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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 2611

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (13:08): I rise to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. I commend Senator Siewert for her remarks a moment ago about the very real impacts on Indigenous communities when governments decide to impose things that would be unacceptable in other places in Australia. I particularly note the need for free, prior and informed consent. Everybody understands that a community's consent or otherwise is fundamental when it comes to assessing a community's response to a particular project, and in this case it is 'otherwise'. The community involved has not been properly consulted.

And why not? Why are we standing in this parliament talking about a national radioactive waste management bill? It is simply because the Australian government want to continue to mine uranium, expand uranium mining throughout the country and send that uranium to be converted into, they say, nuclear energy. We say it could be converted into nuclear energy but it could equally be sent off to displace other uranium into nuclear weapons regimes around the world. We are doing this because the government wants to dig more uranium out of the ground and have a nuclear waste dump in Australia. This begs the question: ought we not be leaving that uranium in the ground in the first place?

I note that, during the debate in the House, a large number of speakers used the bill to talk about nuclear energy and promote nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. The whole reason being put forward for why you would take away Indigenous people's rights, trample on the notion of free, prior and informed consent and take away from Indigenous people their real connection to the land by contaminating it in this way is that you want to promote nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. Since when has that been a solution to climate change? As Ian Lowe says:

If nuclear power is the answer, it must have been a pretty stupid question!

I note that Mr Macfarlane from the coalition took great pleasure in the other place in congratulating the Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, on declaring himself a supporter of nuclear energy. Mr Macfarlane congratulated Minister Ferguson on his foresight, vision and understanding, so to speak. Large chunks of that speech were an endorsement of Minister Ferguson and free advertising for the nuclear industry. The House also heard from a Tasmanian member, the member for Lyons; Dick Adams spoke at length about nuclear power—as did the member for Kooyong and others. They all spruiked nuclear power as the pretext for having to impose on Indigenous communities a nuclear waste dump that they do not want and to which they did not consent. Suddenly, Australia is doing the world a favour by promoting nuclear power.

Nuclear power is not a solution to climate change. Global warming is a very real problem. It is an urgent problem. We have to address it in the next 10 years. Rarely—in fact, never, I would purport, in the history of humankind have we had one group of people living at one period of time that will determine the fate of all future generations to come, including our fellow species on this planet. That is a pretty awesome responsibility that we who live now have. Within the next 10 years, we have to make sure that global emissions peak and then start to come down or we will have no hope of constraining global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels—and, even then, we give ourselves only a 50 per cent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said only last week in Bonn that 'two degrees was not enough'; it is too big a risk and we need to bring emissions down by 1.5 degrees—that is, we have to start talking about stabilising emissions at 350 parts per million. This is a really radical shift in the thinking about urgency, engagement on levels of emissions and what we have to do. We need the technologies we have right now. We have renewable energy technologies that we can implement right now. Nuclear energy will be too slow. Even if you got rid of the danger associated with nuclear waste, even if you put aside the issue of nuclear proliferation, it will be too slow to address the climate crisis within the time frame we have. That is a fact.

In addition, there has been all this talk about how safe nuclear energy is. Well, we just saw how safe nuclear energy was with the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Since that time, the German government has decided to phase out nuclear power by 2022 and the Swiss government to phase out nuclear power permanently by 2034. Japan has abandoned plans for nuclear to provide half its energy and has scrapped 14 planned new reactors. The Chinese State Council put an embargo on approval of new reactors. Venezuela has called off plans to build a reactor despite a 2010 deal with Russia to do so. The European Union countries decided to conduct stress tests on all 143 reactors in Europe, announced on 23 March, after an emergency meeting of the European Council of Ministers on Energy. Italy has decided on a one-year moratorium on its plans to revive nuclear power. The President of the Philippines has rejected the use of nuclear power due to safety concerns, and Israel's Prime Minister stated on 17 March that Israel was now unlikely to pursue civil nuclear energy.

A 10 May 2011 New York Times article reported poor market conditions for nuclear, saying:

Even supporters of the technology doubt that new projects will surface any time soon to replace those that have been all but abandoned.

Even before the Fukushima disaster, the world's nuclear industry was in clear decline, according to a new report from the World­watch Institute. That report, commissioned months before the Fukushima tragedy, painted a bleak picture of an ageing industry unable to keep pace with its renewable energy competitors—an ageing industry, a past technology, too slow, too dangerous and too expensive.

Now let me go to 'too expensive'. Why is it that the nuclear industry always has to come running to the government to get covered for insurance and for support and for the government to be the guarantor? No private sector company goes in for this with governments running along behind saying, 'We will stand by this industry. We will meet your insurance liability, because otherwise we know you will not invest'—corporate welfare for the nuclear industry; otherwise, they do not invest. And that is the catch here. Every time you hear someone standing up, spruiking for nuclear power and for how safe these nuclear waste dumps are, why is it that they so desperately need governments to intervene to skew the pitch for them? Why is it that they have had to come to the government and say, 'We need you to override environmental protection legislation; we need you to override the rights of Australia's Indigenous people, because otherwise we will not get our proposal up'? What does that tell you? Nuclear is too slow, too expensive, too dangerous, is not supported by the community, alternatives are available, but let us go to the government cap in hand and ask for the government's support.

