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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 2829

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (12:24): This is a rather different debate. We have just been speaking on what passes as best practice in the Australian context on waste management. Now the debate turns again to worst practice in radioactive waste management. I will just conclude my remarks.

The Greens are absolutely not in denial about the 4,000-odd cubic metres of so-called low level and short-lived intermediate level radioactive waste and the approximately 600 cubic metres of long-lived radioactive waste in this country. We believe that it should not have been created in the first place but we are acutely aware of the radioactive reality that has been created for current and many future generations to deal with. The Greens are also perfectly aware that 32 cubic metres of spent research reactor fuel in reprocessed form is returning to Australia from reprocessing in France and the UK in 2015-16. The Greens take this material seriously and we understand that we cannot afford to make mistakes with materials that are deadly for thousands of years.

In the committee stage of the bill, when we come to it, we will describe at some length our alternative proposal for long-term radioactive waste management and I will sketch it now. We will seek to establish a process for identifying suitable sites that are scientific, transparent, accountable and fair and allow access to appeal mechanisms. I will put this on the record one last time in this second reading debate: we are very willing to work with the Gillard government and the opposition on this issue construc­tively and carefully. If the government chooses to return to the path that it was planning and advocating prior to the 2007 election which saw the Rudd government come to power, and if the government abandons its strategy of aggression and dispossession, we will support it in putting something better in place. But, if not, the government needs to know that it has picked a fight with powerful and resilient people.

I have spent a great deal of time on the road in the last couple of years working on this issue. I know for an absolute fact that many of the people that the government has chosen to target have nowhere else to go. They strongly and genuinely believe that if their land is taken away that they will simply have nothing. It is not good enough for the government to draw rectangles on the map, try and split families and communities off from each other and imagine that there will not be significant strong, sustained and ultimately successful resistance. The govern­ment has failed in the past in attempts to coercively dump radioactive waste on communities that are simply not willing to host it and do not understand why, if it is not safe in southern Sydney, suddenly it should be made safe by parking it in a shed or a shallow hole in the ground on their country. People do not understand that.

I want to acknowledge Dianne Stokes and Mark Lane, who have spent time in this building far from home advocating, and Kylie Sambo, who was here with Dianne yesterday, making the case very strongly and proudly speaking out for their country and culture that they do not believe that they owe the rest of Australia an obligation to host this toxic material until the end of time.

There are people who have been following this campaign closely, supporting the various people who found themselves on the front line, including Nat Wasley who has given up an enormous amount of her own time and dedicated herself to this campaign in the most extraordinary way, along with Paddy Gibson and little Jellybean who was in the public gallery, I think, probably for the first time yesterday.

In Alice Springs, Hilary Tyler has marshalled the views of the Public Health Association and medical opinion to stop the government from hiding behind this argu­ment that somehow cancer treatments require that we produce these toxic cate­gories of waste. Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conser­vation Foundation has been absol­utely extraordinary on this issue and has provided leadership over a sustained period of time as the Australian government has lurched from one emergency and coercive strategy to another, and all the folks at ACE and Friends of the Earth have made it their jobs to remind the minister that he may be a very long way from his office in Batman to the site of the dump but in fact he will be reminded day in, day out.

Lastly, Felicity Hill in my office has been a profoundly supportive and important part of this campaign and came on the road on many occasions to committee visits and demonstrations in remote parts of the country to pursue this cause. I also at this point urge support for my second reading amendment already moved.