Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (10:57): Let me say from the outset that I am both surprised and disappointed at the member for Macarthur’s comments, and particularly the shadow minister’s comments, on this bill, the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. The members are either seeking to deliberately mislead or they are completely ignorant of the facts of what has happened through this inquiry and haven’t been reading the reports that have been issued and the questions that have been answered along the way. It would be disappointing if that were the case—but it shouldn’t be the case. Kimba is my home town. It’s a small, successful farming community in the north-east of Eyre Peninsula. A general description of the country is ‘marginal cropping country’, but a drive through the district will demonstrate success—good fences, good sheds, good farmhouses, modern machinery, well-maintained and first-class technology, and an immaculate town. Kimba has been good to the families that have lived there for generations, and to this day there is a good future there in farming, for those who remain. However, like virtually every other non-coastal farming community in Australia, our population is in long-term decline. Modern agriculture, a wonderful high-tech industry, does not need the people it once did. As our population declines, our football, netball, tennis and cricket clubs are reduced. Our schools, hospitals, banking services and speciality shops are all under threat, not just in Kimba but in similar communities right across Australia.
Kimba has been resilient. We still have most of the services I have listed above, but, for instance, for three out of the last four years we have not had a resident doctor. The school, which hosted over 430 students in the early 1980s, now has 170 students. There used to be four football clubs; there is now one, and we travel further for our matches. Survival of our towns will require something new, something outside the square—perhaps tourism, a mining venture, a processing opportunity, value-adding to our agricultural product or perhaps a government facility. After 40 years of failed attempts to establish a national radioactive waste management facility, in 2015 the government determined to set upon a new path and called for landholders across Australia to volunteer property for the facility. I immediately thought this was a great opportunity for a small community somewhere in rural Australia.
My electorate of Grey has the world’s biggest uranium mine, called Olympic Dam. In 2011, to ensure I had a full understanding of the industry, I spent 10 days in France, Sweden and Finland, looking at their nuclear industry from top to bottom—enrichment, generation, new construction, reprocessing and permanent storage of waste. I visited facilities similar to that which is proposed for Kimba and I knew how highly valued they were in their community for the employment opportunities and the tourism opportunities they offered. Thousands of tourists come and see these well-managed, open, transparent facilities. Believing I could not ask others to do what I was not prepared to do myself—after all, I had a suitable property—I checked with the minister at the time that it would be legal for me to nominate my property and was advised, yes, it would. In April 2015 I wrote to every member of the Kimba district and told them I was intending to nominate my property for the proposed national radioactive waste management facility: ‘Come along and tell me what you think. If the meeting doesn’t approve, I won’t continue.’
About 50 rolled up. I was a little disappointed, but 50 is not a bad crowd. I put the case for over an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Only two or three at the end of that time really expressed any resistance at all, and the rest were supportive. I assume that those in the community who were opposed in principle would have turned up that night. After all, they were all informed the meeting was on. I thought: this community is up for the challenge. So then I, in turn, challenged that meeting by saying: ‘If you think it’s a good idea that I nominate my property, and if you have property, why don’t you nominate yours? That will increase the chances of success.’ As it turned out, three tried. Two were successful, and the nation had 28 nominations from across Australia, two from Kimba. Incidentally, the initial advice I was provided with was changed and I was unable to lodge my application. In retrospect, looking back at the turmoils of the last 12 to 18 months and sections of the Constitution, I would’ve been banned from parliament had it gone ahead. Anyway, there you go; I didn’t know that at the time.
So the department undertook desktop surveys and determined that six of these properties across Australia were suitable. Eventually, random based surveys were undertaken in each community. Even though Kimba voted very narrowly in favour of continuing with the process, it was overlooked. A feature of that survey was the number of direct neighbours who were opposed to the nominated sites. Remember: the government always said that we were looking for a community that actually wanted the facility. The only community that progressed to that stage was Hawker. As a result, a group of determined Kimba residents came together and formed the Working for Kimba’s Future group. They were convinced that a huge opportunity had passed our town by, and they set about locating land in the district with more amenable neighbours. Two courageous neighbours came forward—the Rayners and the Baldocks—and I commend them for that. They were prepared to nominate their properties, and the committee lobbied to re-enter the process. Minister Frydenberg dispatched departmental officials to gauge whether support existed on the ground and eventually, in February 2017, he accepted the new nominations.
A period of information and interaction began, with top-level scientists, experts in nuclear medicine, radioactive waste management, geologists, a mayor and a local farmer from Champagne in France, where a similar but much larger facility is located. A permanent departmental presence was located in our town to provide information. Eventually a full ballot of the Kimba district area followed, asking people if they wanted to keep exploring the possibility of hosting the national radioactive waste management facility. Fifty-seven point four per cent voted in favour, and the process continued.