And while I am on the subject of government, one of the most despicable things about this legislation is the absolute hypocrisy of the Labor government. When the coalition put up Muckaty Station, when they came out and said that that was going to be the nuclear waste dump, the Labor Party said: 'That is shocking! The people have not been consulted. Indigenous people have not been appropriately consulted. There has not been the prior informed consent.' Out they all came with it. Then the minute they get into government, yes, they take on the Welcome to Country, and we were delighted to see that when Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister in 2007, and Australia's Indigenous people had a right to hope at that point that things might be different. Now they have learned that nothing is different, that when the mining industry speaks both the Liberal and the Labor parties jump. When the uranium industry wants to be given the green light, then it does not matter to either the Labor Party or the coalition that Indigenous rights are trampled along the way. That is what is going on here. The very same people who only a few years ago were saying that this was an absolute travesty of social justice are standing up now, whimpering away in the background about how they are not really doing this, they are just cutting and pasting John Howard's legislation, are putting it into new legislation and giving the minister the power to determine that Muckaty will be the site. That is what is going on here.

This is a disgrace from the government and I hope that Australia's Indigenous people watching this happen will take it up to the government very strongly. They have been shockingly misled. When are the photo opportunities going to stop and when is real policy, genuine engagement, genuine consultation going to start? That is what needs to happen here. Everybody in this parliament knows at this moment that the people who have a connection, a real connection, to the land have not been consulted and do not want this waste dump imposed upon them. I would like everyone speaking on this debate to stand up and say why that should be overridden and why those Indigenous rights should be overridden. What is going on in this country? We do not need to be mining more uranium, we do not need nuclear power, we do not need nuclear waste dumps imposed on Indigenous communities. It is a matter of social justice. We have been hearing a lot lately about how the Labor Party has to get back in touch with one of its fundamentals, which is social justice. Well, let us have a bit of justice for Indigenous people in Australia. Let us have that justice when it comes to this particular issue.

I joined my colleagues when this matter first came on the agenda some years ago. We went up to one of the areas which was then proposed to be the nuclear waste dump, Mount Everard, one of several of the proposed sites. We had a look at that area and met with and spoke to families in that community. What was overwhelming when you sat down and listened to Indigenous people talking about their land and their connection to land was that they could describe every aspect of the land and they could talk about, and did talk about their spiritual connection to the land.

You go in there and bulldoze a hole in that land and put toxic waste into that land: what does that do to the spiritual connection to that land? What does that do to the sense of identity of those Indigenous communities? I was absolutely persuaded, listening to people talking about their land, of just what a disaster a toxic waste dump would be. Quite apart from the environmental issues concerned, the damage it would do to the cultural identification of Indigenous people with their land would be disastrous. That is precisely what is going on here with this legislation being imposed on people in the area of Muckaty Station. This is being done, but the worst aspect in all of this is that it has gone on for years and years. They have been dragged through this time and time again and given false hope by the government that it would not be the case and then been betrayed by that very same government. The coalition has always been prepared to impose this on Indigenous people. The government pretended they would do something other than this and now they have turned their back on those people and betrayed them. Is it any wonder that Indigenous people around Australia are losing faith in any of these processes? When push comes to shove it is always Indigenous communities who lose—they lose their rights, they lose their connection to country, they lose their connection to culture and they lose their languages—because governments consis­tently take away the support that they have. Most recently, in my own portfolio area of climate change, remote renewables were to be rolled out for Indigenous communities but that was scrapped by the government as well.

I want to say very sincerely that this legislation is a travesty of social justice in Australia. It is a betrayal of Indigenous people. It is a betrayal of the hope that Indig­enous communities had that things might and could be different. We are not going to get genuine reconciliation with Indigenous people as long as we continue as a parliament to treat them with the level of disrespect that this bill implies. And it is not just disrespect; this bill means that they could end up with a toxic waste dump on their land when they do not want it there. They were not asked about it and they reject it. They will have to either live with it or leave. What sort of prospect is that? We would not be doing this to any other group of people around Australia, as my colleague Senator Siewert said. I am not hearing the government propose this for the downtown area of any city around the country. The notion that it is empty out there harks back to the complete disrespect that came with the terra nullius conceptual framework of what was out there in Australia.

We have Indigenous people in this country. We have not as a nation given them the respect and support that they deserve. We are trying to do better, but this legislation is demonstrating the practical reality that, when mining interests and the interests of those who want to expand nuclear power around the world get in the way, governments prefer to listen to the bosses of those industries than listen to people who have a genuine connection to the land. The Labor Party ought to hang its head in shame in relation to this legislation. I hope those people who stood up before and opposed the coalition when the coalition was proposing Muckaty Station have the courage to cross the floor when this comes to a vote. They have been responsible for selling out any faith that Indigenous communities might have that parliamentarians actually mean what they say. I mean what I say. The Greens mean what they say in relation to this.

It is wrong. We do not need to be imposing a nuclear waste dump on people who have not been consulted. There is no free, prior and informed consent. There is no need to be facilitating uranium mining in this country. The best thing we can do with uranium is leave it in the ground and invest in renewable energy, which is a peaceful source of energy which cannot be mixed up with proliferation and which is the way of the future. Nuclear is too slow, too expensive and too dangerous. Australia's Indigenous people know that. That is why they stood up with the people around the world and in Japan in fairly recent times saying no to nuclear. It is time we actually recognised that in this parliament and stopped this assault on Indigenous communities. I oppose this legislation.