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The federal nuclear dump is a national issue



It may have taken five years but in the last session of the recently completed Senate Inquiry, finally a government department bureaucrat has used the phrase — ‘…it is a national issue.’

Main image: 'Kimba halfway across Australia' sign (Thom Devereux/Wikimedia commons)

Well certainly — 'When it suits,' one might respond. This is because the federal nuclear dump has never been a national issue from a government perspective when it has come to the right to have a say about it. In fact it has never been even a South Australian issue. One evening on a radio talkback session earlier this year, the federal member for Grey which includes the Kimba site, was shocked to hear any objection from a person like myself who didn’t live within the Kimba council voting zone. Pure shock. Astonishment. What could I be thinking of that I could have a say or even an opinion!

In other words I was not one of the just 824 (less than 300th of one per cent) of South Australians who were decreed eligible to speak about the storage of radioactive waste which will remain toxic for every South Australian generation.

Moreover, despite the former responsible Minister Matt Canavan’s repeated assertions that submissions from others outside the extraordinary narrow designated voting zone was a possible way to influence proceedings — there seems to have been no recorded mention of any of the 2789 submissions. With some of extraordinary length and scholarship, 94.5 per cent were against the federal nuclear waste proposal. They were seemingly ignored; one wonders were they even read?

From July 28th to August 28th, there have been four Senate Inquiry sessions concerning the Radioactive Waste Management Amendment Bill 2020, all by video link. During the Inquiry sessions it became obvious which three Senators had done their careful homework with penetrating questions to witnesses on either side of the debate.

Extreme concern about the issue was expressed by the Chair of the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, Jason Bilney and by other Barngarla people; by Peter Woolford, farmer President of the No Radioactive waste on Agricultural Land in Kimba or SA group; by Dave Sweeney of the Australian Conservation Foundation, the single environmentalist invited to be a witness. On the other hand, there was spirited defence of the project, including every aspect of the process by the two senior government officials; by the landholder of the chosen site and by Kimba council representatives. There was an eager willingness by some Senators to positively enable these latter presentations.


'The context of this "national issue" declaration cited above by the Department was a defence of the strategy to take the Napandee (Kimba region) site to the Parliamentary vote — ensuring that if the proposed legislation is passed by the Senate, there will be no opportunity to take any aspect of the decision making to court.'


On Monday 13th of September, the Senate report was released. Predictably in a Coalition led Inquiry, the report recommends the Senate proceed to vote yes to the plan on the Minister designated site on Barngarla country in agricultural land at the Kimba region Eyre Peninsula site.

However three Senators contributed separate dissenting reports released concurrently with the main report. Labor’s Jenny McAllister, formerly Centre Alliance and now Independent South Australian Rex Patrick, and the Green’s Sarah Hanson-Young SA all recommended that the legislation not go ahead. There were a number of reasons cited by the dissenting Senators.

The context of this ‘national issue’ declaration cited above by the Department was a defence of the strategy to take the Napandee (Kimba region) site to the Parliamentary vote — ensuring that if the proposed legislation is passed by the Senate, there will be no opportunity to take any aspect of the decision making to court. In the words of Labor Senator Jenny McAllister in her dissenting report: ‘In evidence to the committee, the Department confirmed that the effect of the change proposed in the legislation is to remove the requirements for procedural fairness in the selection of the site.’

As well, Senator Rex Patrick’s dissenting report included an emphasis on the heavily redacted nature of the government officials’ documentation: 'The Department has, through its interaction with the committee, demonstrated a predisposition to secrecy—undue secrecy—in relation to provision of process information to the very people who pay them and who they are supposed to serve.'

The Greens’ summary was included in their final recommendation: 'The Australian Greens believe the Federal Government has no mandate to situate a radioactive waste management facility in South Australia. It has mismanaged the site selection process, fallen short of international best practice and failed to secure the consent of traditional owners. For these reasons the Australian Greens recommend that this bill not be passed.'

No Dump Alliance is a group of organisations including First Nations, public health, trade union, faith and environment groups, academics and concerned individuals concerned about this matter. Revered SA theologian and international author Denis Edwards was an identified member.



