Families from Laramba secured a landmark victory in the NT Supreme Court to uphold their basic human right to safe drinking water. The decision secures the legal right to safe drinking water for all Indigenous communities and renters across the NT.
First Nations communities in the NT are experiencing severe water insecurity and toxicity. Together with Grata Fund and Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights, families in the remote community of Laramba challenged the NT Government's failure to provide safe drinking water to First Nations people in remote public housing — and won!
People living in Laramba, an Aboriginal community around 200km west of Alice Springs, fought for decent housing and safe water from the NT government — and won!
The only drinking water in their homes was contaminated by uranium. The NT government is the Laramba community’s landlord. The NT government is also responsible for the water supplied to those communities, through the government-owned Power and Water Corporation (PWC).
Uranium is naturally occurring throughout large parts of the NT and can end up in water supplies through bores. According to PWC, the level of uranium in Laramba was almost three times the level recommended by the Australian drinking water guidelines published by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
The Government has known about the unsafe levels of uranium in the Laramba community’s water since at least 2008 but did nothing to fix the problem.
With no safe source of drinking water, people in Laramba were forced to pay for bottled drinking water, which is much more expensive because of the cost of getting it to them from Alice Springs.
Contaminated drinking water is a significant problem that affects a number of remote communities in the NT. In 2018, an investigation by the ABC’s 7:30 found that the water provided to seven communities in the NT had exceeded health guidelines due to elevated levels of contaminants including uranium, barium, antimony, chromium and fluoride.
In 2018, the community took the NT government to court over the issue, supported by Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights (ALRAR) and the Grata community.
After four long years of fighting for their legal right to safe water, the NT Supreme Court delivered a groundbreaking victory to the Laramba community. In September 2023, the NT Supreme Court found that the government, as landlord, is legally required to supply safe drinking water to its tenants.
The fight for clean water in remote communities is not over. Tap water in more than 500 remote Indigenous communities across Australia is not regularly tested, and often is not safe to drink. This decision has opened an avenue for the estimated 250,000 Indigenous people who are currently unable to reliably access safe and healthy drinking water, to seek compensation.