Senate debates

Monday, 21 June 2021


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

6:10 pm

Photo of Ben SmallBen Small (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will pick up where I left off in discussing Australia's impeccable track record with delivering a high level of safety and assurance in the operation of the complexities around nuclear technology. I think it's worth briefly reflecting on the fact that radioactive waste facilities such as are contemplated are located in the farming regions of France, Belgium, the UK, Spain, the United States and Germany. The impact of those sites on local agriculture was considered as part of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee's inquiry into the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. The inquiry found that the international examples provide a strong argument that such a radioactive facility will not undermine agricultural activities or our reputation as a world-leading agricultural exporter of quality. In short, this facility would be subject to strict regulation, meet Australia's already high bar, in terms of licensing and environmental approvals, and be responsive to the concerns of local communities. It is for that reason, after all of these years, that it is finally time to see the Morrison government implement this important reform.

6:11 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

This evening, as we in this place debate the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020, I am reminded of many such debates in this place, some that have resulted in successful legislation and others that have been mired in dispute, in large part because of the failings of government to adequately consult. We know that radioactive waste is stored in a great many places in Australia, which is an undesirable thing. It is stored in more than 100 places, including Australia's hospitals and, of course, at Lucas Heights, the originator of much of the nuclear medicine material.

Our radioactive nuclear waste has built up over 60 years. It's a legacy that has supported the medical treatment of many, many thousands of Australians, including my own family members. It is therefore an important industry, and we need to find a solution for its waste disposal. We know there'll come a time when the storage at Lucas Heights runs out of room. Lucas Heights does have some capacity to keep the waste there, but I've visited Lucas Heights, and it is a fairly constrained site, and ANSTO have made it clear they would rather use that space for other scientific endeavours than see it have ongoing status as a waste facility. The department has claimed that the ANSTO site is going to be completely full by 2030 in any case.

For more than a decade I've participated in debates around this issue where the parliament and the government have yet to find a solution. We know that, if we're going to continue to use nuclear medicine, a dedicated storage facility is necessary. Back in 2012 the Gillard government enacted the National Radioactive Waste Management Act, for the purpose of creating certainty in a process to enable site selection for a waste management facility for this low-level waste.

However, in the hands of this government, that process has been entirely botched, in large part because of their failure to properly consult with First Nations people and traditional owners who've a cultural relationship with the community and lands around Kimba. It's a shame that this government has made such a mess of this process that it's trampled on the rights of First Nations people. In particular I note its attempt previously to get the Labor Party to simply vote for its site selection, to override that community consultation process, because it botched that process. It botched that process explicitly by failing to include and specifically excluding First Nations people from those consultation processes.

It's all very well for local government to have a vote—that's terrific—and for ratepayers to have a vote. But there are a whole range of different cultural values and relationships with that country that should have been taken into account, as was intended by Labor when it enacted that legislation. The original bill that was due to be debated in this place previously proposed a new facility at Napandee, near Kimba, to store low-level waste and to temporarily store intermediate-level waste. I think it's important to note that high-level waste should not be stored there. That is not what the community has voted for. That certainly also has the objection of First Nations traditional owners.

But the thing is, it hasn't taken much, now that this site has been identified, for many of those opposite to start talking about a nuclear energy future for Australia. So we need to be very careful, lest we jeopardise the important mandate for nuclear medicine and the need to consult with community, to consult with First Nations people, to find a site where we can safely store this waste. For those opposite to start mixing things up by talking about their support for nuclear energy and nuclear power is I think an indictment on what has already been a terrible process. It's worth noting that Australia will receive intermediate-level waste in 2022. This is waste that's been created by Australia and has been reprocessed into a form that is safe for storage, and it is due to be stored at Lucas Heights until a dedicated facility is available. As you start to see that intermediate-level waste coming in, you see the looming pressure there on Lucas Heights.

The Senate Economics Committee, through its inquiry, has taken evidence showing that some in the community—a majority of ratepayers—were perhaps supportive of this facility. But that's not the view taken by all of the community, including many farmers and others who have significant concerns about the impact on the region's agricultural production. I note that others have said that the facility will provide economic opportunity in the region. I do note, though, that there's little capacity for traditional owners to participate in deliberation around whether they support or get economic benefit from such a project, when they have been so overtly excluded from that process.

The Bungala Aboriginal Corporation has criticised the process undertaken by this government to assess community attitudes to the facility. They've notably shown quite comprehensively how inadequate those processes have been, including on the grounds that their members were excluded from taking part in a community ballot that was commissioned to assess community sentiment around the site. I think this is an extreme act of negligence and disrespect that this government has committed. It's an act of disrespect that we've seen repeated in other Commonwealth actions, including in the Commonwealth's failure to intervene under the powers that it has for the protection of Juukan Gorge and at the Gunlom site in Kakadu National Park.