On the release of the Senate report, NDA released their own media statement in which spokesperson Karina Lester (pictured), daughter of late former NDA Patron Yami Lester was clear: ‘In the 21st Century it is unacceptable to try and airbrush away Aboriginal peoples concern over nuclear risks. The Barngarla Native Title holders were excluded from the Kimba community ballot about the waste plan and now the federal government is trying to deny them the right to contest the plan in court. This is not only unfair to the Barngarla people but a clear insult to the concerns expressed by Aboriginal people from right across South Australia to any dumping and storage of radioactive waste on our traditional lands from outside the state’.

The Senate returns on October 6th. At some time there will be a vote on what is indeed this national issue. The stakes remain high.



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: 'Kimba halfway across Australia' sign (Thom Devereux/Wikimedia commons)
Additional image: Karina Lester (Supplied by Karina Lester)

Topic tags: Michele Madigan, Radioactive Waste Management Bill, Barngarla, Kimba, South Australia, nuclear dump



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Existing comments

This is an immensely important article, and as many people as possible should read it. Dumping nuclear rubbish on small predominantly Aboriginal communities. If Matt Canavan et al want this to happen, they should elect to place it inside their own electorates. Thanks Michele for another truly significant article, Christine

Christine Nicholls | 22 September 2020  

It seems to me that there are two issues here. The first is whether we need a dump, there second is where it should be. I think the answer to the first is 'yes, but it has to be safe', but the answer to the second must surely be 'not where it's not wanted', and not where it involves long distance transport from 'source to sink'. Perhaps the best place would be in the Federal Division of Hughes which is already host to the Lucas Heights facility. An alternative might be the adjacent division of Cook which once hosted the Kurnell. refinery. The local members for these two electorates, being stalwart members of the government, would presumably have no objection.

Ginger Meggs | 22 September 2020  

Brilliant Michelle capturing the brutality, arrogance & dishonesty of the Political party system . The reality of the 54% of the Kimba population who were paid $86 million by the Federal Government to say YES as the State government ignore the illegality of a Nuclear Dump on their own Statutes. The conflict of interest of a billion dollar ANSTO using taxpayers money to use the whole government machine to bribe Kimba as they claim to the Senate Committee that after 70 years Sutherland Shire is an “unwilling” site for the Lucas Heights Reacror and there will always be nuclear waste there as long as they operate the Reactor creating thousand year old waste which is not the same as the much safer nuclear medicine. Thank you BW

Barry Wakelin | 22 September 2020  

Regardless of my humble and modest beginnings or my almost equally reluctant endings In whatever year past my 75th year,I am incredulous at the reality that anyone would even suggest that a National Nuclear Dump is not a national issue, which sadly is terrifyingly true as the writer explains most articulately. That some members of the Senate Committee endeavour to persuade any alternate view that it is only a Kimba view that counts and we have no right to any other view than the government view because they have bought a 54% YES view with $86 million of taxpayers money at Kimba & a 52% NO view at Hawker is all that matters and that an "unwilling" community at Sutherland Shire, the home of the waste creator with no vote taken is all that matters demonstrates profoundly the poor state of Australian human rights. There is almost no obvious evidence to support the government case and we should look,no further than the government advisor who said a Nuclear Dump in the Olympic Dam province would be a "corporate disaster" and Defence say it is too dangerous in their area twice the size of Tasmania. I rest my case.

Barry Wakelin | 23 September 2020  

Agreed: such an important article. Thank you Michelle for all your advocacy, and Barry and of course senators Rex, Sarah and Jenny. Shame on the SA senators. Up to this point, well founded submissions have not trumped disdain for South Australia and effective bribery. Redoubling my effort.

Pamela Jones | 23 September 2020  

"It may have taken five years but in the last session of the recently completed Senate Inquiry, finally a government department bureaucrat has used the phrase — ‘…it is a national issue.’" This intro is the most significant summary of the hidden process by which the government charges ahead with its plan to construct the nuclear waste dump at Kimba despite objections from anywhere else in Australia except the narrow confines of the Kimba council voting zone. And what of the 2789 submissions? Who read them, and presented the content at least in summary form to any of the four session of the Senate Inquiry? This Federal Government wants more emphasis on Australian values for anyone requesting Australian citizenship. What "Australian value" supports exclusion of the national voice from such an important inquiry? What "Australian value" supports restricting voting rights on a national issue to a small shire of 824 people?

