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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS
17/11/2008
Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management (Repeal and Consequential Amendment) Bill 2008

CHAIR —I welcome representatives from the Arid Lands Environment Centre and the Beyond Nuclear Initiative. Thank you both for coming along to talk to us today. The committee has received your submissions as submissions Nos 35 and 94 respectively. Do either of you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your submissions?

Ms Wasley —No.

CHAIR —Do either or both of you wish to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Ms Wasley —Yes, I would, thank you. I work with the Beyond Nuclear Initiative, which is based at the Arid Lands Environment Centre in Alice Springs. I have been here for about three years working with all of the communities that are being targeted and affected by the proposal for the federal radioactive waste dump. I have a regular communication with all of the traditional owners in nearby communities, and also people living in towns right across the territory, to keep the information flowing between the bush and the towns on this proposal.

After three years of this proposal being announced, it is very clear that there is still strong and sustained opposition to the federal dump being imposed on the territory. Operating under the Radioactive Waste Management Act has been frustrating and disempowering for people. As you heard before, many of the old people are getting sick from worry about this proposal. I think this inquiry is a really good opportunity to break the way that we have seen radioactive waste management tackled over the last decade or more, which is ‘decide, announce and defend’, and that is no way to do business.

As we have heard from the evidence, all of the sites are extremely close to communities and community-controlled business ventures. There are tourism businesses, cattle businesses, and there are a lot of ideas that people have as to how they want to live on country, not just for themselves but also for the next few generations. Obviously none of these things will be able to go ahead if there is a dump in the middle of their country.

I want to read a statement from people at Fishers Ridge, because they wanted to come down to participate in the hearing today but could not, for a number of reasons, and they have asked me to read this statement, which I will also table. I think it shows that there really are strong networks between people at all four of the sites, and that has been a concerted effort from people to keep in contact with each other and support each other. No matter whichever site is chosen, they will continue to work together to oppose it. This is from the Katherine No Dump Action Group, and I will just pick out a couple of paragraphs, and then table the full statement, if that is all right.

Residents within the Katherine region have been concerned about the Radioactive Waste Management Act since the Liberal government announced it in 2005. Fishers Ridge is located in a monsoonal high rainfall area with annual flooding, large sinkholes and over a large aquifer system which feeds into the headwaters of the iconic Daly and Roper River systems. We are all dependent on water from this aquifer, whether for aquaculture, horticulture or drinking water for human consumption.

This group works very closely with Barry Utley who owns Yeltu Park Station, a viable cattle station. Fishers Ridge Department of Defence site is surrounded by Barry’s property on all four sides. It is literally smack-bang in the middle of his cattle station, the proposed defence site. Barry and his late wife Val Utley have been active members of the group in Katherine and have campaigned tirelessly against this law. Unfortunately Val passed away just before the 2007 election, but up until this time she really believed that the ALP now government had committed strongly to repealing the waste management act.

The group says that with this election result, they all felt relief Barry could have comfort knowing Val’s efforts had not been in vain. Barry has tried numerous times to contact the government since the election to find out what is happening, but really he is in limbo. He is trying to sell part of his property, which he obviously cannot do with a proposed nuclear waste dump in the middle of it. The Katherine people say they are opposed to sites being anywhere in the Northern Territory, and they are committed to working with us as a community and with all the stakeholder groups to get an equitable outcome on this.

Just briefly on the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, it has been heavy-handed, it has been politically driven, it is clearly not a scientific process, and really any attempts to paint it as a scientific process are just absurd. None of these sites was short-listed when a national study was done about siting a radioactive waste facility. There were not even in the top ten, so it is hardly what you can call a scientific process. The waste management act was rammed through by the Howard government, with strong opposition from the ALP opposition, the minor parties, the NT government and a broad section of the Territory population. As was explained when Central Land Council presented, it undermines public health, environment and heritage acts, and overrides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage act and the Native Title Act during the site nomination processes.

One point of clear concern with the Northern Land Council’s presentation is that it indeed does override the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977, which means that people who contest the nomination, for example, at Muckaty, have no legal opportunity to pursue that path, which in this day and age is just outrageous. It is important to note that, in Senate estimates in June 2008, Pat Davoren from the Department of Education, Science and Training said that people who volunteered their land at Muckaty did so at meetings convened by the NLC under the rules set up by the Land Rights Act. If it is the case that this was done under the Land Rights Act, there is a legal requirement for the opinions of all affected people to be considered in the consultation and the decision-making process.

