options and is calling on DHA not to proceed with the development.“ 

EJA Special Counsel Danya Jacobs

Lee Point shows stronger law reform is needed

The approval of land clearing in woodlands inhabited by endangered species is a clear example of why stronger reforms are needed to Australia’s nature laws.

The Federal Government committed to reforms of National environmental laws this year, but current drafts of the new laws allow for “restoration contributions” which will mean proponents can pay money into a fund to destroy habitat, without ensuring offsets are in place for the species impacted.   

The new laws need to rule out 'pay to destroy’ practices once and for all.“

Find out more about EJA's legal work on behalf of our clients about Lee Point and the campaign from ECNT.