Ian Fraser | 23 September 2020  

Michelle, should we not learn from the British nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 50s? In italics below is an interview from "The world today May 9 2017." There were 12 atomic bombs dropped (some bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and hundreds of smaller atomic tests. The UK with its contempt for Colonials and utter disregard of indigenous Australians gave no thought to the long term consequences or how far the mushroom clouds spread over SA and beyond. At least one thing is consistent. Frydenberg's suggestion to sell out SA again makes it clear he had no thought of the long term consequence. And realistically, why cant India and France dispose of their own nuclear waste? "NICK GRIMM: And what impact did those tests have on them? FRANK WALKER: It killed them. There's no doubt about that. Aboriginal people who were, many reports of the soldiers who were working at Maralinga, finding the corpses of Aboriginal people in the bush - they were all denied vigorously by the Government at the time. The troops were ordered, were actually told, you never saw those corpses. Even though they had been the ones who had to bury them. The thing is it's not just the people who died from the effects of the radiation, it's gone onto their children and the Government giving these gold cards to the surviving veterans and there are very few. We had 17,000 Australian troops there, as I said up to 2,000 Aborigines used the area. It's not just those who have died of radiation so far, it's the children and grandchildren this has gone on to." The entire suggestion to pollute this pristine area which is Aboriginal sacred land is obscene. Perhaps a more realistic suggestion for the site would be to create the nuclear dump in Frydenberg's electorate of Kooyong- perhaps the Kooyong tennis courts would be ideal.

Francis Armstrong | 23 September 2020  

thanks Michelle, 'Never lose the dream!' this is Australia and we share a heritage with a people who have true respect for this land. No one own's the land, we are part of it. We breathe it, we eat it through what is produced within it. Our First Nations brothers and sisters are patiently waiting for the rest of us to respect this land and to listen deeply to it. Those who have, are teaching us that this land is sacred and it is for our wellbeing that we should so regard it. I believe it is for our national wellbeing that we should listen to the wisdom of these our first nations family. we hear so often about 'closing the gap'. Respect the land, respect the people. Return the waste to the place where it is produced. Fr. Tom Gleeson.

Tom Gleeson | 23 September 2020  

Thank you Michele for your persistence and clarity of presentation. I am so pleased and relieved that there has been an acknowledgement that this is a national issue. I wonder why South Australia is so readily listed as the 'Dump State' or the 'Maralinga Experiment State'. Whatever are the SA Senators on that committee thinking? Why can't people like me living in Adelaide suburbia get a vote? More importantly why exclude the rights of the Barngarla people? It's not just a Kimba issue but a national issue. Haven't we made enough mistakes in our dealings with Aboriginal communities? Keep shining the light, Michele. Genevieve Ryan

Genevieve Ryan | 23 September 2020  

Yes, thank you once again Michele - This inquiry has wrung two important admissions out of the trusted public servants from the Ministry. As you state, one, that the dump is a "national issue", after years of saying that it should be entirely the decision of the small, remote, targeted community! Two, that it is a procedurally unfair tactic to amend the Act to change the Minister's announcement of Napandee and instead, use Parliament to pass it into law and so prevent judicial review. The Member for Grey wearily says that this process has been going on for too long and now the community should be allowed to get on with it. He says they are the best informed people on the issue in the country - only partly true. The best informed people in the targeted communities are those opposing the dump. The supporters don't have to do any homework, simply believe the propaganda, accept it, be uncritical and soak up the offers. The informed people have done the independent research and checked "the facts". The proposal does not stand up. The hypocrisy knows no bounds but that is water off a duck's back to DIIS/DISER!

Greg Bannon | 23 September 2020  

Michelle has a good case, based on evidence and argument. I don't think Francis' references to the effects of weapons testing help. They're not really relevant, are they ?

Ginger Meggs | 24 September 2020  

Ya done it again, Michele - spelt it out clearly, yet with detail, - the situation in which the government, ANSTO and the nuclear lobby have by-passed the citizenry, with particular disdain for the Aboriginal citizenry, to push through this unwarranted nuclear waste project. Your work is a great service to us all, black or white!

