GREENS MOTION: Nuclear Waste Dump in SA

Today, Mark brought his Greens' motion calling on 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 to a vote. It passed.


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.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Leader of the Opposition): I rise today in support of this motion and thank the Hon. Mark Parnell for bringing it to this place. In terms of the proposed nuclear waste facility in South Australia, it is widely recognised by many that the selection process was fundamentally flawed. It had little regard for the impact on local communities that have been put in the spotlight, it had little regard for the division that has been created within those communities and, certainly, from much of the correspondence and discussion that has occurred with me, it had no regard for the wishes of the traditional owners, the Barngarla people.

The opposition believes traditional owners and native title holders must be central to any process such as the selection of this site. When Premier Weatherill had a Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle and South Australia's participation in it, in the end, one of the three preconditions for any further engagement in that issue was a right of veto to traditional owners, and clearly, that is not what has happened here. Traditional owners and native title holders were excluded from the vote in relation to the site and the federal government has fought traditional owners every step of the way through the court process in South Australia.

A federal parliamentary committee noted the very deliberate actions to attempt to remove judicial review rights from this, which would further erode the Barngarla people and the general Kimba community's possibility of testing in the courts the shocking process that led to the site selection. Research conducted by the Australian Institute shows that South Australians overwhelmingly support the Barngarla people having a much bigger say in the process. As I said, we believe that the process, in the way that this site was selected, was completely and entirely flawed and we support the motion of the Hon. Mark Parnell.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise to support this motion moved, quite rightly, by my colleague the Hon. Mark Parnell so it will come as no surprise that the Greens are unanimous in their support of this motion. The treatment, particularly of the Barngarla people, in this debate has been utterly appalling. Indeed, the federal government proposing to essentially ignore our state laws and deliberately ignore the traditional owners of this land has been an absolute travesty, trampling over our democracy.

Late last year, for example, we learnt that residents in any of the South Australian communities that were originally shortlisted for this dumpsite were told that if they wanted to attend the community consultation meetings they had to sign a supposed code of conduct that banned them from taking notes and, further, that observers needed to be approved and they 'cannot repeat or share the individual ideas or views of committee members' and 'they cannot repeat confidential information or try to interject in committee discussions'. This was very far removed from a transparent process, a democratic process or a respectful process.

It has been said by the federal government that there is support from the South Australian community for this. They cite the vote of those in Kimba. They fail to cite the 100 per cent vote against of the Barngarla people. One hundred per cent against in my book is no community consent. They fail to respect the state laws. They fail to respect the royal commission process that indicated the position of South Australia towards these sorts of proposals. Indeed, the project cannot be allowed to proceed.

South Australia has held firm for 20 years that we are not Australia's dumping ground. We will not store nuclear waste in this way. We cannot stand by and let the federal government overturn our state laws nor turn that part of our state into a dumping ground for this dangerous waste, particularly as it is 100 per cent against the wishes of the traditional owners.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I will make a few remarks in relation to this motion, which the government does not support. On 1 February 2020, the Australian government announced it had selected a site for the proposed national radioactive waste management facility at Napandee on the Eyre Peninsula near the Kimba township. The facility will dispose of Australia's national low-level, and temporarily store the nation's medium-level, radioactive waste while a separate intermediate-level waste disposal facility is developed.

The Australian government is pursuing the development of the site for the facility under the National Radioactive Waste Management Act of 2012. South Australia has in operation the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act of 2000, which impacts on the state's ability to provide assistance or support to the Australian government in relation to liaison and coordination for the development of the facility. The site has met the commonwealth's criteria that it be volunteered by the landowner, be technically suitable and be broadly supported by the local community.

I understand that there has been a Senate committee that has recommended that the bill be passed without amendment. The committee has recommended ongoing consultation with the traditional owners of the land, the Barngarla people, which this government does support and encourage. The facility is intended to dispose of this waste, which is currently stored in more than 100 sites across Australia. Notably, it is not intended to store high-level radioactive waste or radioactive waste produced by other countries.

I acknowledge that there is a diverse range of views on the project in the broader community. While there are some within those communities who are opposed to the project, there are others equally forthright in their support. This government believes that it is important that radioactive wastes are dealt with properly, professionally and safely in one central, secure location and has previously stated that it will not oppose the establishment of a facility in South Australia if there is a willing host community. Given the level of broad support in the community for the Napandee site, the government is committed to continuing to work with commonwealth counterparts to progress this nationally important work.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I thank the Hon. Kyam Maher, my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks and the Hon. Michelle Lensink for their contributions. I am pleased that I believe this motion has majority support in this chamber today. I have spoken about the issue of nuclear waste in this place many, many times before. I think if we were to drill down to the key issues, we find that some people are appalled by this project because of the process that has been followed, other people are worried about the actual physical project, the merits of the project, if you like, and there are other people like me who are concerned about both aspects.

