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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4132

Radioactive Waste

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan, and relates to the site selection process for a national radioactive waste facility. Minister, in the 'nominations of land' guidelines that you issued for the site selection process you stated that 'community support is a key consideration for a nomination to progress. A facility will not be established where there is not broad community support.' Minister, what is your definition of broad community support? What percentage of the local community constitutes broad community support in your eyes and the eyes of your department? If the answer is 'it depends', how do you justify spending taxpayers' money on a vote seeking a definitive number?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:27): I thank Senator Patrick for that question and for advance notice of the topic of the question. I also recognise his well-engaged interest in this very important issue. Up-front, I would like to confirm what Senator Patrick has said, and that is that community support is central to the decision about a location for a radioactive waste facility in this country. It has been central to this entire decision-making process. We do have three sites, in two communities, now progressing. It is the views of the people of Kimba, Hawker and surrounding regions that will now determine whether this waste facility will proceed or not. It is their views which are most important, not my own and not those of other senators in this place. It is the views of the people on the ground which are the most important.

Senator Patrick asked about the definition of broad community support and whether we have a definitive number. The first thing I would like to point out is that the formal vote that will be occurring in the Kimba and Hawker regions is only one input; it is not the only thing the government is doing through this process to judge community support. Yes, of course, that will be a very important factor; but we are also taking submissions and views from people who live outside the formal regions. Obviously, we need a definitive region to take an electoral roll from; but there are people outside those regions who also have an interest and a stake, and their views will be considered. The views of neighbouring landholders of the potential sites will obviously be prioritised, given the greater stake they potentially have with a facility locating next door to their land. Also, the views and interests of Indigenous communities in Hawker and Kimba will be given great weight.

All of those factors will come in to define broad community support; it will not simply be the result of the vote. But I can give a firm commitment that only with the support of a willing community will the government proceed with a waste facility in one of these locations. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick, a supplementary question.

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:29): Minister, on 22 March 2017, you told Senator Xenophon that you had taken forward a Hawker proposal where support was at 65 per cent. You then also indicated that it's not just about the overall figure and went on to say, 'We would need a figure in the range of support that we had received in Hawker.' Can you confirm whether you have now told an interested party that the number has now changed to 50 per cent and that you'd take a proposal forward on that number?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:30): I reject that. I have said before that we're seeking broad community support and that the number is not just a simple majority. The number needs to be considered to define the support across a broad level of the community. The results of the decisions we've made previously to take projects forward to the next stage are on record, and I would contend that the support of 57 per cent of people in a community is very strong support, particularly for a proposal that obviously has some degree of contention.

I can understand people's views on this matter, but I can also understand those people who support the facility. The facility will deliver 45 jobs to a local community. It will provide an ongoing connection to premier scientific organisations in this country, including the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, and it will support ongoing economic development through the establishment of a government-funded infrastructure fund. So I can understand why people support it and that there are people who oppose it, and both views must be considered. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick, a final supplementary question.

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:31): There is a potential site for a national radioactive waste facility in Leonora in Western Australia that appears to be a suitable site. It's remote—I visited it and, if there is a goanna on it, it is because it is passing on its way to some other place that's better; it's not on agricultural land; it is a deep hard granite rock site; and it has the purported support of the community. They are not asking for public money; just the opportunity to be considered. Why have you not advanced this? Are you going to impose upon us— (Time expired)

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:31): I am familiar with the proposal at Leonora. I have met the nominees of that site as well as the local mayor recently to discuss that proposal. I would point out first that the sites that have been progressed at Kimba and Hawker do meet the requirements that the government needs for the facility. The fact that sites are inhospitable is not a necessary condition for a facility. Indeed, much of Australia's radioactive waste currently is stored perfectly safely 30 kilometres from Sydney, at Lucas Heights—a site where 400 people go to work every day. We do however need to find a permanent, long-term store, because we are running out of space at Lucas Heights.

The proposal at Leonora has not been rejected by the government. We have indicated to the nominees that we will be seeking the results of Kimba and Hawker first before deciding further. If we do not progress with Kimba and Hawker, we may again consider Leonora, but we are not progressing that any further at this stage. (Time expired)