So I come back to the question that was asked earlier: would the Muckaty nomination stand up if this legislation is repealed? I strongly believe no. From a couple of years of visiting Tennant Creek and meeting with traditional owners there, I can say absolutely they would not let this go ahead if that were the case, if they had the opportunity for legal challenge.

I will spend a bit more time on Muckaty because I feel that I would like to answer some of those things that came up in the previous presentation. Traditional owners throughout this process at Muckaty have requested that the Northern Land Council convene a meeting for all of the family groups to come together and discuss this proposal. These meetings have been requested from way back when it was floated as a rumour that Muckaty would be nominated. This was before that particular site was identified. People from the five family groups said that you have to consult with all five family groups. I have here the map of Muckaty Station. It is clear from the land commission’s report that people’s dreamings are all through that land trust site, so the decisions must be made by people with all of the sites to be consulted. That is what Ron Levy referred to as traditional decision making. If you speak to the traditional owners, they say strongly, clearly and consistently that it has to be all five family groups. I refer you back to the video submission that was made by Muckaty traditional owners, and a number of people have alluded to that in their submissions. Also, the analogy was given that in Arnhem Land there are a lot of different clans, so you cannot consult all of the clans. If you are looking at the area of Arnhem Land compared to a clearly defined land trust that is defined as a single land trust with five family groups because of their shared dreamings in this site, I do not think that that is comparable at all.

I will comment briefly on a couple of points that ALP members, now ministers, and senators said before the election. You should keep in mind that Jenny Macklin described this legislation as arrogant, ‘extreme and heavy-handed’; Anthony Albanese called it draconian, sidelining Indigenous rights; Peter Garrett said it was ‘a sorry and sordid business driven by a … process … no-one has consented to’, and that it ‘makes a mockery of informed consent’; and Senator Trish Crossin said it was extraordinarily and profoundly shameful. She said, ‘It compromises the rights of Indigenous people to make decisions based on free, prior and informed consent.’ I would extrapolate that to say that people right across the Territory and the Territory government have absolutely no avenue for challenging this legally.

On 27 September last year, before the election, there were media releases were put out by Senator Trish Crossin and now Minister Kim Carr unequivocally committing Labor to repeal this act if elected. It has been a year, and some 10 or 11 national environment medical and health groups have written to the Prime Minister on this issue, but they have never had a response. Why has it taken a year? Because Martin Ferguson is at the helm. I think it is important for this Senate committee to make strong recommendations that this needs to be an across-portfolio approach. There are health issues, there are environmental issues, there are human rights issues and Indigenous rights issues, and it really needs a broader selection of people looking at this than just that one particular minister.

In the context of the apology, in the context of the clear commitments that the Labor Party gave on this issue, it is important that we move into a new era of decisions about radioactive waste management in line with international trends. For example, the UK Committee on Radioactive Waste Management says, ‘There is a growing recognition that it is not ethically acceptable for a society to impose a radioactive waste facility on an unwilling community.’ Where is Australia in this with all of this talk of world’s best practice and international best practice standards? I would ask the committee to recommend immediate and unconditional repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act; that all four sites currently under assessment for the dump be withdrawn when this legislation is overturned, including Muckaty, which was nominated under extreme contention and solely because of this act.

I ask that all affected groups, communities and stakeholder groups are directly notified when this occurs, because of the complete lack of direct communication with affected people. I ask also that the committee recommends that a comprehensive independent inquiry be held into radioactive waste management in Australia, so that we can sort this out and move on from those Howard era decision making processes. Thank you.

CHAIR —Mitch, did you wish to make an opening statement?