Noel Wauchope | 24 September 2020  

South Australia's west coast is a community that has experienced serious health impacts of Maralinga testing and witnessed the shabby politics after being sold out by the Australian government as a test site for British Nuclear testing between 1956 and 1963. The local community were silenced, and Aboriginal families were never told or many not even moved on from Maralinga or nearby. Poor health of community members exposed to nuclear testing has impacted on almost every single family, from birth defects, blindness, to many dying young, from cancers, neurological disorders and diseases. The 'Menzie Government handed over to the British the atomic weapons test site, after finding the conditions at Monte Bello and Emu Field were too remote and unworkable. Its claimed that in 'September 1950 in a phone call with his British counterpart, Clement Attlee, he had said yes to nuclear testing without even referring the issue to his cabinet.' https://theconversation.com/sixty-years-on-the-maralinga-bomb-tests-remind-us-not-to-put-security-over-safety-62441 The West Coast has in the past elected relatively honourable politicians. It is time the current Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey and community members 'stood up and together for the interest of their electorate, this generation and the next', not just for an interim increase in their bank balances. On a visit to Italy last year, I was shocked to witness how many young people had cancer. Farming families were quick to tell their story. The Italian government rented out rural land as a bomb test site in Sardinia. A most frightening story to view: https://www.abc.net.au/foreign/secret-sardinia/10759968 Thank's Barry Wakelin, Michelle Madigan and all the brave farmers and local people for standing up and constantly shining the light on the inequitable government process and documenting the shadow corruption in Australian politics. Demand Senator Matt Canavan call for the waste dump to be established in Rockhampton, Queensland. If Senator Canavan demanded the waste dump in his state or community, I doubt he would be re-elected.

PJBOYLAN | 25 September 2020  

Truly shocking totally flawed processes, again First Nations people excluded from veto rights or in this case even the simple right to vote! They are Australian Citizens too, Can all that read this please phone and write to all Labor Cross bench and Independent/ Senators to vote NO to the October vote . “ National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 List of Australian Senator email and office phone numbers at https://www.aph.gov.au/senate/los Write a brief 2 point letter to any Labor or crossbench Senator urging voting against the legislation e.g senator.wong@aph.gov.au to Anthony.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au and others Have we not learned anything in 230 plus years? Our politicians have learnt little, even considering the recent destruction of Juukan Gorge and continued flawed processes which fail to engage with Native Tittle holders. 1) There are calls for a ‘Royal Commission into Native Tittle ‘ due to yet again more amendments to the Native Title Act which will UNDERMING basic right of our First Peoples – refer e.g. to Dr Anne Poelina’s submission (no 24) on the Native Title Bill (2019) . In August 2020 this legislation too was recommended to pass forward despite serious concerns. To download Submission 24 Dr Anne Poelina cut and paste this link https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/NativeTitle/Submissions and download sub 24 and also e.g 26 Original Power Ask Senators to vote NO . I believe time is long overdue for Australia to move towards truth telling a Federal treaty/ies

Georgina Gartland | 25 September 2020  

Thank you again Michele for another article about the irresponsible actions of the Australian Government to foist a radioactive waste dump on Aboriginal and food producing lands. Responsible people know that radioactive wastes need to be stored in places near where they are generated - not hauled over long distances during which they could cause health risks to many communities if there are accidents. At this time in human history where there are so many dangerous contaminants in the environment, we need to be supporting politicians who are dedicated to rejecting nuclear power and fossil fuels to generate power, to cleaning the environment and effectively and safely storing contaminants as well as being much more responsible in terms of having a fair social wage and caring for first nation peoples.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 28 September 2020  

Ginger the relevance of weapons testing is relevant to the debate because: it demonstrates politicians then and now are liars; out of sight is out of mind; short term gain outweighs long term pain; they have no thought of the effect on present and future generations who will be saddled with their mistakes and hypocrisy. Radioactive isotopes eventually decay, or disintegrate, to harmless materials. Some isotopes decay in hours or even minutes, but others decay very slowly. Strontium-90 and cesium-137 have half-lives of about 30 years (half the radioactivity will decay in 30 years). Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years. So what are we letting ourselves into as Australians if we unleash this scourge on the Flinders Ranges?

Francis Armstrong | 30 September 2020