We need to see First Nations traditional owners in our nation given a respected place at the table in all of these kinds of projects, so that their traditional connection and culture is held central to our decision-making as a nation. Unless we do that, and until we do that, it's very difficult to see how the search for a nuclear waste facility is going to be successful, because we've seen time and time again that the community division that is created through the failure to uphold community consultation and consent has brought previous processes, rightfully, undone. It was a privilege to talk to traditional owners around Muckaty Station, who through many Senate inquiries raised concerns they had about their country being chosen as the disposal site.

What's telling in this case is that it has brought around an inevitable failure for a successful site to be found. It has also brought incredible upset and discontent for these communities, who have been put through these arduous processes, where they have felt excluded, marginalised and put upon in relation to something that has a profound impact on their country. To my mind, it's why a First Nations voice to parliament, which has been called for in the Uluru Statement, is so important. It would mean that we couldn't debate legislation like this without having a proper intersection of First Nations voices in our deliberation on those issues. It's critical that we have a voice to parliament so that this parliament, and governments, can legislate responsibly and effectively in the interests of First Nations people and, most importantly, in the interests of being able to get important things done on behalf of the whole nation.

We know that last year the government wanted to, in effect, wedge Labor into helping it select their preferred site—in a departure from the legislation that's before us today, in which the Kimba site and two others have been put forward. These could prospectively, with community consultation, also be chosen. We know that the government has agreed to reinstate the ministerial site declaration process in the current act, as was proposed previously by Labor. It remains unclear to me—they wanted to make Labor complicit in overriding the rights of First Nations people in appealing that decision—to have the previous legislation come before the parliament.

Labor firmly believes that an aggrieved party should have access to judicial review. If people feel that the decision to locate the facility in their community—on their country, on their farming land, on their traditional ownership country—was not reached in a proper manner, then they should have the capacity to seek judicial review of those decisions, to see whether they were made properly in the first case.

I note there has been unanimous opposition from traditional owners. It would appear that, if the legislation had already been passed, the outcome would have been to impose this facility on traditional owners who didn't want it on their country. That's why we moved an amendment to that bill that would remove schedule 1 while retaining schedules 2 and 3. With the previous bill, schedule 1 dealt with site specification; schedules 2 and 3 dealt with the community fund and other measures. We're now back in the place where the government has seen sense, but I'm still incredulous that this government would have sought to ask Labor to be complicit in imposing that site on that community. Unfortunately for us, we didn't want to support the overriding of their judicial rights, but we certainly didn't want to see, therefore, a site declaration made that would have seen the community fund go to waste when it should be properly in place to support local community impacts.

It's worth bearing in mind that judicial review of the decision only allows the legality of the decision to be tested, rather than the merits of that decision. In that context, I would note that if the proceedings are unsuccessful there's no guarantee that a site selection would not still go ahead without the accompanying community fund, which was in the previous legislation. The rigmarole that this parliament and, indeed, the local community has had to go through to get to this place is a sad indictment on the environment that this government has fostered when it comes to consultation and the inclusion of First Nations people.

6:26 pm

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

I rise to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. I want to go back a bit in history so that the chamber's aware of how we got to where we are today, because the bottom line is that this bill is a bit of a ruse, a facade. I need to ground that properly in order for people to understand exactly what I'm talking about.

We'll go back to 2012, the bill where we're seeking to establish a national radioactive waste management facility. I might point out that I'm in favour of such a facility. I think we need a facility. We do need to take responsibility for our own radioactive waste. In terms of the safety aspects and the philosophy, I'm not, in any way, a person who's fearful of radioactive material. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person in this place who has spent weeks sleeping within the distance of this chamber of a nuclear reactor on US submarines, when I spent time on them. So it's not as though I'm concerned about that side of the ledger. If I look at the process that we've gone through to select a site, that's where I have some major concerns.

Firstly, the concept behind the whole process is fundamentally flawed. Instead of selecting the best site for a facility in Australia, we kind of had a raffle and said, 'Who wants to have a site in their backyard?' or 'Who wants to have a site on their land?' Of course people put up their hand, but that's not the best way to select the best location. It's like trying to say, 'Let's build a highway, and we'll go out and see who wants to have their house knocked down to have the highway run somewhere.' That's not the way in which you tackle a project. You work out the best route and then you deal with the issues along the way. That's not what we've done in this process. We've just said, 'Anyone who wants to stick up their hand, we'll have a look at your property and see if it fits.' It's not the best way to do it.

I can see Senator Dean Smith across there. He's a Western Australian senator who perhaps supports the facility. I'm guessing here. Places like Leonora in Western Australia could well be a site. There are proponents that are pushing for that. I went to Leonora, Senator Smith. I went there, had a good look at it and spoke to some of the locals, and they said that they were interested. In fact, they nominated, but the nomination was cut off. My point is that what we should have done is look around the country and ask, 'Where is the best site? What are the best characteristics for a site for a radioactive waste management facility?' I've clearly touched a sore point, because Senator Smith rarely interjects across the chamber.

