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Much at stake for Barngarla Country



In the present world wide climate of Black Lives Matter when some governments/states are changing significant processes for the betterment of all, how is our own country fronting up when it comes to competing interests regarding land and culture? ‘Quite badly’ is the assessment that comes to mind in examining Barngarla Peoples’ recent reply to the Department of Resources, the federal department charged by government with the establishment of the national radioactive waste dump/facility (NRWMF).

Main image: Town of Kimba (Kim Mavromatis)

Their letter of reply, publicly released July 23rd lays it down:

‘As you would likely be aware the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (Human Rights Committee) has confirmed, in their Human Rights Scrutiny Report — Report 4 of April 2020, that the proposal to place a NRWMF at Napandee is a violation of the Barngarla People’s Human Rights. This is clearly the case, given just some of the matters below…?’

The letter goes on to list how, as Traditional Owners, they were refused the right to vote, forcing them to organise their own official ballot with its unanimous ‘no’ vote which was then ‘entirely ignored by the Minister.’

Shamefully, the Barngarla further identify the final determination of government to crush First Nations and any other group seeking to use the democratic processes of the nation: ‘Those terrible failures in process would have been subject to judicial oversight had the Minister made a declaration under section14 of the existing National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 (Cth). However, being fully aware of this, the Minister is now seeking to remove the Barngarla People’s legal rights to judicial review by using Parliament to legislate the location directly.’

Yes, the gloves are certainly off in the long running saga of the federal government’s latest effort to offload the nation’s nuclear waste — this time on Barngarla Country.


'Yes, the gloves are certainly off in the long running saga of the federal government’s latest effort to offload the nation’s nuclear waste — this time on Barngarla Country.'


The Coalition seems to be banking on the certainty that everyone’s energy about national matters is focused on the Covid-19 emergency. The Guardian reports the plan to rush through new conservation laws even before even Prof. Graeme Samuel's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) final report is written:

'The EPBC Act Interim Report (released July 21st) ) unsurprisingly includes the reprimand that the federal government's framework environment legislation ‘reflects an overall culture of tokenism and symbolism, rather than one of genuine inclusion of Indigenous Australians’.

At the same time, with the Radioactive Waste Management Amendment Act 2020 yet to pass the Senate, on 21st July Resources Minister Pitt announced his own kind of pre-emptive strike. His joint media release announced a ‘new agency to safely and securely manage Australia’s radioactive waste’ by the establishment of ‘a dedicated agency’ based in Adelaide which will be ‘responsible for all functions of the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility including engagement with the Kimba community.’

This is notwithstanding that the Senate Inquiry Committee is presently examining the actual issue and so of course Senators have not yet voted on the Bill, which confirms the selection of the Nappanee site in SA’s Kimba, Eyre Peninsula. The Minister’s apparent certainty of the outcome by announcing a ‘dedicated agency’ responsible for the entire matter, seems to take no account of these inconvenient facts. Is the Senate seen as irrelevant?

The bill itself narrowly passed the House of Representatives last month with opposition from Labor, the Greens and most of the Independents to whom it was clear that the rights of the Traditional Owners and other groups similarly opposed had been cast aside. MPs were aware that the process attempts to create a serious precedent. As Dave Sweeney ACF summarises: ‘the Parliament precluding the Courts.’

It is possible to turn around injustice: the Human Rights Committee's report cited above was unanimous and was endorsed by Liberal and National Party members. With the Senate vote perhaps in September, it is to be hoped that federal Labor with its key South Australian Senators like Penny Wong and Don Farrell will follow the precedent set by their Lower House colleagues.

As well as the Greens, there are those other Senate crossbenchers who support farming communities. In the Kimba district and more widely in SA’s entire Eyre Peninsula, there are food producers disturbed by threats, whether by image or actuality, to their food production — the safety of which is more important than ever in these COVID-19 times.

A week out from the long awaited July 28th public hearing, the Senate Inquiry Committee has decided not to hold a hearing in SA. Instead it will be a phone/video hearing — a disappointing decision for those far more at ease in face-to-face meetings even if most of the Senators involved were themselves on video.

But the Barngarla are clear. After refusing the funds offered to ironically ‘support their cultural heritage’ comes their letter’s devastating conclusion: ‘Your email indicates that the Government wants "to form a long term relationship with the Barngarla community based on mutual respect". This is clearly an insincere statement given the complete violation of our rights to date. …The systematic racist behaviour by your Government is a stain on the collective consciousness of this country.’

There’s a long way to go for the Coalition to change from ‘its business as usual’ performance in this as in many other matters. We can all play our part, however, in encouraging Senators to stop another sizable wind back in the nation’s democratic processes. If the Senate defeats this Radioactive Waste Management Bill then the Barngarla and others can, as in any democratic country, take to court the minister’s processes.

There is much at stake.



Michele MadiganMichele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent over 40 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of SA, in Adelaide and in country SA. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their successful 1998-2004 campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.

Main image: Town of Kimba (Photo credit: Kim Mavromatis)

Topic tags: Michele Madigan, Radioactive Waste Management Bill, Barngarla, Kimba



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Existing comments

After 30-40 years of experience, Sr Madigan, I doubt that there is any individual in this country with a keener appreciation of the dangers of disposal of nuclear wastes and the effects on people of the various proposals for siting waste disposal dumps. I imagine, therefore, that you will also have a very cogent and well argued answer as to what should be done. If that positive view were to be put forward it might well have a major impact. What is the positive answer to waste disposal? The waste exists - something has to be done. Please tell us the answer.

john frawley | 28 July 2020  

Thanks again to Michele Madigan, for keeping us informed in her inimitable style - engaging, readable and FACTUAL. and boy! - do we need those facts!. One particular one leapt out at me. "the Senate Inquiry Committee has decided not to hold a hearing in SA." What on Earth is going on? South Australia is thee relevant State, although this concerns all Australians. One can only think that as South Australians have repeatedly rejected nuclear waste dumping, and even have a law against it, that ANSTO and the Federal Government are too scared of South Australian opinion.

