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Thursday, 10 August 2023
Page: 12

Mr LITTLEPROUD (MaranoaLeader of the Nationals) (09:57): It's profoundly disappointing that the government is abandoning the years of work for Australia's first national radioactive waste management facility. This is a legacy failure for Australia's radioactive waste management, the nuclear medicine industry and the pursuit of research and development. The coalition and Labor have worked in a bipartisan way over a number of years to ensure radioactive waste is effectively stored and managed. However, Labor has abandoned that today.

Senator McDonald and Senator Cash wrote to the Minister for Resources and the Attorney-General last week offering any support necessary from the coalition to secure the site, and it's disappointing that this offer was not accepted or even acknowledged by the government. So much for the Prime Minister's claims of wanting to engage in a new type of politics. It's disappointing that this government has walked away from the bipartisanship on this issue and thrown into doubt the future of Australia's nuclear medicine industry. Almost every Australian will benefit from nuclear medicine in their lifetimes. Australia has a long and proud history of nuclear science, operating over many decades, and the development of this facility was the next step in this process.

The former coalition government proactively engaged with the local Kimba community and Barngarla people and underwent a significant consultation process over a number of years, including ballots, which demonstrated strong community support. Local community sentiment supporting the facility was one of a number of important considerations in declaring the site. The minister says that consultation was deficient and that the site did not have broad community support, yet over 61 per cent of residents of the Kimba area and 60 per cent of its local business supported the site. A hundred per cent of neighbours who shared a boundary supported the site.

The former Minister for Resources and Water, Mr Pitt, met with representatives of the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, and the former government engaged with the corporation at numerous times throughout the process. The former government offered to support the Barngarla people to undertake ballots to gauge community support. And when the corporation undertook their own ballot through a private third party, that ballot was considered, along with all others, in the assessing factors. The Kimba community's ballot was undertaken by the local council in the local government area surrounding the site, following standard council election procedures. Processes were undertaken to ensure that the site near Kimba was the right site for this project. The minister is also right that the Bungala people had no native title claim over the site selected.

It poses the question: what is the government's impetus for not continuing with Kimba? The minister says the judgement was clear and that the government is listening. The Federal Court did not rule against the site but set aside a ministerial decision on administrative grounds. The court did not rule on the merits of the project, the viability of the site or the importance of developing a site to store radioactive waste. Nothing prevents the minister from simply remaking the decision through the process as set out in law. As Minister King said in June last year, the declaration of the site at Napandee was a step forward in ensuring that Australia can safely and securely manage its radioactive waste—waste that is not going to go away. If that's correct, why is the minister now walking away from Kimba? It would be deeply disappointing if other political pressures were forcing the minister's hands on this decision, because making decisions that put Labor Party factional politics and other political agendas above the national interest is no way to govern.

The coalition will always support our nuclear medicine industry, which is vital for cancer patients around the country. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, ANSTO, have made it clear that the development of a purpose-built waste management site is paramount to their operations continuing. The CEO of ANSTO said that if the site did not proceed then ANSTO's operations would be impacted within the next decade—as early as 2027. Operations that are so critical to Australians, like developing cancer treatments—the most widely used nuclear medicine in the world—occur at ANSTO's Lucas Heights facility. Yet this could be at risk because of this government's decision.

It's absurd that the government criticises the temporary nature of the intermediate-level storage as a reason not to proceed with the site, as now they have no solutions at all. Seven years of work has gone into developing the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility, and with one swift move this government has erased that progress. They won't even consider the two alternative sites that were shortlisted as part of the process. So, after the work of successive governments and resources ministers, this government has nothing to show. It has become clear that they have no plan to manage Australia's radioactive waste and no plan to support our nuclear medicine industry. Despite the rhetoric from those opposite, they have delivered nothing for the people of Kimba, nothing for the future of ANSTO, nothing for the future of radioactive waste and nothing for the millions of Australians who rely on nuclear medicine.