Having picked a bad way to do this, the government then committed to the idea that they would not put a facility at a location unless there was broad community support. Broad community support is what they promised. You know what? When a minister of the crown stands up and says, 'I'm going to put this facility in a place where there is broad community support for it,' people are entitled to expect they can put trust and confidence in what the minister says—that that is the criterion against which a decision would be made. Initially the government did some polling, using a private company, and came up with some numbers. They weren't very happy with the numbers—and at this stage there were a few different sites—so they upped their effort. They started bringing people in and taking people to ANSTO. Interestingly, as they travelled, they brought a bunch of experts to places like Kimba. I concede that the government did spend money to do that, but they didn't bring any contradictors. There were lots of contradictors along the way that wanted to offer a differing opinion, but the government wouldn't assist them in getting there. I might point out that at this time it was Minister Canavan at the helm. Anyone who knows a bit of history about Senator Canavan knows that his first political party was the Marxist party. That's on the record. He was a member of the Marxist party. As much as you find that unbelievable, that is that case.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Smith, a point of order?

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Patrick knows you can't use unparliamentary language in the chamber.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

That's not a point of order. Senator Patrick has the call.

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.

6:41 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the second reading of the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. The issue of a national radioactive waste facility in Australia has a long and fought history. We don't have a national facility for the storage of this waste, which instead is held at more than 100 locations around Australia, many of which were not designed for the long-term storage of waste. The majority of the radioactive waste produced in Australia is classed as low-level waste. We do produce some intermediate-level waste, for example, from the production of nuclear medicines. The use of radioactive materials in this context is of critical importance to Australians. Managing this waste at a single site rather than at many sites across Australia has been an objective of governments of both persuasions. The public policy rationale for this is clear. Despite this, we have been at an impasse for decades, dating back to the 1970s. Understandably, community anxiety about the storage of radioactive waste has not been able to be overcome, resulting in the failure of all attempts to agree on a site for a national facility.

In an effort to break this impasse, in 2012, the Gillard-Labor government enacted the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012. That act provided a transparent legislative process for selecting a site for a national radioactive waste facility. It sought to build community confidence to overcome anxieties about the risks that a national radioactive waste facility might pose to any community. It is unfortunate then that, at every step, this process has been so bungled by the coalition. The deep flaws in this process have been the subject of significant debate here and work by Senate committees. I don't intend to revisit all aspects of it, although Senator Patrick did go to some of those in his contribution. But a brief history demonstrates how we came to find ourselves here today debating this bill that is before the chamber.

In September 2014, the Abbott government released a notice of intention to consider opening a nationwide volunteer process of landowners to dominate a national radioactive waste facility. Between 2 March and 5 May 2015, 28 applications were received. In November 2015 the then minister for resources, Mr Frydenberg, announced the six nominated areas that had been assessed as suitable for a further assessment and public consultation. Two of the three sites now listed in the government's proposed amendment were not contained in that process. But in November 2016 the subsequent minister for resources, Senator Canavan, announced a revision to the radioactive waste management nomination of land guidelines. His revision set out a process allowing landholders to nominate their land as a potential site for the facility. Then in March 2017 Minister Canavan announced the formal receipt of two new nominations near Kimba, Napandee and Lyndhurst, which he accepted to proceed to initial consultation. In June Minister Canavan accepted the nominations of the Kimba sites and announced that the sites were to proceed to the next phase of assessment.

The consultation process undertaken by the government can best be characterised as shambolic. It fomented division within communities, divided between support for the potential economic benefit of hosting a nuclear waste facility and opposition based on the reputational, environmental and cultural heritage risks. But rather than work with communities to inform debate and reconcile differences, the approach adopted by the coalition and, in particular, then Minister Canavan exacerbated these tensions. As the Conservation Council of South Australia noted in a submission to the Senate Economics References Committee:

… confidence in the decision-making process has been eroded by the flawed and divisive consultation, lack of definition and geographic definition of the community and stakeholders …

This is no more evident than in the treatment of traditional owners through this process.

Senator Canavan refused to allow the Barngarla people, the traditional owners, the right to vote at all in the community ballots. The Barngarla challenged this decision in court but were unsuccessful. Despite this, Minister Canavan and now Minister Pitt rely on the Kimba community ballot result to justify their support for locating a facility at Napandee. Because the Barngarla people were denied the right to vote, members of the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation held their own ballot, and it returned a no vote. Of course, the minister has refused to acknowledge the Barngarla community's ballot.

The fact is, for years now the minister has had the power to make a declaration, under section 14 of the 2012 legislation to which I referred, to select a site. For years the minister has refused to do so, instead, bowling out this bill to the parliament—this bill with which the government is seeking to cure its own stuff-up by asking the parliament to do the government's job, by asking the parliament to make the very decision the minister is empowered to make and to remove the capacity for community to challenge that decision in court. So it is important to remember in this debate, this government could have made this decision at any time over the last four years but it has refused to do so.