Mitch —Yes. I would like to introduce myself as Mitch. My country is out on the Plenty Highway. I do not have a surname; I got educated. This is my great-great grandmother, Hettie Perkins. She has passed away now. This is my grandmother and my grandfather—this is my grandfather’s country; it is near where you are going to put a nuclear waste dump—and they are both dead too. This is nine out of their 10 children. The baby passed away. That is all we have left in my family line. Through the assimilation policies that my family lived through in this town, it disconnected us from our land. But through those same policies, I was able to get educated. I did my Associate Diploma in Aboriginal Studies through the Adelaide university, and found out the history that my family could not bring themselves to tell me. In doing that, I then took my four children to my homelands, where there is a community called Harts Range. It is only named Harts Range because of the police station. The actual community is called Atitjere. Going back there with my four children, we were soon surrounded by poverty, inequality and no services. My babies could not go to kindergarten, which I was taught was really important for my children, and my older children could not go to high school because there were no facilities. On one of my journeys into town to look for a boarding school for my children, I had a car accident on the dirt road. This is my eldest daughter who passed away in that accident. Through going back to the country, I was able to place her on my homelands and bury her there with ceremony. I go back whenever I can afford it to put flowers on her grave. I will continue doing that, even though I am educated.

We were listening to the news one day, and we heard John Howard say that he was going to put a nuclear waste dump on our country. My memories of high school and science were that we could play with everything else—the mercury and all the other elements that sat across the top of the board—but we were not allowed to play with uranium. We knew we had uranium in our school because we had the stickers up everywhere. My first thought was: ‘Who’s going to put flowers on my daughter’s grave? Who’s going do it for the rest of my family when I know how bad this stuff is?’ I sort of thought, after 12 or 14 years of not being at school, I should go back and re-educate myself on uranium. I not only found out about what happens with uranium in Australia and how much it is valued in dollar terms, but I found out the consequences for Indigenous people wherever these mines are. I found out about the long history of the waste dump issue from Western Australia to South Australia.

On a recent trip this weekend down to bury family in Port Lincoln, I was able to see the scars of the mines there, and I was able to talk to some of the Indigenous people that live down there. I can feel their sorrow, and I feel their pain, and all we ever do is bury our family. We are still using words like ‘survive’, ‘struggle’, but when we are talking about an industry that is going to dig up poison and use it in a reactor in Sydney, and then they have to dump it in our country, it gets personal. It gets personal because, as a mother and a want-to-be grandmother, my country is going to get poisoned so that everybody down south can feel happy and safe. On a recent visit to Lucas Heights, we were told that they had 30 more years’ worth of storage there. We were told that that is where all the experts were. I have been on the four meetings with Central Land Council, after I heard through third, fourth and fifth parties about stuff that was going to affect my country as well. We spoke with scientists and we spoke with Central Land Council, and we got no resolution. We were told that the fuel rods have to come back and that it was our duty to help out Australia.

At that time John Howard was still in power, so we were very afraid of John Howard, and had been for a number of years because of his withdrawing funding from everything that had anything to do with Aboriginal people. We knew that hiding a waste dump out in our country was exactly that: hiding it away from the white population on the south coast. We know that we do not have the numbers in the Territory, nor the legal right to stop this, but we wonder if the rest of the country is ready for the whole of the Northern Territory to move out and move down there and expect schooling and expect housing and expect clean water and expect a sense of belonging. That is what you are taking away from us: our right to walk our grandchildren on our land, the right to teach our grandchildren in language what that land actually means, the right to journey across from one sacred waterhole to another sacred waterhole. All of those things affected my family through the assimilation policy.

After going back to country and feeling it, and burying my daughter there, my expectations are that I am to be buried there too. My expectations in the present form with the Rudd government are that it will not be long. After fighting this for the last couple of years, we are now under the invasion of uranium mines all over the Northern Territory and it is scary. It is scary that we do not have a voice; it is scary that we are not allowed to have a voice, and if we do have a voice, it is just a blackfella voice. As a sovereign owner of this country, my family never conceded to the Queen or the King, or to the laws that presently govern us, but we live under them, and we survive. We do not prosper; we do not think for our future. We have all of those things to keep us down as Aboriginal people in this country, and it is killing us. I am 44 years old. I should not be grey in this country. I should not have to fight for 10 years to have the freedom to walk on my own land, and neither should my family. When they have done all the right things—built a community, built houses, manipulated funds into a school, into a shop, and to have bitumen roads on their bloody roads out there—when they have done every single thing to act white and be white in this country, they are still punished.

