Thursday, 8 September 2022
Atomic Energy Amendment (Mine Rehabilitation and Closure) Bill 2022; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
It is a longstanding legislative requirement that the Ranger Uranium Mine must be restored to a condition similar to the surrounding Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. For such an environmentally, culturally and historically important region, only the highest standard of rehabilitation will do.
Today, I introduce the Atomic Energy Amendment (Mine Rehabilitation and Closure) Bill 2022. This bill is the first step towards ensuring the unique environmental requirements prescribed at Ranger remain legal obligations until Ranger's rehabilitation is complete.
When Ranger was established 40 years ago, it was envisaged that rehabilitation would take five years and be completed by January 2026, when current regulatory arrangements lapse. However, based on the best environmental science of today, it is apparent that Ranger's rehabilitation will take longer.
Accordingly, the government is acting to extend Ranger's regulatory framework until the job is complete. The bill enacts a number of measures for securing Ranger's full rehabilitation and eventual closure.
Firstly, the bill allows the mine's operator, Energy Resources of Australia, ERA, to transition to a new authority that permits its rehabilitation to be continued at Ranger beyond January 2026. This in no way reflects ERA's performance at Ranger. ERA has long been progressively rehabilitating Ranger, and it is well advanced with the task—for instance, one of the mined-out pits is now fully backfilled, with Mirarr traditional owners participating in the first revegetation planting.
The reason for allowing a new authority is simply that more time is needed to complete rehabilitation. ERA acknowledges this. Mirarr traditional owners acknowledge this. Environment groups acknowledge this. But the current Atomic Energy Act simply does not allow the government to extend ERA's authority.
The bill will also enable progressive closing out of the site. This means that discrete parcels of land at the Ranger mine—some of which are relatively undisturbed—can transition back to underlying Aboriginal land tenure when ERA is deemed to have rehabilitated those areas. The Northern Land Council have asked that Ranger be progressively closed out so that Ranger's Mirarr traditional owners can get on country as soon as it is safe to do so.
Recognising that the Ranger mine was established under controversial circumstances, it is equally important parliament is clear about what this bill does not do.
Many people today who were not around in the 1970s will not remember the history of the Ranger uranium mine. To say that Ranger was opposed by the Mirarr traditional owners is an understatement. Ranger became a flashpoint in the struggle of land rights, attracting national media attention and protests.
And many people today may not appreciate that Ranger's history is also intrinsically linked to the Kakadu National Park which, like the uranium mine at Ranger, was established without the agreement of traditional owners.
Fast forward almost half a century later to March this year; in opposition we supported the long-awaited return of the remaining half of Kakadu National Park back to the 13 clan groups. This was a milestone in the unfinished business of Aboriginal culture and history in Australia.
Now, in government, we are putting forward amendments through this bill that will take the next step toward the eventual return of Ranger to its Aboriginal traditional owners. This too will form part of the story of this country's unfinished business.
In concluding, I wish to thank ERA, the Northern Land Council and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation representing the Mirarr people for their close engagement on this bill. Ranger's rehabilitation is a priority for all parties and we all look forward to seeing Ranger being a world-class example of mine rehabilitation.
I commend this bill to the chamber.