When this bill was introduced to the parliament, the Barngarla people approached me. I met with their representatives and I heard their concerns. I encouraged the government to engage with them. Yet it has not been, until recent days—at the urging of Labor and, in particular, the shadow minister for resources, Ms King—that the minister has finally engaged. And when the amendment now circulated by the government was first published, the fact that it included a site on the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha people was news to those peoples. There was no consultation, no discussion about the meaning of its inclusion, no explanation about the government's intention. It was this side of the chamber, again—not the government of the day—who reached out to the Adnyamathanha people. So Mr Ramsey and many others who keep publicly supporting this facility perhaps should have concentrated on talking to impacted communities—rather than telling me and other people to get out of the way—hearing them and working with them. It's the approach that should have been taken to this bill and the approach that I have sought to take.

As I said, when this bill was first introduced I was contacted by the Barngarla peoples and their representatives. They made the very reasonable point that the bill as it was overrode their democratic and legal rights. This is against a history of their exclusion in the decision-making process. Labor is a party committed to reconciliation and recognition. We understand the importance of consultation with First Nations peoples and of respecting their views. This matter, this bill and the associated matters, was discussed at Labor's First Nations Caucus Committee, and the position adopted by the caucus reflected the importance of preserving the legal rights of the Barngarla in respect of any decision; hence our prior position, which was to oppose site selection by legislation and oppose the removal of the capacity for judicial review. It also informs our position today.

We do welcome the government introducing amendments, which abandon site selection by legislation and the removal of capacity for judicial review. I note that the minister has agreed to address additional concerns raised by the Barngarla in a further provision to the explanatory memorandum. We have also consulted in the time allowed with the Adnyamathanah people and we look forward to the government clarifying on Hansard its intentions in respect of the site at Wallerberdina. It is on the basis of that clarification that the Adnyamathanah representatives have accepted our support for the amended bill.

I also want to take a moment to briefly respond to the contribution made earlier by Senator Hanson-Young, who came in and ran a line without regard to the content of the bill or the positions expressed by the traditional owners on the question actually before the Senate. Ultimately, the bill before us is not about whether a nuclear waste facility proceeds. The minister already has the power to make that decision and he could do so right now. Labor have listened to traditional owners throughout this process and we have worked with them in securing concessions from the government and in taking Labor's final position, and I encourage all senators to do the same.

I want to acknowledge the significant amount of work by the shadow minister for resources, Ms King, her predecessor, Mr O'Connor, and the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Ms Burney. I also want to thank the members of Labor's First Nations caucus committee. Our party is made so much richer for our commitment to reconciliation, a commitment that we have sought to demonstrate by our approach to this bill—to consult, to discuss and work together—to achieve an outcome.

Labor supports the Uluru Statement. We support 'Voice. Treaty. Truth.' The need for a voice enshrined in our Constitution has never been more clear to me. The whole process is a reminder of how much further we have to go to achieve a more respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. We won't always be able to find agreement but we must try. We must talk, we must listen and we must seek to understand, and only then will we be able to continue on the path to reconciliation.

6:51 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. One Nation will never support the removal of judicial review from legislation. This position means One Nation has and will continue to resist pressure from the government to legislate a site in Kimba in South Australia for radioactive waste management. One Nation will always stand up for the freedoms past generations have passed on to us.

In the next 12 months there will be a general election to elect a new federal government. If Australians act like sheep, voting for the two parties and their sidekicks who want to take away their judicial rights, they are going to get wolves in government. If the two big parties had their way, a radioactive nuclear waste facility would now be under construction on the Eyre Peninsula in the middle of prime cropping land in South Australia. Just four per cent of the land in South Australia is suitable for wheat, barley and canola, but the government wants to use the prime land to build a radioactive waste facility. Up until recently, Labor agreed to the removal of judicial review in relation to site selection for a national radioactive waste storage facility. Now they champion judicial review? I ask: what grubby deal has Labor done with government to get this bill through the Senate? No wonder voters are leaving Labor and turning to One Nation.

Today we are debating the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020, whose purpose is to avoid the need for Minister Pitt to declare a site for a nuclear dump under section 14(2) of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 and consequently to avoid judicial review in the court. One Nation believes the government should be answerable to its citizens through the process of judicial review. It is this principle which underpins our strong stance on the matter. I made it clear to the government that One Nation supported a radioactive waste facility in a suitable permanent site but that we would not support a bill which took away the rights to judicial review.

The government now accepts it does not have the numbers to get the Senate to declare Napandee as a site for a national radioactive waste management facility. Now the government is amending its own bill. The effect of the amendment would be to continue providing community funding and negate the proposal for the Senate to make the site decision. One Nation will oppose the bill and the amendment. We will not take part in face-saving theatre. The government can put up a separate community funding bill once it declares a site and judicial review is complete.

There is no doubt we need to store nuclear waste we produce, but the arguments put up by the government about hospital waste are a red herring. The people of Australia have been let down in this matter. Nearly $100 million has been wasted on buying off special-interest groups when that money should have gone into rural and regional health and education. The Australian public has been subject to a campaign of misinformation by the government aided by poorly researched opinion pieces on the proposed legislation, like the one written by Caleb Bond in the Adelaide Advertiseron 12 December 2020. Caleb Bond accused me of selling South Australia up the creek for refusing to pass the government's bill to legislate a site for a nuclear waste dump just outside of Kimba. My advice to all journalists is to do your own research rather than make up stories based on briefings from the government. If you must use the government as your source, at least acknowledge the source.