In December 2018, just as both the Kimba and Hawker communities were about to go to the final vote on the issue, the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation actioned a case in the Supreme Court of South Australia, alleging that the ballot was racist. It was referred to the Federal Court, which eventually rejected the case. The action had resulted in a 12-month delay, but finally a ballot took place in both communities in late 2019. The Hawker community narrowly rejected the proposal. A strong 61.57 per cent of the Kimba population voted in favour of hosting the facility. Importantly, more than 90 per cent of the eligible voters participated, and that underlines the fact that this community was well engaged and well informed. Separate surveys determined that around 60 per cent of the businesses, 60 per cent of the local submissions and 60 per cent of the neighbours—there’s a great confluence there—supported the project. Importantly, at Napandee, the site that was eventually selected—the site that is owned by the Baldocks—100 per cent of the direct neighbours, those that share boundaries with the host property, support the facility. From the start, the government has said, ‘We want a community that wants the facility,’ and we’ve found one. In late January this year, Minister Canavan announced that Kimba was to host the facility and it was to be on the Napandee site. It is worth mentioning that the site is a freehold title and, as such, native title rights have been extinguished.
However, sadly for the community that has given five years of its life to make this decision, COVID-19 has intervened and delayed progress yet again. Today will provide some sustenance for the majority of Kimba residents who just want to get on with the job. There is no doubt that the Kimba is the best informed community in Australia on this issue. No other community has the same level of understanding as Kimba. But, after five years, the free advice and criticism from those outside the community continues. From hundreds and thousands of kilometres away, they continue to lecture the community and try to obstruct the process. We’ve had court challenges and inquiries from Senate committees and joint standing committees, driven by people who, by inference, believe that the people of Kimba are too dumb to get the decision right. Let me make this quite clear: this community is the best informed in Australia. There are those who sit outside Kimba and think that they’ve made the wrong decision, they don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re only farmers and they’re not smart enough to work it out. I can tell you that it offends me. That attitude offends me. This is a decision for the people of Kimba, and they have made it.
On the upside, in the immediate future we look forward to the second $2 million community benefits program. The last one was wonderful and provided support for a wide range of community infrastructure. The application process is now underway in both Kimba and Hawker. For Hawker, this will be the final part of their involvement in this process. This time, with a lot of the smaller jobs done in the community, I am hoping for some bigger projects offering some long-term economic gains for the community, and I’m very confident, having talked to a number of my local residents, that there will be at least a few of those.
Then we look forward to the period of evaluation and planning of the site and the design process. During that time, $8 million will be made available to build capacity in the district and the surrounding communities to maximise the benefits to the local community. There is a $320 million construction phase. Remember, Kimba is a district with a population of just over 1,000 people, so it’s a very significant project. Three million dollars will be provided to maximise the outcomes for the local Aboriginal community, and following that will come the construction. It is envisaged that it will take two years. However, I will be working to ensure that, in so much as it does not compromise either the construction or the operation, we elongate that building phase. That way, local business is more likely to be able to gear up and then sustain new capacity over the longer term as we create a base in Kimba for the supply of goods and services to others.
Then comes the best bit: operating the facility. There will be 45 full-time-equivalent jobs in the dedicated workforce, with other jobs generated in the wider community providing services. We have a commitment to a resident workforce—no FIFO. Of the 45 permanent jobs, all but 12 will be able to be recruited from the local community. They will not require specific skills and will be able to be trained on the job.
Additionally, it is envisaged that a number of the projects, including telecommunications, roadworks and community infrastructure, will provide benefits to the wider community. Once operating, the $20 million will be provided for the ongoing benefit of the community. We intend to manage and protect that investment and only distribute the profits, thus ensuring it permanently remains for the community benefit. This investment can then be used to build community infrastructure and, most importantly, help establish new industry and employment opportunities, working to grow Kimba and arrest the population decline I detailed at the beginning of the speech.
The project will be a game changer for Kimba. It will offer a secure future for a bigger and stronger Kimba. We will use it to lever bigger and better things. I’m convinced a hundred other communities around Australia will look at us in the future and ask the questions: ‘Why didn’t we put our hand up? Why didn’t we have a go at this?’ The local farm group has pushed to ensure land be made available for them to grow crops in the immediate vicinity, which will provide proof of safety, but with a view of developing links with a scientific capacity to help identify and solve some of our agricultural barriers. We will build links between the school and the facility, opening up a scientific career path for our students. We look forward to the Commonwealth helping to ensure the sustainability of our medical workforce and facilities. I’m proud of my home town, and it has continued to function well through this process, even being named in a Bond University study as the kindest place in the country and the best remote area in which to live in November 2018.
Certainly the five-year process has affected some personal relationships. There have been some tough times. I accept that, and I thank the people for their tolerance and their ability to get on, even though some of these relationships have been strained. But you can’t have this type of debate without that. I often say to people, ‘If you want to see division, let me take you to a community where there’s a proposal to build a wind farm or to put up a new mine or to build a feedlot.’ All these kinds of debates too get emotional and strong when people believe passionately in the side of the debate they are taking. We’ve got through that, and now we are keen to get on with the job. We’ve held together and we want the hold-ups and delays caused by dissent in this place and others to go away. Let us get on with that job. It’s a great frustration to those of us who backed the development that we just can’t get on with the job.
In that light, that’s why I was disappointed at the shadow minister’s comments—that they are waiting for information. As I said, the information has been made available over and over again, but we’ll go through this process with the Senate. I fervently hope that the opposition will come on board when we get to the Senate. (Time expired)