Noel Wauchope | 28 July 2020  

What a battle this is! The Government needs to listen to the Barngarla People. It seems that short-term money making concerns are bent on over-riding the cultural and identity concerns of our First Nations People. May the Senate defeat this Nuclear Waste Management Bill!

Genevieve | 28 July 2020  

Dear John Frawley. Of course you do not know as I do the many Aboriginal people who have been affected/ still being affected by the nuclear industry who were advocating but now deceased or if alive are still advocating. Still I agree, it does seem relentless job standing up for country as Pope Francis urges us . I think you have been good enough to read many articles in Eureka Street that answer your present question. This article is primarily about flaws in the process of this particular effort of the present government. ARPANSA the regulator questioned in the Senate Inquiry Day replied • ANSTO waste ‘can be safely stored at Lucas Heights for decades to come’ – absolutely critical point: there is no need to rush – we have time to develop a more scientific, credible approach which can be obtained by an independent scientific inquiry • ‘International best practice is to store radioactive waste safely – current storage at the Lucas Heights site is fully aligned with international best practice’ • Summary extract of federal House debate Dave Sweeney Australian Conservation ‘In the interests of all Australians we urgently a new and credible approach to radioactive waste management.’

Michele Madigan | 29 July 2020  

Thanks Michele for another article on the situation in Kimba regarding the LNP's proposed nuclear waste dump and the rights of the Barngarla people to have a say about what is happening on their traditional land. My experience after many years of being a political activist us that the LNP Coalition is far too dedicated to supporting the wealthy and the large corporations to care about the environment or social justice and human rights for ordinary people. Tragically, the saying "Black Lives Matter" means nothing to the Coalition and many of its supporters. As humanity faces many challenges we all need to realise that black and other lives matter too. In addition, we need to care for the environment to ensure that future generations have a sustainable planet to support them. And I agree with Michele's answer to John Frawley's comment about the need to deal with waste. Best health and safety practice indicates that it should not should not be transported long distances which potentially could be a hazard to many communities. But it has to be said it is irresponsible to store it on land that is producing food for human consumption. And it is totally unfair to store it on traditional Aboriginal land. The human rights and welfare of the Aboriginal people in Maralinga were totally ignored during the 1950s atomic tests there by the British and Australian governments.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 31 July 2020  

Sr Madigan. Thank you for replying to me. There is no doubt that the Aboriginal peoples who lived in the region of Great Britain's nuclear contamination of their lands and homes have suffered appallingly from the long term effects of irradiation. So too did a number of unsuspecting British and Australian military personnel stationed of necessity near the testing sites. This was a product of ignorance of the long term capabilities of high grade nuclear waste at the time and the British delusion of superiority over all peoples including the colonial Anglo Saxons, their indigenous brothers and sisters and all other races for that matter. Unfortunately that was and remains a great human disaster about which we can do nothing. In Australia, if we are capable of storing low grade medical nuclear waste of the type generated at Lucas Heights "fully aligned with international best practice" as quoted here and we do not generate the high grade waste from power generating reactors or weapon manufacturing facilities, what is the problem with siting the same safe nuclear dumps as at Lucas Heights anywhere else in the country. It would seem on the face of it to be wise to locate such allegedly safe waste facilities in the least populated parts of the country for the safety of all, indigenous and non-indigenous alike. For me I would prefer to trust modern technology in relation to nuclear waste and address those things that are daily greater threats to our Aboriginal people and their futures such as the lack of recognition of sovereignty through treaty, the lack of an education system for all Australians which promotes the history, human dignity, culture and health of the aboriginal people and the lack of community the protects the women and children, the progenitors of the race and the hope for the future. There is no doubt that the work you do is laudable and no doubt brings solace and hope to the Aboriginal people. I would like to find your zeal amongst others who might pursue the areas I mentioned above. I can't do it - too old and a bit past it !!

john frawley | 01 August 2020  

What can I do to suuport the Barngarla people?

Jo | 06 August 2020  

This "proposal to place a NRWMF at Napandee is a violation of the Barngarla Peoples Human Rights." The Barngarla people have NOT consented- they have said NO! Please support Barngarla Peoples right to local decision making and genuine self-determination, consider this action which will be sent to all SA Senators: Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Senator Marielle Smith, Senator Rex Patrick, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Senator Stirling Griff, Senator Alex Gallacher, Senator the Hon Donald Farrell.... more at https://www.conservationsa.org.au/no_place_for_nuclear_waste : Right now the Federal Government is pushing forward with a deeply contested plan to establish a nuclear waste facility on the Eyre Peninsula …Legislation is before the Senate … We urgently need to get [SA ] state Senate representatives to vote against this heavy-handed and unnecessary legislation. Please add your voice and note to a letter at https://www.conservationsa.org.au/no_place_for_nuclear_waste

Georgina Gartland | 08 August 2020  

16 months later it is good to see Jo's question of What can we do to support the Barngarla people? This month, December 2021, Resources Minister Pitt has finally formally declared the nuclear dump site allowing the Barngarla Traditional Owners to bring on their judicial review into the whole process. Just in case my answer to Jo's question is seen- here it is - a chance to contribute to the Barngarla They have a crowd funder to support their legal challenge to fight the imposition of a nuclear waste dump on their country. Look up Barngarla on GoFundMe.

Michele Madigan | 07 December 2021  

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