Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (16:39): I’m sad to report that I’m in no better mood about the government’s decision to cancel the Napandee project in Kimba, to be the host of the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility, than I was in question time. This is an appalling decision that has left the Australian medical nuclear isotope industry with no plan for the future. It is a decision that the government has chosen to take to clear the decks of any altercations with Indigenous groups around Australia before the staging of the Voice referendum. It has slayed the interests of Australia on the altar of the Voice. It is an appalling decision.
The government should backtrack on its decision today and appeal the decision. Bear in mind that this exact same case had been before the Federal Court twice before, and the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation decided to bring it back for a third time. If you shop around long enough, eventually you’ll find a judge that agrees with you. In this case, the government chose not to pursue the costs that were awarded against the BDAC on the first two cases, so there’s no cost to this corporation to keep challenging it in every court in Australia. There’s no end to the process, so eventually they find a chink in the armour.
This government has chosen not to stand up to that, just because we’re heading for the Voice. If people think that this rollover today is not a precursor to what is likely to happen under the Voice, they are kidding themselves. We’ve got the Prime Minister telling us that it’s only good manners, that it won’t have any power and that the government doesn’t have to do what it says. Well, the government could have stood up to this decision too, but it chose not to.
Where it leaves ANSTO, I don’t know, but my understanding is that they were told by ARPANSA in about 2018 that they needed to have a plan in place by 2020 to manage waste beyond 2030. That was three years ago. That plan was called Napandee, and it went out the door this morning. So where does that leave ANSTO? I asked the Prime Minister today to tell me what plan the government now has to deal with this waste. You saw his answer—he ended it off quickly and wouldn’t answer the question.
It has also led on the Kimba community, who in good faith entered into the pursuit of securing this site for a town that has a declining population. In 1983, we had a population in Kimba of a little over 1,700. We now only have a little over a thousand. We had four grocery shops in 1983, and now we have two. We had five machinery dealerships, and now we have one. The community is still vibrant and capable of attracting people there, but this facility offered 45 permanent jobs and a way to actually secure our future. We worked our guts out for it and have been abandoned by the government.
It has also, in my opinion, raised doubts about the integrity of freehold land ownership. The minister specifically denied this in her response, but bear in mind that BDAC were given standing in the court. That means they were allowed to appear in the court and actually make their appeal against the decision. They were given standing in the court on the basis that, if the freehold title had never been issued—I think it was about 70 years ago—and it was just standing scrub today or whatever, they could claim native title, despite the fact that the judgement actually recognises that freehold title totally extinguishes native title. So this is a ridiculous decision within itself.
And then they claimed that the minister—after going through an eight-year program to select a site in a community that was suitable, that the farmer was prepared to sell and that the community actually wanted to have—was biased in selecting that site. Then what on earth was the whole program about? What was the minister supposed to do when he got to that point? Should he have said, ‘Let’s abandon ship and start all over again’? That’s what’s happened now. The government has abandoned ship and we have to start all over again—and we’ve got about an eight-year timeline to get this right. Considering that in the last eight years we’ve barely been able to get a small hole in the ground to drill for soil type, how on earth is the government going to have this facility up and in place by 2032?