When we look at the process, as my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks and the Hon. Kyam Maher have pointed out, this notion of a willing host community only works if you exclude all of the traditional owners. As has been pointed out, the Barngarla people voted 100 per cent against the nuclear waste dump on their traditional lands. Had their votes been included, then certainly the outcome of the council-run ballot would have been very different.

The other aspect of the process that many people, including myself, are very worried about is the fact that the commonwealth government is proposing to legislate to prevent citizens of this country exercising their legal right to challenge administrative decisions. The idea of legislating to say that no-one is allowed to go to the umpire—it does not matter whether the decision-maker has broken the law, no-one is allowed to go to the umpire—that these are unimpeachable decisions in an important issue such as this is unacceptable. That bill before the Senate needs to be defeated and soundly defeated.

When I called for this matter to be brought for a vote today, our expectation was that the Senate was going to deal this bill last week. As it turned out, the bill was not reached. Some people kindly suggest that the Senate ran out of time. I expect it is more likely that the government does not have the numbers and so they did not bring the bill on for a vote. I hope that situation remains, because it is an appalling piece of legislation.

I will mention again briefly—I think I mentioned this before—that the law in South Australia that prohibits nuclear waste dumps includes a provision, section 14 from memory, which I will paraphrase: if those dastardly feds try to foist a nuclear waste dump on us, there must be a South Australian parliamentary inquiry. I am paraphrasing the provisions of the act, but that is basically what it says. That inquiry will be conducted by the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of this parliament. I serve on that committee. I hope that we do not have to have that inquiry, because I hope the Senate does their job and throws out the government's bill.

In relation to the process, it is one thing and an important thing for the traditional owners to have been denied a say, but so, too, were all of those communities through which nuclear waste will be transported. We know that the distance from Lucas Heights to Kimba is about 1,700 kilometres. Nuclear waste could travel by road or it could travel by sea, but ultimately it is going to be passing through many communities, perhaps South Australian port communities, perhaps Whyalla, perhaps Port Lincoln, who knows?

If it is transported by road, it will be going through other regional communities as well. Were any of those people consulted? Were any of them asked what they thought about being on a thoroughfare for nuclear waste being transported 1,700 kilometres across the country unnecessarily? No, they were not asked. This is certainly a major failing in terms of the process the government has gone through.

In terms of the merits of a national nuclear waste dump, this is a case, I think, of spin that would do Donald Trump proud, the way that the government has spun this. Their argument has been that if you or anyone you know has ever accessed nuclear medicine, therefore you must support a nuclear waste dump at Kimba. Nothing could be further from the truth. The main waste that is going to end up in this national repository is not, in fact, medical waste from hospitals because we know from considerable experience that the number one strategy for managing medical nuclear waste is the principle called 'delay and decay'.

You have to think about it like this: most of the radioactive isotopes that are used in medicine are short-lived. We do not inject people with things that are going to be toxic to them for tens of years or hundreds of years. They are very short-lived radioactive isotopes. Most of the waste that is generated does end up, as people have said, in hospital basements where it is stored for a short period of time until the radiation levels have dropped to such a level that they can be taken to the tip. They are taken to the municipal tip and they are put into landfill. There is not going to be a steady stream of vans or trucks driving from hospitals to Kimba. It is just not going to happen.

What we do know, though, is that Kimba will be used for dangerous, intermediate-level nuclear waste. Again, people are saying, 'We have to put it somewhere.' I agree, we do have to put it somewhere, and that place is called Lucas Heights. This is what the CEO of ARPANSA, the nuclear regulator, said to the Senate inquiry in June this year, 'Waste can be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come.' There is no pressing case for moving dangerous intermediate-level nuclear waste away from a federally-controlled site with Federal Police around the clock and moving it to Kimba in South Australia. There is no reason at all to be doing that, especially given that it is regarded as an interim storage rather than a permanent disposal. It needs to stay where it is at Lucas Heights.

If we do want to responsibly manage our domestic nuclear waste—which we do; I absolutely agree; it is our waste, it is our problem—this is a very different debate to taking the rest of the world's high-level nuclear waste. That was a debate we had under the previous government. This is Australian waste and it is our responsibility, but the best way to advance responsible radioactive waste management is to halt this flawed Kimba plan in favour of an expert, independent review which is based on evidence and global best practice.

As people have pointed out, radioactive waste lasts longer than politicians, and so there is this pressing need to get it right. The motion that we are voting on today, the action point if you like, is paragraph 4 which states:

That this council 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.

I hope that a majority of the chamber will support that sentiment today.

Motion carried.

Mark's speech on moving the motion can be read here.