By forcing this waste dump on to anybody’s country in the Northern Territory when there is strong opposition is not a sign of civilisation. If that is what this country is trying to bring to Aboriginal people, we have no-one to look up to, because this is not civilised. This is not the action of a government that can parade around the world and say it is civilised. This is not the action of a government that can go around and sell uranium and/or, at their will, open up an international uranium dump on our lands, just because it gives them political standing. We have talked with Mrs Bishop in Perth—before she got the police on to us. We invited her to country, as we have done with Martin Ferguson, and not once have these politicians got back to us. Not once have these politicians got on a plane and come and sat on country—not once. So we are grateful that you are here. We are happy that you are here, because we are hoping, like the flu epidemic that hit Australia, that every recommendation from this inquiry would be followed and not treated just like another Aboriginal inquiry, and why are we whinging because the government is forcing something on to us? We do not want it, and we want it to stay in Lucas Heights so that it does not have to travel anywhere through this country.

We want the Northern Territory to be recognised for its heritage status—that is driven down the necks of tourists and driven down the necks of anybody who wants to buy our cattle from here. I call on the government to start testing our water; I ask them to test our beef before they send it overseas or down south; and I ask that you please get Mr Ferguson off his butt, out of Melbourne and out here on country so that he can feel and see and taste this country, and live in it the way that we have to live in it. I invite him to come on his CDEP money and live out bush. My family cannot be in town today because they do not have a bitumen road. They do not have cars that can travel on this road when the rain hits. When our rivers go up, we do not have bridges over the rivers unless it is on a major route. We were promised by the government that, if they put a waste dump on our country, they would give us bitumen roads, so we knew they were lying, because there was a bitumen road already up to the site. If you go another eight kilometres, there is no bitumen road, and that is where my daughter is buried on my country. If I am no longer around, I ask that you put those flowers I have given you on my family’s graves, because we will not be here to do it.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for your opening submission, Mitch. We will now go to questions.

Senator LUDLAM —Thanks to both of you for coming in this afternoon. I am not actually sure where to start. Ms Wasley, can you give us a bit of a sense of the people that you work with out here from all the different communities? We heard in previous testimony from the NLC that there was overwhelming support for a radioactive waste dump in a particular place. What is the sense that you are given, and from where do you get your instruction and direction to do the work that you do?

Ms Wasley —The reason we first found out that Muckaty in particular had been proposed as a site was because Northern Land Council put out a media release saying that they were undertaking consultations with people all across their region, but that no specific site was being discussed. Whoever sent the email sent the attachment titled ‘Muckaty’, so we knew that there something going on there. I went up to Tennant Creek to try to meet with some of the traditional owners, because I had already been working with people from the other three sites and just to share what was happening with that community campaign and the resources and information that I had. People living at those three other areas were not being given what they considered balanced and fair information. There were nice glossy brochures and CD packs from the government, but no opportunity really to have both sides of the story. So, in the last two years we have convened numerous meetings in Tennant Creek. I have spent a lot of time up and down the street in Tennant Creek talking with people and visiting people in their homes. I have travelled out to the site, and I have travelled out to nearby communities, and I would say that overwhelmingly people oppose this dump. The fact that no clear number was given, and that people who opposed it have never been able to access minutes from meetings or see the signatures of who has actually said yes to nominating Muckaty, or any of the paperwork that would be normal process for affected people to have an understanding of what is happening on their country and in their land trust really indicates that a bit of paper shuffling is being done by the NLC in particular.

Just from the presentations, we see the vastly different ways that the two land councils are approaching this particular issue. That is really important to note. The lawyer making the presentation, Ron Levy, said that a contract has been entered into between the Commonwealth government, Northern Land Council and Muckaty Land Trust. I think it would be very apt to request to see a copy of this contract, because I have not heard that mentioned before. From our discussions outside, a number of people here who sit as members of the land trust, who are board members on the land trust, did not know about that contract. My understanding is that the agreement had been made with just that very small group. Incidentally, the name of Amy Lauder, one of the women mentioned previously by the senator, has popped up in media statements, and she is actually the chairperson of that land trust.

So there are a number of issues, including conflict of interest, with her being chairperson of the land trust, the Muckaty representative of the full land council, married to someone on executive and clearly not listening to what a lot of people are saying from within the land trust and the community.

Senator LUDLAM —What has been your contact with the government since the election, about this time last year? What correspondence have you had, or what have you got back from the minister’s office about their intentions?

