Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010; Third Reading

1:43 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Yes, indeed. I just note the interjections from the public gallery. I am not sure whether Hansard or Broadcasting will record it, actually, but a number of people who obviously feel very strongly about the campaign just dropped a banner from the public gallery. This is just the beginning, Minister. For the minister's advisers who have come down and will shortly be—

Senator Bernardi interjecting—

I had no idea that was on its way, Senator Bernardi, but good on them for coming in here, because quite clearly the parliament is about to fail on this vote in its duty of care to the people of the Northern Territory, and particularly to the people on the front line in Tennant Creek, which I have been very fortunate to visit a couple of times. They have spent plenty of time here in parliament. They have come down when we thought this bill might get up in the past. It is a long way for them to travel down here. There are many people who are very much here with us in spirit. They are bearing witness, they are observing what is going on here and they are sending to the government and to the opposition a very clear message: you have won the vote today—you are probably about to win the vote today unless there is a late-breaking change and things are going better than expected—but you are going to lose the campaign. That dump is not going to Muckaty.

What has happened, in fact, is that there has been targeting of four separate sites. One thing that I will acknowledge this bill does is take three of those Defence sites off the table. Those people are being let off the hook. They have all pledged to line up and support the Muckaty mob. They are taking a collective approach that, if it had landed on their site or their block, they know that the people of the Territory would have been behind them. The government here has provoked a fight that it did not need to pick, and there are many, many groups around the country and around the world who will now step up, because while debate was suspended in this parliament perhaps there was some hope that sense would prevail. We are about to profoundly fail in our duty of care to those people.

There is a wonderful photo exhibition that was launched in Sydney in January called Manuwangku, Under the Nuclear Cloud. 'Manuwangku' is the way that the mob pronounce the bit of land that we are calling 'Muckaty' in here. It was cosponsored by Amnesty International and the Beyond Nuclear Initiative. Sandy Edwards, who is the curator, recalls one of the most evocative images of this gorgeous collection of photos by Jagath Dheerasekara: 'Three women dressed in brightly coloured garments dance in the shadow of a big black drum with a yellow nuclear symbol on it. The message is clear. We can only hope that the Manuwangku community is spared this terrible fate and that these photographs will help the outcome.' I wonder if the minister got a copy of that book or whether he took the time to go along to the exhibition. That is Amnesty International, who fight around the world on horrific abuses of human rights, taking a position on the way that this particular community has been treated and trying to spread their message.

Oxfam, in a recent press statement, said:

With key issues of ownership, traditional owner consent and affected community support for the radioactive waste facility currently before the Federal Court, the Gillard Government should defer debate on this controversial legislation.

Oxfam took a position not on the particular siting decision but on the process, which is what I have been doing.

As a signatory to the Declaration—

on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—

Australia has committed to obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before adopting laws and policies which may affect them.

That was Oxfam. Obviously there is no free, prior and informed consent.

The minister is seeking unanimity. You will never find it, but what you have in this instance is unanimity of opposition. Perhaps you would be able to do a little bit better than that. There have been very strong positions taken by the union movement. There is probably not a huge amount that they could do while we are in here debating the process, but when it actually comes to putting equipment on the ground and shipping the material in through Australian ports perhaps the government will realise the kind of fight that it has picked. Unions NT resolved as long ago as the 12th of last April to fight the radioactive waste dump. NT ETU organiser Michael Haire said at the time:

Unions NT pledged to continue the campaign in solidarity with Traditional Owners and the community of Muckaty and Tennant Creek.

We strongly oppose the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill—

which they thought might pass the Senate last May—

and reject any legislation which would continue to target Muckaty Station, or any site in the Northern Territory for a nuclear waste dump.

I would like to also acknowledge the many campaigners from Friends of the Earth and particularly the ACE Collective in Melbourne, who have done wonderful work in bringing this campaign right up to Minister Martin Ferguson's doorstep. If he thought he was being inconvenienced up to now then I suspect he has not seen anything yet, because these are extremely creative, passionate and determined people who will not lie down simply because this parliament failed in its duty of care.

I do not think the Northern Territory government are planning on folding either. I think this campaign has a long way to run. February 2010 was the earliest press release that I could find. The Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, who has courageously opposed this project since it was proposed by the Howard government, said:

I am disappointed the Federal Government has decided to push ahead with legislation that will override Territory legislation … I was informed this week that—

the Howard—

legislation would be repealed and our environmental heritage and appeal rights would be restored. We have now had a chance to examine the new legislation and this is not the case.

What they did was to realise that Minister Ferguson just cut and pasted the bill that Senator Scullion's government had carriage of and then tried to pretend that it was something new. How absurd. They must think we are idiots.

I referenced the Public Health Association of Australia before in terms of medical professionals saying, 'Stop using medical procedures and medical radiopharmaceuticals as a shield and a pretence that we need the dump. This is about spent fuel. This is not about medical wastes.' I think the Public Health Association of Australia brought to the minister's and the government's attention the fact that there are other ways of producing radiopharmaceuticals, and the medical procedures obviously do not need to be put at risk by this campaign to prevent the nuclear waste dump getting up. The government has taken, in my view, quite a shameful stance in pretending somehow that kids will get cancer if Dianne Stokes does not get a radioactive waste dump up at Muckaty. It is utterly offensive to put that kind of thing on the people up there.

I have been profoundly moved by taking part in this campaign over the last couple of years, and it is clear that we are just beginning. The dispute over the land tenure itself is still in the Federal Court, but I think the deeper argument about why we continually assume that an Aboriginal community in some remote part of Australia should host this waste is the deeper question, irrespective of the outcome of the vote we are to take here this afternoon and the action in the Federal Court. Why do we always insist that this dump needs to be somewhere remote?

The final words for this stage of this campaign, of course, must go to Dianne Stokes, but I did not want to pass without acknowledging some of the people who have put their heart and soul into this campaign over far, far too many years. Natalie Wasley has effectively put her life on hold and helped run an extraordinary campaign. Dave Sweeney from ACF has been working overtime on this campaign for years and years and is, I think, one of the smartest and cleverest antinuclear campaigners that I have ever come across. I would particularly like to mention Gerry McCarthy in the Northern Territory government, who I think has gone above and beyond in challenging the coercive attitude of his federal colleagues who seem to think that they can just ram this thing through.

The last words, of course, are to Dianne. She says in the introduction to the Manuwangku, Under the Nuclear Cloud booklet: 'This waste dump needs to stop. Martin Ferguson needs to start listening to us. He'd better do that because he doesn't know what's going to happen at the other end. There's a fight waiting and that's my promise. I will always be a strong person to fight against it.' That is the unnecessary fight that this government has picked in a bipartisan consensus with the opposition that proposed it in the first place, and this is the beginning of the campaign to stop Muckaty, not the end.


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