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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 755

Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (12:30): I know Senator Di Natale has a question before the minister, which I am sure he will answer in a moment. I appreciate the fact, Senator, that you have lived and worked in Tennant Creek and I certainly welcome the fact that you do come into this chamber with knowledge of that community and of the Northern Territory. That is a very welcome contribution here.

I want people in this chamber to understand clearly that we have two things happening. The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill before us is a vast improvement on the legislation that was put through this parliament under the coalition government. That is because it will take off the list the three defence sites that had been previously nominated. I urge, and have urged, this parliament to consider this legislation. One of those sites in Katherine borders Barry Utley's pastoral property—his wife Val unfortunately passed away during the 2007 election campaign—and he needs that list amended. He needs to be assured that this site will not be built anywhere near the defence site at Fishers Ridge in Katherine. We must give this man some ability to move on with his life. That defence site was posted on a list somewhere years ago. I am urging the Senate to start looking at that.

In the legislation there is the capacity for the minister to do just what you want, Senator Di Natale—that is, to consult with the communities concerned. This legislation will enable the minister, the department and ANSTO to get out into the community to start talking and educating people about what this facility is about. They need this legislation in order give them the ability to speak authoritatively. Plenty of people have spoken to people in that community about what the waste dump or the facility means—whatever we want to call it these days—but we need this legislation to provide the officials from ANSTO and ARPANSA with some authority to go into those communities to talk about what exactly is going to be stored and how it is going to be stored.

Alongside this, we have a group of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory who, through the Northern Land Council, have volunteered to have this facility built on their land. Am I happy about that? As a Territorian, probably not. This facility must be built somewhere and we have had Indigenous people put their hands up to say, 'Well, we'll host it on our land.' Senator Di Natale is trying to say that this chamber should decide whether or not that was the right decision. It is not for this chamber to do that. I understand that the position of the Greens is probably that they do not want this facility built anywhere in this country and they would like to delay this legislation as long as possible. But this chamber has to respect the fact that we do have Indigenous people who have volunteered their land—Senator Di Natale talked about Milwayi, the Karakara people and the people of Tennant Creek—the community of Tennant Creek is not happy about this—and that this is now being tested in a court of law and the minister has said he will respect the outcomes of that court case. This legislation can still go through this parliament while that court case is proceeding. The outcome of the court case will depend on which section of this legislation is triggered and put into action first.

I think you are suggesting that we do not want to respect the right of Indigenous people to offer their land up. That is exactly what has happened here. Indigenous people volunteer their land all the time—to have railway tracks go through it, to have roads go through it, to have gas pipelines go through it, to have uranium or bauxite or iron ore mines on their land at each and every stage. Sometimes those decisions are not popular, but if it is a decision that those Indigenous people and those traditional owners have made, we have always in this country respected their right to do that. In fact, we have legislation in the Northern Territory—that is, the Northern Territory land rights act—whereby we fund and auspice the four Northern Territory land councils to facilitate that process. If that process is challenged, as it was in the case of the Kenbi land claim, it goes to court. There are winners and there are losers. The Greens have to accept that in this case there may well be an outcome for the Northern Land Council and the people who have volunteered their land in this court case.

It may well be the outcome that the challenge to their decision and their right to nominate this land is not successful. And then what do we do? Do we then consider legislation? The minister has set up this legislation so that at least three defence sites are taken off the list. There is a process here to determine how the site will be dealt with and managed. You talk about it being in an earthquake zone. I see no evidence of that. In fact, I see it is outside the sphere of tremor activity. Nevertheless, I am not an expert in that and I suspect that neither are you or anyone else in the Greens.

This site, if it proceeds, will be subject, I would imagine, to a very rigorous environmental protection assessment. I do not think for one minute that ANSTO or ARPANSA would agree to regulate a facility if they were not absolutely convinced that it would last for many hundreds of years. I have faith in those scientists and in those organisations.

I think what is happening here today is that people are frustrated that Indigenous people have actually nominated their land and their site, so those people are going to do everything they can to try and delay and frustrate the process. But at the same time we have legislation to move this debate forward. If the court case is not successful, this legislation at least provides this government with a range of other options and with a means of moving forward. It also provides this government and the officials concerned in ARPANSA, ANSTO and the department with legislative protection and the means to get into the community and consult.

I have been in the Territory as you have, and there are all sorts of stories about what may or may not happen as a result of this facility being built. Similarly, I heard all sorts of stories about what might or might not happen when bauxite was mined on the Gove Peninsula. We hear all those kinds of rumours. Sometimes they come to fruition; sometimes there is damage to the environment; and sometimes we have to wait and see and have faith in the processes that are in place.

I understand the frustration about what is happening, but there are two processes running side by side. Our job today is to make sure that we get through this parliament a good legislative base to move forward with where we are going to put the radioactive waste we have generated in this country. The preferred option is at Muckaty. Why is that? It is not because this government went into the Northern Territory and fingered the people at Muckaty. This government said that they would abide by the nomination of that land, which was given through the Northern Land Council many years ago—before we got into government. We have also now said on the public record that the nomination is being challenged and that as a government we will wait until the outcome of the court case. I think that is a very fair and reasonable position to take.

In the meantime, we need to get this legislation through. There is a person in Katherine who is waiting to deal with his property, and he is hamstrung because it is beside a defence site that has been named as a possible place for this facility. Under this legislation, the list is gone; that is a good thing. We know that under this legislation there is a judicial review of the minister's decision. We know that under this legislation the minister can send a team in to consult with and educate people about what waste would be stored and how it would be stored. I think they are three very good reasons to move the debate in this country forward and to start to deal with this.