I am not responsible for the decision by the government to narrow its site selection in South Australia and to reject other sites which appear to have more going for them, like the site at Leonora at Western Australia's low ground in an old mine of solid granite. This remote location has community support, including the native title holders, but this government refuses to investigate the Leonora site. A radioactive waste storage facility is a target for terrorists. In the event of a terrorist attack, the deadly waste stored in an above-ground facility at Kimba could easily become airborne and then carry to Adelaide and beyond with prevailing westerly winds.

The government has ticked every wrong box to arrive at its decision to impose a national dump site for radioactive waste on unwilling communities in South Australia. The three sites mentioned in the amended bill are all in South Australia. No-one seriously believes that the government is considering any site other than Napandee near Kimba. They have already given this small community upwards of $6 million, with the promise of more. There is no place on the map called Napandee in South Australia, but you can find the name 'Napandee' on a farm sign. The site manager is living in the area and the government is considering tenders for engineering advice for the site of Napandee.

The government knows it will face a challenge in the courts from the Barngarla people, who are the native title holders on the Eyre Peninsula. The Barngarla people carry the hopes of the Indigenous people of South Australia. Aboriginal people in South Australia and other Australians carry the legacy of the nuclear testing done in the 1950s and 1960s in South Australia. If the government want to give Aboriginal people a voice, then they should give them a voice on the site for a radioactive waste management facility. To date the government has sought to silence Aboriginal people on this most important issue, but the day of reckoning will come in the courts. The government talks about reconciliation. In One Nation, we just do it.

No-one has seen a list of the radioactive waste materials to be stored in the national radioactive waste facility, opening the real possibility of mission creep over time. There is no safety case. The minister says it will be safe. How would he know? Nothing is safe where humans are involved. The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 proposes to find a single location to store low-level radioactive waste produced in the production of nuclear medicines and other products and intermediate-level waste reactor core components that have undergone reprocessing overseas.

The level of radioactivity in each of these waste categories at the rate at which they decay determines the management, storage and disposal. In other words, we need to know what will be stored before decisions can be made about where and how to store it. Low-level radioactive waste, like paper, plastics and scrap metal items which have been used in hospitals and research institutions, are kept locally for six months and then disposed of locally, which means no storage problems here. Intermediate-level radioactive waste needs to be stabilised before being moved and then packaged in steel drums and stored in purpose built facilities which are located away from population centres.

The frequency, flow and volume of surface and ground waters is critical to the siting of any nuclear waste storage facility, particularly on the Eyre Peninsula, where all the population relies on groundwater. The government has not released the groundwater studies. Where are they? Is the radioactive waste to be stored permanently underground? No. The legislation proposes a temporary above-ground site at Napandee, near Kimba, with a permanent site to be found later. I will tell you when that will be, when all the members of this parliament are dead. The proposed cost of this above-ground radioactive waste dump site is estimated to cost about a third of a billion dollars, all of which will have been wasted because it's a temporary solution. I am annoyed. The hard decision, which is the permanent dump site, has been kicked down the road like a can instead of being picked up and dealt with.

Is the movement of radioactive waste minimised for public safety by keeping the dump site close to the site of production? No. Large volumes of radioactive waste will be transported hundreds of kilometres by road into South Australia, contrary to section 9 of South Australia's Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000. Has the government resolved the conflict with section 8 of South Australia's Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, which expressly forbids the construction of a nuclear waste facility? No. The federal government proposes that this bill override any state legislation regulating, hindering or preventing the establishment of a national radioactive waste facility in South Australia.

Where is the Marshall government in South Australia on this issue? Its silence is deafening. The next state election in South Australia is on 19 March 2022. Premier Marshall has said nothing and has not repealed South Australia's Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000. I note that the 2021-22 budget provides South Australia with $3.4 billion in new commitments, compared with $2 billion for Queensland and $377 million for Tasmania. Has the federal government bought the Marshall state government? I will let the voters in South Australia work that one out for themselves.

Is the proposed dump site near Kimba a geologically stable area? No. The site at Napandee, near Kimba, is on a geological fault zone in the Great Artesian Basin. Has consultation with South Australia been adequate? No. The consultation process and the millions spent on bribing locals to support their plans is a stain on this government and on the department of industry, innovation and science. I call on the government to invite the Auditor-General to audit the funds spent at Kimba and Hawker in the Flinders Ranges. While they are investigating the millions spent on bribing locals, they can investigate how taxpayers' money was spent renovating a local hotel which was then sold. It is such a tragedy, when 18 per cent of children live in households below the poverty line in rural and regional South Australia.

One Nation will not support this legislation. Heads should roll in the department of industry, innovation and science, which has a sorry record on this matter. We need to find a permanent solution to the storage of intermediate-level radioactive waste in Australia, but the process needs to be thoroughly done, and giving another $2 million to the small community of Kimba is not going to get there. The conduct of the government and, in particular, National Party ministers—that is, Minister Pitt and the former resources minister, Senator Canavan—in this matter is a national tragedy.

