Senate debates

Monday, 21 June 2021


National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

6:26 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I invite you to google the words 'Canavan' and 'Marxist'. You'll see the history. In his community consultation, he took a Stalinist approach, with the Soviet free-thought feel being, 'Please don't think your government will do that for you and then tell you what you need to know,' in accordance with the doctrine. That's the sort of approach he took with the community at Kimba.

Eventually we got to the point where we had a vote. In the lead-up to the vote, it wasn't unreasonable that we might ask, 'What does broad community support mean? What's the definition?' To find the answer to that, on 22 March 2017, in this chamber, former Senator Xenophon asked Senator Canavan, 'What's the criteria?' The then Minister Canavan said:

We had taken forward a proposal from the Hawker region—Senator Xenophon might be aware of that—where support was at 65 per cent. We have not put a definitive figure on broader community support, for the reason that it is not just about the overall figure; we would need a figure in the range of the support we received in Hawker.

So he laid down 65 per cent. But we needed to consider other factors, like the direct neighbours—and I note the definition of 'direct neighbour' changed over the period of the process—and we also needed to get the Indigenous people onboard, the Barngarla people. Again, in a Stalinist approach, Comrade Canavan stole from Stalin's playbook. There's that saying: it's not the people who vote that count, it's the people who count the vote. We ended up with a situation where only after the vote came in did the minister say what broad community support was. We did get to 62 per cent. The government spent a lot of money getting the community to 62 per cent. But, along the way, they still didn't deal with the neighbours, and they still didn't deal with the Barngarla people. I might point out that, even in terms of the people that were allowed to vote, there were a number of people who were quite close to the facility who were unable to express their view in the vote because they lived outside the council area—the voting area—so they were excluded. Lots of people were excluded from the vote. We ended up with a completely flawed process.

We got to the point where, eventually, we down-selected away from Hawker. I'm very disturbed now that we're going to upset the community if this bill passes, and we reintroduce the idea that Hawker might be involved. That community has been through enough. We already know that the community in Kimba is split on this. It has caused irreparable division between people who used to be mates and friends, people who used to go and play football with each other and cheer for each other's kids. Now people in Kimba don't shop in certain shops, because of the division created. I note this bill tries to reinstate division in the Hawker community, and that's not acceptable.

We got to the point where the government decided to make a recommendation. They didn't make a decision under the act. Under the current legislation, the minister was empowered to make a decision, but he didn't. Why didn't he do that? It's because the AGS has clearly given the government advice that if they go down that pathway, there will be a judicial review and there's a reasonable chance that their process will get chucked out by a judge who looks at it closely. That's likely what's going to happen. What did the government do? They said, 'Senate, please fix-up our botched process by passing a law that nominates the site, because the courts can't overturn that.' That's the process we were looking at when this bill first lobbed itself on to the floor of the Senate.

We've done an inquiry. We've looked into this. I thank the Labor Party, who have done a good job in identifying a pretty key issue here. That issue is that the bill sought to oust any ability to conduct a judicial review. At the inquiry into this, I asked one of the officials, Ms Samantha Chard if she was thinking about this, what the conversations were and whether she was talking about judicial rule in the lead-up to this bill being tabled. She couldn't recall doing that. Yet, when I FOIed her two or three days later, there were 500 and something documents in her possession that talked about judicial review. That was deceiving the committee; I used much stronger words in the dissenting report. You have an official who denies that this bill is about judicial review. A few days later, when faced with an FOI request, it came back saying, 'There are too many documents that mention that. We're going to have to refuse your FOI.' That's the status. So we had a deception by the government who were trying to hide the fact that that the intent was to hide judicial review, and, shamefully, it was supported by officials. People who, shamefully, lied to a Senate committee in order to cover-up what the minister was really trying to do. That's what we got to.

We got to a point where the Senate stood up and said, 'We are not going to fix your botched error, Senator Canavan. We are not going to do that for the Liberal government.' What have they done now? They've tried to smooth us over a bit by saying, 'Okay, we're not going to get the parliament to select the site, but we're going to bring some other players back into the game. We're going to bring back Lyndhurst in Kimba'—which will cause the same problem of putting a radioactive waste management facility on prime agricultural land—'or we're going to reintroduce Hawker as an option.' Again, the community in Hawker have had their say. They don't want the facility.

We've heard in this debate issues of heritage sites, sacred sites. I say that because I've been there. I've driven out into the bush and had a look at these sites. I've been taken out there by the Indigenous communities and proudly shown their heritage. That's what we are going to do with this bill. We're going to introduce and bring back into the picture a few more options. I'll talk about this in the committee stage, but I will foreshadow that one of the options I'm going to propose is Woomera. If we'd started out with the view, 'Where's the best place to put a facility?' instead of saying, 'Who wants to volunteer some land?' Woomera may well have been one of the places. In fact, it was examined in great detail under a former Liberal government as a reasonable place to put a facility. But, again, there's Leonora in Western Australia. I understand. I travelled there and talked to Indigenous people and the community, and they wanted the facility. It got knocked out. In fact, it wasn't allowed into this process. I thank the Labor Party for recognising that.

Senator McAllister did a fantastic job drawing out in the committee stage that this bill, as it originally entered the Senate, was about ousting the jurisdiction of a court to deal with a botched process. This bill now, as a ruse, says that it's about maybe three sites, again, when we know the government is going to select Napandee. That's what's going to happen as a result of this. Don't pretend for a moment, don't try and deceive the Australian public that this bill is anything other than a way to walk away from the failure of the process, the failure of the bill as it originally came into the Senate, to try and smooth over what has been a totally botched process.


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