Ms Wasley —There actually has not been a lot of difference in responses from what we received before the election, and that is extremely unfortunate. We have sent numerous letters from my project here in Alice Springs working with traditional owners, letters that have been signed by a number or traditional owners. I mentioned also the 10 or 11 national health environmental groups who wrote directly to the Prime Minister calling for an outcome on this, or at least some indication as to when they might follow through with that extremely clear election promise. So it is extremely disappointing. We have travelled down to a lot of conferences and speaking events in most of the capital cities, and every time we do that, I really go out of my way to contact any ministers or senators who are in that office with as much notice as possible. It used to be Julie Bishop; now it is Martin Ferguson, and it is still Kim Carr, but anyone that we can contact, and it is extremely disappointing that they have never responded to those invitations. We have never been invited to come into those offices and sit down. When we do leave those offices, because we usually just pop in to see if they are there anyway, we will leave a written invitation for them to come to the Territory. We have made the effort for up to 10 people to travel down to the city, not on a parliamentary budget, so we would request that they come up here and, as people say, sit down in the proper way and talk to the affected people. It just seems really basic.

Senator LUDLAM —Maybe you would both like to address this question, but what in your opinion do you think should become of the radioactive waste that is generated at Lucas Heights?

—I am sad that Aboriginal people have been asked this question. We have had to bone up on our education to find out what uranium is and what uranium mining is, how it then leads into bombs, how we are selling it overseas and how the mining companies are telling us it is clean, green energy and that we must dig it up so that people around the world can have energy. Because I never dug it up, because I am not a cancer victim yet, and our cancer facility in the Northern Territory has not been opened up and they are going to put it in Darwin anyway, it is a really hard question. First, I think they should leave it at Lucas Heights. They should follow best science practice and stop forcing it on people. The government is supposed to work for the people. That is how I grew up in this country—the government worked for us. We told the government what to do. I am sick of begging the government, and I am sick of begging my politicians to listen to us and I am sick of it being a political issue. This is lives at stake. This is dreamings at stake. This is bush tucker. This is water. This is our very existence that is at stake. We need the scientists to be sorting out their own problems. We did not create this problem. It is not our problem, and we are not going to benefit from it. We never will benefit from it. We will still get our cancer treatment down south, and we will still fill up your hospitals down there.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Thanks to you both for your evidence today. Mitch, is your country the Muckaty site or one of the other three sites under consideration?

Mitch —My country sits on the border of Alcoota, which is on the Plenty Highway. The defence base site that has been nominated is called the Harts Range Defence Base site. I have to pass a nuclear waste dump in order to go to my country, with rivers that feed into my country, with winds that flow into my country, with kangaroos that do not stop at fences that will come into my country that I will kill and eat. So it directly affects me, and it directly affects my families that live on the communities at Engawala and Atitjere, and all of the communities as far as Utopia, Mount Isa and across to Queensland where our rivers flow. I am still learning on my country. I have gone back, so I am still learning about bush tucker and bush medicine that we take off the bushes—the bark, the leaves, that we boil up and put on our body or in our body. We are still learning all of those things, and we still have the elders there at the moment to be handing down those traditions. My generation and my children’s generation are hungry for that information.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —The Northern Land Council obviously presented an argument that the appropriate traditional owners of the Muckaty site had given their consent and, indeed, wanted this development. Is it the contention of both of you that they are not the relevant traditional owners or exclusively the relevant traditional owners on that site?

Ms Wasley —I would like to clarify that I am responding in my capacity as a community organiser, someone who has worked with the communities targeted. I am not working on a land council, I am not an anthropologist, I am not a scientist, and my evidence and my submission are based on conversations I have had with traditional owners over the last two years or more from that land trust. I base my understanding on what they have said very clearly and very directly, and that has never been contradicted by anyone else from the land trust. My understanding, from everyone here today, is that a decision made about the Muckaty Land Trust needs to be done with all five family groups. Again, I say that people have written to the Northern Land Council and asked for meetings with all five family groups before a site was identified. That is just the way business is done there. Marlene talked about the land commissioner’s claim on the DVD submission also, where all of the family groups were taken up to Muckaty numerous times to give evidence. It was not just one family group for each site; people were brought in together because it is integral that people are there together to discuss it.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —The submission you have provided refers numerous times to the BNI project officer; is that you, Ms Wasley?

