Residents of the remote central Australian community of Laramba have lost a case against the Northern Territory Government over high levels of uranium in their drinking water.
- The tribunal ruled drinking water uranium levels were not the housing department’s responsibility
- The residents were seeking compensation over the contamination and also tap filters to bring their water in line with guidelines
- The tribunal has called for further submissions relating to claims about housing conditions and repairs
Data compiled by the NT’s Power and Water Corporation had shown there were 0.046 milligrams of uranium per litre (mg/L) in the town’s water supply — close to three times the level recommended in national guidelines.
According to Australia’s national guideline, published by the National Health and Medical Council, uranium levels in drinking water should not exceed 0.017 milligrams per litre.
Residents of Laramba, north-west of Alice Springs, lodged a legal case against the landlord, which in this case is the NT’s Department of Housing.
The case was submitted to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) in November last year, highlighting problems with not only residents’ drinking water but also housing repairs and conditions in the town.
Residents sought compensation over the uranium contamination and also asked for a filter system on at least one tap in their household kitchens to bring uranium levels in line within Australia’s drinking water guidelines.
But in the NTCAT’s ruling against the residents, the tribunal member Mark O’Reilly said the uranium in the water was not the responsibility of the landlord.
“In my view the landlord’s obligation for habitability is limited to the premises themselves,” the decision read.
“If the water supply in Central Australia simply dried up completely it would not be the responsibility of the various landlords of Alice Springs to provide a remedy or compensation.”
Mr O’Reilly said the Residential Tenancies Act did not place responsibility on the landlord in the circumstances of this case and NTCAT “had no jurisdiction” to impose responsibility.
“In my view there is an essential flaw in the applicants’ assertion that the only water made available by the landlord at the premises contains nearly three times the maximum safe level for ingestion of uranium,” he said.
“In reality the landlord does not make water available at the premises at all … The landlord’s responsibility is to provide safe and functioning infrastructure to facilitate the supply of water by the service provider.”
Other community residents have fought housing department
The case is not the first time a remote community has taken the housing department to court over the state of housing conditions.