7:04 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The siting of a radioactive waste storage facility is a tough decision for our nation. It is one that has been under consideration for many decades—indeed, for about 40 years. Before I go through some of the history of that 40 years, I want to take the opportunity to thank the many people in Kimba and Hawker, and the Hawker region, who have been involved in this latest consultation process. It was my great privilege and honour, as the minister for resources, to meet so many of these great people, some of whom were for and some against the radioactive waste facility in their region. But both of those regions are special parts of our nation. The Hawker region is proximate to the beautiful Flinders Ranges, and I am thankful for the hospitality that was shown to me by the people of that region. Indeed, I paid for some of my children to come down onto Aboriginal country at the time to experience their culture and we stayed near the Flinders Ranges with the Adnyamathanha people at the campsite that they run. It's a great community, a great part of our nation. I hope they're doing well with all the domestic tourism that's going around at the moment.

I also love the town of Kimba, a beautiful town in rural South Australia. It is a lovely community, full of great people—again, people who support it and people who are against it. I've always understood why people would not be rushing out to support a radioactive waste facility in their town. It is a tough decision that, as I said, we as a nation have to make. I want to thank the mayor of Kimba, Dean Johnson. I spent a lot of time with Dean, and the landowners, the Baldocks—Jeff Baldock. I forgot to thank, from Hawker, Tiger McKenzie, a great fellow out there, a proud Adnyamathanha man who runs his own property with his people, and also Vince Coulthard, who was the CEO of Adnyamathanha at the time—I think he might still be, but I'm not as close to it as I once was. I want to thank others from Kimba, like Tony Scott, and Marie, from the local hotel, who put me up in a beautiful room for one night. Thank you, Marie. She runs a great pub there at Kimba, if you're ever passing through.

So, I just want to thank them, because I know how hard it has been for those communities to go through such a lengthy process. They haven't been there for the whole 40 years, but this latest process to short-list sites and go through a grassroots process to find a facility for our nation has taken many years, unfortunately. It did get held up in the courts—and it's the right of people to take court action—and of course it's taken a little while to get this bill here to this position. In that regard, I want to thank the Labor Party for, I believe, their cooperation here, and also congratulate the minister for resources, Keith Pitt, on bringing this forward. It's a very tough issue. If it was easy, it would have been solved at some point in that past 40 years. I want to recognise some of the previous ministers who have been involved in this process and put a lot of effort into it, many from the Labor side of politics, like Senator Kim Carr and former members Martin Ferguson and Gary Gray. I know all of them are very passionate about this issue, and I thank them for their long commitment and involvement. On our side, also, I want to thank Ian Macfarlane and Josh Frydenberg, who played a role in getting it to this stage. As I said, it is a tough decision. But it is one that we must make at some point.

We should be proud of the fact that we produce some of the best nuclear medicines in the world. We have a world-class nuclear medicine facility at Lucas Heights, just 30 kilometres from the middle of Sydney. It is respected around the world. It puts us in the upper echelons of nuclear research and technology around the world and in nuclear regulation as well, because it is a reactor. There is a nuclear reactor 30 kilometres from the middle of Sydney. It doesn't produce electricity, and it's a relatively small reactor, from memory—about 30 megawatts. But it produces lifesaving medicines that one in two Australians will need at some time in their lifetime. Think of the 76 senators here in this chamber, and add on a few of our dedicated staff and you'd maybe get to 100-odd people sometimes in this chamber; 50 of them will at some time in their lives need nuclear medicines, most of which, in this country, will have produced at Lucas Heights.

We should take pride in that. I'm sure all of us in that situation or with loved ones in that situation would want to have access to such medicines. But we also, if we want to have access to the good things, have to be adult about it and face up to the tough things that are produced as part of that process. As part of that process of producing those nuclear medicines, there is nuclear waste. There's both nuclear waste produced in the nuclear reactor reaction process itself, in the nuclear rods, and nuclear waste associated with the management of the nuclear medicines and distribution and application of those medicines, in things like medical gowns and equipment.

As I said, we've been searching for a place for around 40 years. I asked someone in the department once, 'When did we start doing this?' They mentioned that they'd asked someone once who they thought had been around at the time. It was in the Fraser administration that we started looking at this. It was that long ago, and we as a nation still haven't found a solution to this tough question. Right now, what's happening is that nuclear waste that's generated for this necessary, life-saving process, is almost all stored at Lucas Heights itself, 30 kilometres from the middle of Sydney. There's nothing wrong with that. It's perfectly safe there and has been managed safely for decades. But the site itself is small and we are running out of room at Lucas Heights to store it all—hence the need to find a long-term place to store low-level and potentially mid-level waste for our nation.