Ms Wasley —Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —It says that you have been meeting, as you have indicated in your evidence, with traditional owners from all five families. I assume that includes the Ngapa family and particularly Ms Lauder or her relatives as well?

Ms Wasley —I have not met specifically with Ms Lauder and her sister and husband, but people here in the room are from Ngapa family group, and people who have attended meetings that I have helped organise are from the Ngapa group. We often have a register signed by people who attend the meetings, so we have it for our records. People from the Ngapa group have signed petitions that have been sent to the federal parliament also.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Have you met with any of the people who support the project?

Ms Wasley —I have never been approached by or met with anyone who supports it in Tennant Creek.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Finally, the land council also enunciated the principle that the traditional owners should have the right to do business on their lands, and that they should have the right to make decisions about those lands. Putting aside who the relevant traditional owners are for the moment, if the traditional owners of particular lands decided that they supported such a facility, would you respect that right?

Ms Wasley —Three answers to that: first, I think it would be great if you had the  opportunity to speak more directly with the Muckaty people in the room as well—and my apologies to the Muckaty people here for speaking on your behalf. The other two answers to that are that traditional owners have the right to do business on their land, and people in the room here have a major development project on their land, the Bootu Creek mine. You cannot argue that people here are anti development—they understand the process of having a major development on their country and the implications of that—but there is a clear difference in what people say about having that mine or other projects and having a nuclear waste dump. If the NLC are supporting a small group of people who may want that mine, they should also, under their statutory obligations, be supporting the people who oppose it. Their job is to represent and advocate for traditional owners and negotiate with government based on people’s opinions, and they should be doing that clearly for both sides of this particular opinion.

Mitch —We have to remember that when the first consultations were happening in Tennant Creek, and I am sorry to speak up for these mobs’ country, because we have a problem with talking up for other people’s country, they went to Lucas Heights to have a look at a rubbish dump, not a waste dump. That is how it came across to them. So they all went on a trip to Sydney because they thought that they were going to see how to operate a waste dump, where you throw your everyday household goods down into a rubbish dump, and that they would be facilitating that. They had no understanding at the early stages that it was going to be a uranium waste dump. Those kinds of words are really hard to translate. I know that in Arrernte, which is on my grandfather’s side, and Luritja, which is on my grandmother’s side, we have no words in our language to say ‘nuclear waste’, ‘radon gases’, ‘uranium’. We do not have the words. We do not have the capacity to relay how bad the stuff is. We have ‘bad poison’, ‘really bad poison’, and ‘really, really bad poison’. So when we are talking about putting a nuclear waste dump on land, it has always been put across to us that we will get some 44-gallon drums that will be buried underground and we will get some containers that have medium- to high-level waste in them—but technically Australia does not call it high-level waste. It is probably the size of the average lounge room, and that will be put in a storage facility above the ground.

When they were talking with the Muckaty mob about this waste dump, they were saying that it was a rubbish dump. They did not talk about nuclear waste, they did not talk about uranium, they did not talk about fuel rods; they talked about a rubbish dump. When the elders went down to see Lucas Heights, they wanted to see a rubbish dump, not a big building with a big fence around it and a couple of kangaroos out the front. They thought they were having a look at a rubbish dump.

We can talk literacy skills and we can talk about all of those things that we know under the interventions that are happening now, but when we are talking about people who are sitting out bush who listen to ABC radio who are highly educated and knowledgeable people, and they know their country. But they do not have any idea when the land council is telling them or the scientists from the Australian government are telling them: ‘This is safe; this is what you’re going to get, a shiny piece of glass, and you will get a couple of 44-gallon drums buried in your land.’ But ‘Oh, it might poison your country for a couple of hundred thousand years,’ that is not getting across to our people.

At the meetings I have attended with Central Land Council, we never had interpreters. I do not know what happened at Northern Land Council meetings, but from what I have heard from family up there they did not have interpreters, so this stuff is not getting through to Indigenous people out on the lands. That is withholding information; that is people making a decision when they clearly do not know what the thing is, how long it will affect their land, or that they will not be able go across that land and their kids will not be able to participate in that land. So there is a definite flaw in this so-called Australian thing of consultation. If you cannot consult in our language, we cannot hear you, we cannot understand you. If you are not going to do that for the basic people out on the lands, who have run their communities, who have built everything up from a dirt pile to what it is now, how do you think this country can call itself a democracy? We have a Prime Minister who can speak Mandarin, but he cannot speak one Aboriginal language. How shocking.

