GREENS MOTION: Nuclear waste dump in SA

Today Mark introduced a Greens' Motion noting a petition signed by almost 1000 South Australian residents calling on Parliament to maintain the integrity of South Australia's 20-year ban on nuclear waste facilities being developed in our state. 


That this council—

1. Notes the petition signed by 909 residents of South Australia tabled in the Legislative Council on 5 March 2020 concerning the integrity of South Australia’s legal prohibition against the building of nuclear waste dumps in this state;

2. Notes the decision by the federal government to locate a temporary intermediate-level nuclear waste storage facility and a permanent low-level nuclear waste disposal facility at Kimba on Eyre Peninsula;

3. Notes the intention of the federal government to legislate to override the South Australian Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000; and

4. Calls on all members of the South Australian parliament to uphold the integrity of our state legislation by opposing the federal government’s plans for a nuclear waste dump at Kimba or anywhere else in South Australia.

Members will be well aware that collecting nearly 1,000 names on a petition takes some effort. These petitioners are asking for the parliament to maintain the integrity of South Australia's 20-year-old ban on nuclear waste facilities being developed in our state. For many signatories, this matter is both personal and longstanding. The idea of South Australia hosting a national nuclear waste dump has been around for a very long time. Every few years, it rears its ugly head and the community is required to rally to show its opposition to the dump and its support for First Nations peoples on whose traditional lands these projects are invariably proposed.

For example, in 1998, the Howard government announced its intention to build a radioactive waste repository near Woomera in South Australia. Leading the battle against the dump were the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern South Australia. Many of these women had been personally affected as their families had suffered the impacts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu in the 1950s. The late Mrs Eileen Kampakuta Brown, a member of the Kungka Tjuta, was awarded an Order of Australia on Australia Day in 2003 for her service to the community through the preservation, revival and teaching of traditional Anangu cultures, as well as for being an advocate for Indigenous communities in Central Australia.

Just two months later, on 5 March 2003, the Australian Senate passed a resolution noting 'the hypocrisy of the government in giving an award for services to the community to Mrs Brown but taking no notice of her objection, and that of the Yankunytjatjara Antikarinya community, to its decision to construct a national repository on this land'. The proposed repository near Woomera was opposed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and also opposed by the native title claimant groups, namely the Kokatha and the Barngarla.

Now the Federal Government is back at it again. Their previous attempts to impose a dump on unwilling communities was successfully fended off, so then they came up with this idea of looking for volunteer landholders and volunteer communities. The carrot on offer was millions of dollars of public funding to the chosen community. What we then saw was a number of volunteers, at least two dozen, which was ultimately narrowed down to six and then down to three, all of which were in South Australia.

Late last year, after years of campaigning, the people of the Flinders Ranges voted to reject the proposal to site the nuclear waste dump in their local area thereby removing their area from the government's list of potential sites. Now the federal Morrison government has decided that Kimba, at the top of Eyre Peninsula, will host the dump. Whilst this has been a devastating blow for many in the local community, the fight is far from over. The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation were denied the right to vote in the community ballot and they have not yet given up their campaign to protect their traditional lands.

In disappointing news last month, the Federal Court dismissed their appeal. The court said that it was not racially discriminatory to deny native title holders the right to participate in a ballot concerning the future use of their traditional lands. Whilst I do not intend to criticise the court's application of the law as it saw it, I think there is a serious problem with the law if it disenfranchises native title holders in a way such as this. It begs the question: if the native title holders cannot participate in this decision, then what value does formal recognition as native title holders actually have?

If they had been allowed to vote in the community ballot, then the result of the vote would have been very different. It would have been a majority opposed to the dump rather than a narrow majority in favour. When the Barngarla people polled their own community, the result was 100 per cent opposed to the dump.

I might just refer to a couple of sentences from a submission that was made in recent days by the Friends of the Earth group to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, which is currently inquiring into this issue. Friends of the Earth say:

Shamefully, the federal government excluded Barngarla Traditional Owners from a 'community ballot' held in 2019. Therefore the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation initiated a separate, confidential postal survey of Traditional Owners, conducted by the Australian Election Company. This resulted in 100 per cent of respondents voting 'no' to the proposed nuclear facility. If the results of the two ballots are combined, the overall level of support falls to just 43.8 per cent of eligible voters (452/824 for the government-initiated ballot and 0/209 for the Barngarla ballot)—well short of the government's benchmark of 65 per cent for 'broad community support'.

The proposal to proceed with the nuclear waste facility despite the unanimous opposition of the Barngarla Traditional Owners is unconscionable and must not be allowed to stand. The Act, the Bill and the proposed nuclear waste facility are all inconsistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee) has said that Australia's historically 'racially discriminatory land practices have endured as an acute impairment of the rights of Australia's indigenous communities'. Imposing a nuclear waste facility on Barngarla Country will clearly exacerbate the problems identified by the CERD Committee.

As members know, for the last 20 years, South Australia has prohibited any nuclear waste dump being established in our state; however, the federal Morrison government has now introduced legislation to override our state laws. This means that the South Australian Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000 will not be enough to stop the government locating a nuclear waste dump in Kimba.

There is now a federal parliamentary inquiry into the proposed commonwealth legislation. I note that submissions to that inquiry close tomorrow, but with the shutdown of federal parliament I fully expect that the time frame for that inquiry will be extended. Out of an abundance of caution, if people listening to this want to put in a submission, the deadline is tomorrow.

If the federal government succeeds in passing this legislation, this will also trigger a South Australian parliamentary inquiry into 'the likely impact of that facility on the environment and socio-economic wellbeing of this state'. That inquiry will take place thanks to a provision of the state act, which effectively says that, if the feds try to impose a nuclear waste dump on South Australia in contravention of South Australia's laws, the Environment Resources and Development Committee of the state parliament must launch an inquiry.

On behalf of the Greens, I will be a member of that committee conducting the inquiry and I will be insisting that the committee visit not just Kimba but the towns through which the nuclear waste will be transported. The people in these communities have never been asked what they think and they need to be listened to. I will also make sure that the voices of traditional owners are properly heard.

In relation to the petition, the petitioner's plea is to the State Parliament urging us not to change our state law around nuclear waste dumps. Some people might respond that there is not any current intention to do that. It is not a live issue, people might say. There is no bill before Parliament and the Government has not announced any intention to change the act. The real damage, they would say, is being done by our act being potentially overridden by an act of the Federal Parliament.

But it is not as if the petitioners are misguided because we have seen in recent years the South Australian act being amended. Five years ago, when the then Labor government was investigating South Australia hosting the world's high level nuclear waste, the Government moved to repeal the state act. Ultimately, they were convinced to make some minor modifications in relation to using public money for the royal commission, rather than repeal the whole act. I was also pleased, on behalf of the Greens, to successfully have the act reinstated to its original wording once sanity had prevailed and the ludicrous notion of South Australia hosting the world's nuclear waste had been abandoned.

Of course, later today, we are likely to pass an overarching bill in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic public emergency. Within that bill is the power of the executive to effectively rewrite nearly any state law through an expanded regulation-making power and that would include the South Australian Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000.

I do not expect the Government to go anywhere near this act during the current crisis, but I am just making the point that the Parliament is about to give the executive incredible powers, so the plea of the petitioners to leave this particular act alone is as live an issue today as it was when this petition started circulating long before COVID-19 was a phrase any of us had ever heard.

I commend the motion to the house and I congratulate the members of the South Australian community who have been out in our towns, our suburbs and our regions, talking to their fellow citizens about the issue of nuclear waste and collecting nearly 1,000 signatures.