I heard Senator Hanson say that somehow the consultation had been inadequate. I'm not here to defend everything the government did—others will make their judgements about this—but there perhaps has not been a more extensive consultation process. Whether it's been effective or not I'll let others judge, but it has been as extensive as you can get in talking to people and trying to find a grassroots solution. At the start of this, before my time as minister, there were applications from different places around Australia. We called for applications. The government didn't go along and say, 'We're going to look at you, you and you.' We asked people to nominate their own land. A process was then gone through to look at whether there was initial support. Then the region of Hawker and Quorn was consulted as well and the Kimba council area was selected. A proper, intensive vote happened. Everybody in that area got a vote, according to the local government rolls. It was a democratic process.

We went through an intensive information campaign to provide people with the information they needed to make an informed decision. I believe I as minister travelled to Kimba and Hawker three times as part of that process to answer people's questions and concerns and to provide the experts there to help people make an informed decision about this. There was a lot of feedback and a lot of views on both sides. I want to stress here, as I said at the start, that I recognise and accept all different views on this matter. I always understood why people would have a certain view. There is not going to be a place that exists in this country where we would get 100 per cent, 90 per cent or 80 per cent support for a facility of this kind. That would not happen. I think some of those here who are holding out to perhaps seek such a nirvana or utopia either really don't want to find a solution to this because they, for some reason, oppose the nuclear industry, even though I'm sure they'd like to use nuclear medicines, or are seeking to use the understandable division in the community for their own political purposes.

What I was humbled by, though, was hearing all of those views. It was tough for those communities. It took a lot of time for them. I put aside almost a full week, I think, early last year to read through the hundreds of submissions we received. Alongside the vote, we called for submissions. I sat down and read each of the bespoke submissions individually. There were of course some campaign based letters and emails. I read examples of each of those. Yes, it was an eye-opening experience to read all of that individual feedback. As I said, there were people concerned, as Senator Hanson said earlier, about the hydrology, the geology and the safety of the materials. I completely recognise that. We went through a very extensive design process around stormwater, hydrology issues and geological testing. I can say I'm confident that this would be a safe facility based on world-best standards. It would have to go through the world-class regulatory process that we have here in this country, which already does regulate Lucas Heights.

What particularly struck me were the letters from young people in these regions, in Kimba and Hawker, especially those young people who saw this as an opportunity for them. These towns are only small. There are only a few hundred people in either location. They are vibrant communities centred around agriculture, primarily. But, outside of that industry, there are not an enormous number of job opportunities. I know what that feels like, coming from a regional town, albeit the larger regional town of Yeppoon. So many of our young people have to move away from their home just to find work because there's not the diversity of work opportunities in a regional town as there always is in a big city.

That's always going to be the case. We always face that handicap. But where there can be an opportunity to grow new skills, new industry, that is quite attractive to people in these circumstances. Some people want to stay in their home community. They don't want to move away, but they also need to have a job and need to be able to pay the bills. This facility would make a difference for some. It's not going to be a panacea. It's not going to help everybody. But, for some, it would help give them an opportunity that doesn't currently exist in these towns. Most importantly of all, it would help connect these small country towns—great places but small places—with the world-class nuclear industry that we have here in this country.

There are towns the size of Kimba and Hawker right around the country. But very few of them—none of them, I would say—would be able to have a direct connection to a world-class scientific establishment like the Lucas Heights nuclear facility. It is a world-class facility. I think what did seem to convince some people, if I could posit this, was travelling to Lucas Heights. We offered to have all the leaders of community consultation groups we'd established travel to Lucas Heights to see the waste that's currently stored. We offered opponents of the facility that access. A lot of people who went there were struck by it and said, 'This is a serious scientific establishment. Our small town of a few hundred people is not going to get a nuclear reactor or a medical facility, but, if we had this waste facility, our kids would get school trips,' as we're going to do. We'll make sure there are connected school trips to Lucas Heights. Some kid from Kimba might get interested in nuclear medicine and go on to a stellar career through that, or they might come back and help manage this waste at this facility. I think the projections were that there would be about 15 to 20 skilled positions at this facility, which would need training, and that would help people. That, to me, was probably a reason behind the fact that, at Kimba, more than 60 per cent of people supported the waste facility. I recognise there were opponents. I particularly recognise the position of the Barngarla people, who I met with and wanted to meet with more. But we also cannot ignore those 60-odd per cent of Kimba people who do want an opportunity for their children. We need to find a way of balancing these views and positions in making these tough decisions as a nation.

I hope that, through this process, we do not walk away from this tough decision. There have been a lot of other sites proposed around the country that have fallen through at the last minute, kicking this can down the road for future generations of Australians to deal with. We all benefit from nuclear medicines today. We should not be kicking the responsibility of managing this waste to future Australians. We should be able to take charge of this issue, find a solution, work with the communities involved and make this as much as possible a win-win for our nation.

7:19 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 is worthy of the Senate's support. I commend Senator Canavan on an excellent speech outlining all the issues. The issue of a waste management facility and its placement is something that the community does need to be consulted about, and it's appropriate that we, in this place, talk about it and talk about the consequences. But one thing that the community has never been consulted about is the 100 facilities dotted around our country today, as we speak, where radioactive waste is actually stored—under hospitals, in industrial sites et cetera. Doesn't it make good sense to try to bring all that together in one national facility, to ensure that it is all properly looked after, cared for and protected in a manner that can ensure community confidence in its storage?