These people deserve that respect, and my people out on the country deserve that respect, and so do the McCormack family, to have things put in language where it is clear. And it is known in this land that we still speak our language, that we have different language groups within those same tribal groups, yet that is not catered for. We do not have the expertise on the ground in the Northern Territory to look after these sites. We do not have anything here. How are we going to get somebody from Sydney in a Toyota out to Alcoota now if there is a leak? How? Will the government pay for a helicopter for that person to fly straight into Alcoota, or will they put a house here for them? There has been no talk of that.

When we talked about burying stuff underground, we asked them, ‘Are you going to put drainage in there, because we are in the catchment area?’ We were told that they were going to put a layer of gravel, a layer of dirt, a layer of gravel, a layer of dirt, and then they will put the 44s there, and then they will cover it up with dirt. We have always been told that this is a temporary facility. We do not temporarily bury our people out in the graveyard and dig them up later and shift them, so how does the government call this a temporary facility when they want to bury poison in our backyard and run away and leave it without talking language to people who speak five, six, seven, eight, nine or 10 different languages? It is shameful.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Ms Wasley, who funds the BNI?

Ms Wasley —The Beyond Nuclear Initiative is a joint project with the Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Earth and the Poola Foundation (Tom Kantor Fund).

Senator PRATT —Ms Wasley, why is the Northern Territory the focus in terms of finding a site? Also, what is the community’s reaction to the lack of rights that the Territory has in being able to determine these issues for itself?

Ms Wasley —I have been following the process of radioactive waste management in Australia since the South Australian proposal for the site. I was very privileged to sit down with the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, the senior women down there, who were fighting the nuclear dump that was on their country. One of the obstacles that the federal government hit with the South Australian dump proposal was a legal challenge from the South Australian government. The Howard government decided to drop that proposal for a national radioactive dump. The states and territories could manage their own waste, but they were going to find a centralised repository facility dump for federally produced waste, which, incidentally, is the most highly radioactive waste produced in Australia. There was a categorical assurance that the dump would not be forced onto the Northern Territory, and then just a few months later the Department of Defence sites were announced. It seems to indicate that the status of the Territory legally, not having the same legislative powers as a state, was one major factor why they chose the Territory. Again, none of these sites was shortlisted, not even in the top 10, when they were looking for a national dump site. At the time I think one minister said, ‘I’d rather have it in the Territory than down the road from my electorate.’ There were those sorts of flippant comments. Brendan Nelson stated, ‘Why can’t people in the middle of nowhere have a nuclear waste dump?’ And, later on, Julie Bishop said, ‘All of the Defence sites are some distance from houses and far from any form of civilisation.’ It absolutely churned my stomach to have to call people I worked with and tell them that a federal minister is saying they are far from any form of civilisation. It is absolutely appalling. That sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality is clearly informing this process, and again, people need to come here if they are making decisions about these areas and experience it for themselves.

CHAIR —If there are no further questions, on behalf of the committee I would like to thank you both very much for appearing before us today and for your submissions. We appreciate it very much.

Mitch —Can I just put a question to you? Can we have some resolution to this? Rudd has had a lovely long honeymoon on this, and we are really tired of him being on a honeymoon. We need to get this sorted out. In his Sorry Day apology he promised he would not repeat past government mistakes. So we have absolutely no hope for the Rudd government, and we have no hope for Garrett, and we are calling on all of them to come to the Northern Territory and sit in the dirt with us. We are begging. We are not only begging with our lives; we are begging on behalf of our unborn grandchildren.

Ms Wasley —Can I just make one other small comment, because it has not come up in this discussion, about the Parsons Brinckerhoff report, which is the site analysis of the force. I am hoping that will come up in further questioning, but I just want to note that really this report is studying four sites nominated under a law that the ALP government promised to repeal. So once that report is in, which I believe it now is, it can be put on the shelf, because it is actually irrelevant now in the context of this discussion. Secondly, people have a right to education and people have a right to housing, and all these things that in this instance Muckaty people have been offered, without having to have a radioactive waste dump. That goes for people all across the Territory as well.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. The committee will have a short suspension while we arrange for our next witness via teleconference.

[4.18 pm]