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CURRENT CASE: Clean water for the remote First Nations community of Laramba

Families from Laramba are taking on the NT government over uranium-contaminated drinking water and the appalling condition of their homes.

Status: the community has appealed their case to the NT Supreme Court.

People living in Laramba, an Aboriginal community around 200km west of Alice Springs, are fighting for decent housing from the NT government. The only drinking water in their homes is contaminated by uranium. The homes have also been poorly maintained and are in need of urgent repairs.

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). 

More than a decade of inaction

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 is 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 have been 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. 

The community makes a stand

In 2018, the community took the NT government to court, supported by Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights and the Grata community. 

The NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal found that the government - as landlord - wasn’t liable for the water supplied to the community by the government-owned company PWC. The community has appealed their case to the NT Supreme Court. 

In May 2022, the NT government signed a contract with a company to decontaminate the community’s drinking water by removing the uranium. The work is estimated to be completed by the end of 2022. However, the community is continuing its fight, in the hopes of establishing a precedent that forces the NT government to ensure all remote communities have safe drinking water.