Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (10:54): Around an hour ago, the Minister for Resources announced that the government was abandoning the plans to site the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility at Napandee in the Kimba district. I’ve got to say that this shows that the government is cowardly, if not gutless, and that it is incapable of standing up for Australia’s best interests and is sacrificing Australia’s best interests at the altar of the Voice. They are determined to clear the decks of any conflict with Indigenous people throughout the whole country, in order to slide their Voice past the Australian people. While they are telling the Australian people, on the one hand, that it won’t make much difference—’It’s just good manners; government won’t have to do what the Voice says’—they have caved in, at the earliest opportunity, at the first challenge of an Indigenous Voice. An Indigenous group that had been to the Federal Court twice before and had their concerns dismissed came back a third time and got lucky—third time lucky—with the judge.
It has left ANSTO, which produces over 700,000 doses of nuclear medicine for Australians a year, without a plan to manage low-level waste beyond the end of the decade. In fact, by 2027, they will be out of space for the aluminium containers—I don’t know exactly what they are—and, by 2032, they’ll be out of space for low-level waste. That was what was intended to go to the Kimba site.
We have already spent nearly 50 years trying to find a site and the last eight going through this lengthy process of finding a farmer who was willing to sell part of their property to the Commonwealth government to develop a radioactive waste management facility, and then finding if that land complied with the geological needs of such a facility and then if it sat within a community that actually supported the decision—and 61.8 per cent of people in Kimba voted in favour of this. So in abandoning it after that eight-year process—where people have made decisions about their future, about business investment: whether or not they would exit their business or hang around for that $300 million project to be built within the community—the government has totally failed. They’ve just walked away and said, ‘Oh, it’s all too hard.’ But the problem is: the minister’s statement gave absolutely no indication that she had any idea of what they are going to do instead.
My understanding is that ARPANSA laid down the rules to ANSTO and told them that they had to have a plan for management beyond 2030, in place by 2020. Now, I’m trying to get confirmation of that, but, by my reckoning, that means ANSTO is operating outside of their regulations at the moment. So, in my opinion—and I will be seeking confirmation of this—the minister’s decision has now put ANSTO in contravention of its operating regulations. We shall wait and see. But they certainly have no plan to deal with future waste, and we’ve been told that they don’t have any more room for sheds and whatever at the Lucas Heights facility.
Also, the judge’s decision—and I’ve spoken about this in parliament before—allowed standing for the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation on the basis that, yes, freehold title does totally distinguish native title rights, but that if that freehold title had never been taken up then they would be able to claim native title rights on it now. That’s like saying: ‘Well, the chicken wouldn’t have come along without the egg without the’—it’s a decision beyond my comprehension. I think to allow standing in the first place was an error. As to ruling that the minister was biased in his decision: after an eight-year process that found the property, that found the community and that then went through the process of getting the approval of the community, to say, ‘It’s biased’—well, what else would it be, for goodness sake! What does the minister do after that eight-year process—walk away and say: ‘Oh, well, we’ll just decide to start again’?
There is an imperative at stake here, and this government have failed at the first opportunity to do so. It is a disaster of their own making. Had they backed the former government when the bills were put to the parliament and actually deemed the site—we figured that, after seven years, we’d been talking about it and had consulted on it for long enough—we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.
Now ANSTO is left up that proverbial Australian creek without a paddle. The government has no defence. And they are clearing the decks for the Voice. You know—’Don’t watch here, little boys and girls. Just move along. Nothing to see here.’ What a pathetic response!