Regrettably, some people seek to get political mileage out of the fact that there is understandable concern whenever the term 'nuclear' is mentioned. The simple fact is that 50 per cent of us will one day be the beneficiaries of some form of nuclear medicine. For those who want to ensure that Australia has no nuclear waste to deal with, be upfront: tell your fellow Australians that the cancer sufferers and others should not be the beneficiaries of nuclear medicine. That is always dismissed from the debate. If you want lifesaving nuclear medicine, there are consequences. There will be nuclear waste. That is why there are these storage facilities in hospitals dotted all around our nation. Is that a good thing? Would it be better for it all to be stored in the one facility? Of course it would be. Common sense dictates that that ought to be the case, and I think most Australians looking at this situation would commend the government for making a tough decision.

For a couple of decades now, this issue has been kicked around on the political agenda. People have asked: 'What about here? What about there?' We are now finally focusing on the possibilities of a facility, with a $20 million community fund to assist in all this. I simply say to colleagues in this chamber that politics really has to be set aside and the wellbeing of the nation has to be considered. The question is very simple: will you tell your constituents, 50 per cent of whom will be the beneficiaries of nuclear medicine, that you are against nuclear medicine? I'm sure they won't do that. If you don't have the intestinal fortitude and the intellectual coherence to tell your constituents that, then you must accept that the nation has to deal with nuclear waste. The question then is how best to deal with it. Should it be scattered around the nation in 44-gallon drums, under hospitals and in other places, or should it all be gathered together and held in one purpose-built facility? We all know the answer to that. That is why I would encourage the Senate to consider this legislation in that light. Let's get on with the task of ensuring that we can deliver world-class facilities that will ensure the good and proper storage of these waste materials, 85 per cent of which actually come from the medical sector. I commend the bill.

7:24 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

As Senator Abetz has just articulately outlined, in their lifetime, every Australian is likely to rely on nuclear medicine to identify and treat life-threatening cancers and other conditions. Australia has a responsibility to safely and securely manage our radioactive waste, which is the by-product of nuclear medicine manufacturing and other nuclear research in the national interest.

This bill reflects over 40 years of effort by successive governments and successive ministers—such as Senator Carr on the other side and Senator Canavan, who just made a contribution, and now, in the other place, the member for Hinkler, Mr Pitt—to progress the facility and guarantee the production of nuclear medicine in this country. I would like to thank the communities around Lyndhurst, Napandee and Wallerberdina for engaging in this lengthy process in good faith. I'd also like to thank the member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, for his ongoing commitment to this project, and acknowledge the South Australian government's support for this important infrastructure which is in the national interest.

Government has invited parliamentary oversight of this bill. Minister Pitt referred the bill to the Economics Legislation Committee to ensure stakeholders had the opportunity to have their say about the delivery of this vital piece of national infrastructure. The committee report recommended that the bill be passed without amendment. Consistent with other recommendations made by the committee, the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency continues to reach out to the Barngarla people to seek their support to engage with an independent mediator. The government remains committed to working with the Barngarla people to appropriately manage Aboriginal cultural heritage and to support Aboriginal economic development in the region.

Senator Patrick's proposed amendments are unsuitable. It would not be sensible to permanently site a facility in a missile-testing range. The government accepts the advice of Defence that a radioactive waste facility is not compatible with those operations. Additionally, these amendments would impose a site on a community that has not been subject to thorough community consultation or extensive technical assessments.

In the course of the inquiry and legislative debate, it has been clear that stakeholders are uncomfortable about the site selection decision being one made by the parliament. The government has heard these concerns and consulted with the opposition and the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation on these amendments that will reinstate judicial review to the site decision. The amendments recognise the three short-listed sites and reinstate a declaration process, a process whereby the minister must have regard for all the relevant information and make an informed decision to declare a suitable site for the facility. This is no longer site-specific legislation.

The level of community support will weigh into the minister's consideration when determining where to declare a site for a facility. Listing the Wallerberdina Station site recognises the short-listing stage of the site selection process only. It is not—and I reinforce it is not—intended to signal a change in the government's assessment of that site. The community that live and work in the vicinity of Wallerberdina Station have made it clear that they do not broadly support the facility being located there. The government's position is clear: the facility will not be imposed on an unwilling local community.

In passing this bill, the Senate has the opportunity to establish important mechanisms to support the host community and ensure they can realise the benefits that this new industry will bring. The Senate also has the opportunity to recognise the bipartisan support for a purpose-built facility which will permanently dispose of Australia's domestic low-level waste and temporarily store our intermediate-level waste.

In concluding, I thank all of the senators who have made a contribution to this bill, whether it be through the very extensive committee process, the bipartisan support that this received in the recommendations from that committee report or the contributions that have been made by senators in this place as we have started to debate this bill tonight. I thank them very much for their contribution to this debate and I commend the bill to the Senate.

I table two supplementary explanatory memoranda relating to the government's amendments to be moved to the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that this bill be read a second time.