QUESTION: Financial incentives to SA communities to accept a nuclear waste dump

During Question Time today, Mark asked the Treasurer a question about financial incentives being offered to SA communities to be a home to a national waste dump.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The federal government has increased the financial incentive for one of two communities in South Australia to be home to a national nuclear waste dump. The two South Australian communities that have been selected to potentially house the waste dump are at Hawker and Kimba. The $31 million community development package was announced by federal Minister for Resources Matt Canavan last week. The previous offer was $10 million.

In announcing the so-called enhanced package, Senator Canavan said that $20 million would be made available to deliver long-term infrastructure projects in the host communities. I note that the offer has already been rejected by Aboriginal community members. One of the Adnyamathanha traditional owners, Regina McKenzie, has described the offer as nothing more than a bribe ahead of the community vote on 20 August, and this is in spite of the fact that the offer includes up to $3 million over three years for Indigenous skills training and cultural heritage protection.

My questions of the Treasurer are:

1. Does the minister agree that the commonwealth is seeking to bribe struggling South Australian regional communities and Indigenous communities to encourage them to host unwanted and long-lived intermediate level nuclear waste from Lucas Heights in New South Wales?

2. What discussions has he or his department had with minister Canavan or with federal officials about this proposed $20 million infrastructure fund, given that all of these funds would be spent in South Australia?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): In relation to the second question, I have had no discussions with minister Canavan. In relation to whether there have been any discussions at officer level, I would need to take that on notice and take advice. I have certainly not been briefed that there have been any, but I will take that question on notice.

In relation to the first question, no, I don't see the issue being characterised fairly as bribery. The Hon. Mr Parnell travelled far and wide, I seem to recall, through France and Finland on an extensive overseas investigation, with other members of parliament, including myself. He will be familiar with the experience in some of those communities in France, in particular, and in Finland where the respective governments provided financial contributions, whether by way of grant or infrastructure development, to those particular communities. I must confess, I can't remember the exact detail as to whether they were conveyed directly by the federal government or whether they went via the equivalent to local government in those particular communities. The honourable member will recall the examples to which I refer.

It is a common practice that governments have provided benefits through community infrastructure. I think even one particular establishment that the honourable member may have dined at may well have been as a result of a benefit that the commonwealth government or a government had actually provided to a local tourism or hospitality establishment, and it was able to provide tourism and hospitality services in that particular community in some part as a result of a financial benefit that had been provided as part of that particular package.

So I don't think it would be fairly characterised as bribery; that has connotations of illegality and unlawfulness. I am sure the honourable member, as a lawyer, would be aware of the connotations to which he seeks to infer by the use of that particular pejorative word.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I didn't make the word up.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: No, I know you didn't make the word up. The word exists, but the member used the word. So I don't think that would be a fair characterisation. Certainly, the experience that he would have seen in other jurisdictions and other countries around the world—whilst I am not aware of the actual detail of this particular package, it would nevertheless be consistent with the general approach that governments around the world have done to say, 'Hey, if the community votes for this particular facility to be provided in their community, what is in it for the community?' in terms of taking that particular facility on and providing that service to either the South Australian community or, in this case, to the Australian community.

As I said, in relation to the other part of the question, we will take it on notice and see whether there have been any discussions about the detail of the particular offer that might have been made.

Response provided on 18th September 2018

The Hon. Rob Lucas MLC: 

"I have been advised by the Department of Treasury and Finance that there have been no discussions between officers of the Department and either the Federal Minister for Resources, or Commonwealth officials, in relation to infrastructure funding for South Australian communities in locations under Commonwealth consideration for the future potential storage of nuclear waste material. I am also unaware of any other discussions between Commonwealth and State based departmental officials in relation to this matter."