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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5588


Senator LUDLAM (9:37 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

COMMONWEALTH RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT (REPEAL AND CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENT) BILL 2008

The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act Repeal Bill 2008 will repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and the related Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Act 2006. This legislation enables the Federal government to impose a radioactive waste facility on an unwilling Territory government, and on unwilling communities.

Before the 2004 election, Federal Environment Minister, Senator Campbell provided an ‘absolute categorical assurance’ that a radioactive dump would not be imposed on the Northern Territory. In July 2005 it was announced, after no consultation with the NT Government or affected traditional owners and communities, that three Department of Defence sites - Harts Range, Fisher’s Ridge and Mt Everard - had been short-listed for assessment.

The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA) 2005 was then pushed through federal parliament, overriding NT laws prohibiting transport and storage of federal nuclear waste. The legislation prevents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 from having effect during investigation of potential dump sites, and it excluded the Native Title Act 1993 from operating at all. Procedural fairness is also wiped out through suspension of the Judicial Review Act.

Amendments passed in 2006 to the CRWMA override Aboriginal Land Rights Act procedures requiring informed consent from all affected people and groups. Indeed, these changes explicitly stated that site nominations from Land Councils are valid even in the absence of consultation with and consent from traditional owners.

Under the amended process, Muckaty, 120 km north of Tennant Creek, was nominated by the Northern Land Council. The site was added to the short-list of potential sites in September 2007, when former Science Minister Julie Bishop accepted the contentious nomination. This clearly ignored strong, public opposition from a number of traditional owners from the Muckaty Land Trust.

In response to this announcement, Senator Carr, the Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research stated,

   “Today’s announcement is yet the next chapter in the decade-long saga of lies and mismanagement that has become Howard’s waste dump. The Howard Government has tried to impose its waste dump at numerous sites around the country; settling on the Northern Territory because of its ability to steamroll the Territory’s rights and impose the dump against its will. After forcing legislation through Federal Parliament, the Science Minister now has full Ministerial discretion over the siting of a nuclear waste facility in the Northern Territory. Labor believes that Howard’s bullyboy tactics in the Northern Territory are no way to select a nuclear waste dump. Labor is committed to repealing the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and establishing a consensual process of site selection. Labor’s process will look to agreed scientific grounds for determining suitability. Community consultation and support will be central to our approach.

In April 2007, the Australian Labor Party national conference passed its National Platform, Chapter 5 of which states that a “Federal Labor Government will:

  • not proceed with the development of any of the current sites identified by the Howard Government in the Northern Territory, if no contracts have been entered into for those sites.
  • repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005.
  • establish a process for identifying suitable sites that is scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms.
  • identify a suitable site for a radioactive waste dump in accordance with the new process.
  • ensure full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes.
  • commit to international best practice scientific processes to underpin Australia’s radioactive waste management, including transportation and storage.”

A number of senior Labor Ministers and Senators released media statements prior to the 2007 federal election pledging repeal of the CRWMA if elected. ALP politicians had referred to the legislation as ‘draconian’, ‘sordid’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘profoundly shameful’. In their media statement issued on 6 March 2007 by Senator Carr, Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research, MP Warren Snowdon, Member for Lingiari and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia and Indigenous Affairs, and NT Senator Trish Crossin. This committed Federal Labor to:

  • Legislate to restore transparency, accountability and procedural fairness including the right of access to appeal mechanisms in any decisions in relation the siting of any nuclear waste facilities;
  • Ensure that any proposal for the siting of a nuclear waste facility on Aboriginal Land in the Northern Territory would adhere to the requirements that exist under the Aboriginal Land Rights, Northern Territory Act (ALRA);
  • Restore the balance and, pending contractual obligation, will not proceed with the establishment of a nuclear waste facility on or off Aboriginal land until the rights removed by the Howard government are restored and a proper and agreed site selection process is carried out; and
  • Not arbitrarily impose a nuclear waste facility without agreement on any community, anywhere in Australia.

The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 has been ineffective and controversial. Leaving this legislation in place undermines the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Heritage Protection Act, overrides Aboriginal Land Rights procedures and is a blatant disregard for the express wishes of the Territory government. Repealing this legislation is implementing an ALP federal election promise and will pave the way for a new approach to the management of Australia’s radioactive waste.

Australia’s radioactive waste is a legacy of decisions taken in the past, specifically in the Menzies era when the government opened a research reactor at Lucas Heights, 31 kms from the heart of Sydney. Decisions taken then reflect historically specific moments in science and in politics.

Both the scientific and the political methods we have today contrast sharply with those of the Cold War era during which assumptions about the relatively new nuclear technology were simplistic and utopian and nuclear decision-making was cloaked in secrecy, far away from the public eye.

The decisions we take today about Australia’s radioactive waste - how it should be stored, where it should be stored, whether it should be transported and centralised - should reflect the best science we have at our disposal now, as well as the best democratic and transparent processes that governments and citizens can utilise in today’s world.

Transparency is what Australia has been lacking in its decision-making about radioactive waste management. Recent attempts to impose an “out of sight, out of mind solution” onto unwilling communities, or communities that have been divided through the provision of payments are not sustainable “solutions” but doomed because they do not enjoy public confidence.


Senator LUDLAM —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.