Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (18:49): This is a grievance debate, and I can tell you I am deeply aggrieved. I’m aggrieved by the decision on 18 July by Justice Natalie Charlesworth in the Federal Court, sitting in South Australia, to declare that the nomination of the Napandee site in Kimba for the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility is invalid because the then minister for resources, Keith Pitt, was biased in his decision-making. I find this an astounding decision which throws a host of issues into turmoil, given that on two previous occasions the Federal Court had ruled that things were in order and that the Barngarla did not have a case. A Senate inquiry, indeed, supported the process.
The question is now what this all means. For me, it opens up a whole host of doubts about the value of freehold property rights in Australia. The issue here is that standing was granted to the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation on the basis that, if native title had been in place 50, 60 or 70 years ago when these freehold titles were first granted, they would have been advocating native title at that stage. Because we know freehold title has extinguished native title, Justice Charlesworth has found that the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation have an ongoing interest here because they had standing before the declaration of the freehold rights. To me, that is just gobbledygook. We understand that it has extinguished native title rights, so in that case I don’t believe they should have been given the opportunity to raise these issues. They should not have been granted standing.
Of course, the question now, for anybody with freehold title in Australia, is: does any Indigenous group now have the possibility of saying, ‘I have standing because this would have been my land 200 years ago, and now you have to ask me if you want to put up a garden shed’? It’s been put to me that a radioactive waste management facility is quite different to a garden shed, but there’s nothing in the ruling that would delineate the difference between a garden shed and a radioactive waste management facility.
The second issue that I want to raise, which I think is a very important one for the nation, is where on earth this leaves ANSTO and the operation of the Lucas Heights reactor. In Australia we have ARPANSA, which is the independent regulator of all things nuclear, and ANSTO, which operates the OPAL reactor at Lucas Heights. It’s a wonderful machine, one of the world’s best, and you’re probably visited it, Mr Deputy Speaker. Firstly, ARPANSA have ruled that there will not be a further extension of the storage facilities at Lucas Heights, and I think ANSTO have informed the Senate committee that they expect that the low-level solid waste storage will be full on 1 January 2032—that’s just nine years away now—the aluminium retrieval bins and the storage shed will be full on 1 July 2028, and, following a recent extension, the intermediate-level waste facility will be full in June 2036. Prior to this, ARPANSA insisted that ANSTO have a management plan in place by 2020. They accepted the fact that the government was moving in this area and making declarations. The parliament moved. Both houses of parliament supported Napandee as the site. ANSTO no longer have a plan. It was thrown in the bin on 18 July, and I believe that ANSTO are probably now technically in breach of the current regulations that have been set by ARPANSA.
So where does this leave our nuclear isotopes industry? Where does it leave 700,000 doses of nuclear medicine that go out each year? Where does it leave the countries that depend on us for their medical isotopes? I don’t know. We’re not in government, and I don’t have the access to ANSTO that I may have had on a previous occasion. But I would imagine there is a lot of head scratching going on at the moment, with ANSTO wondering how on earth they are going to meet their requirements.
Both of those issues are why the government should immediately appeal this decision. They have three choices here, of course: they can appeal the decision, they can deem the site, or they can reissue a declaration on the site. I believe that we are out of time to go searching elsewhere in Australia. We’ve actually found a community that wants to host this facility, and it’s taken quite some time, I must say. I first raised this issue in 2015 in my own community. I circulated to the whole district and said, ‘I’m going to hold a meeting, and I’m planning to nominate my farm for the national radioactive waste management facility.’ Consequently, I was barred from being able to do that. Under the constitutional rulings of a couple of years ago, I would have had to give up my job to go with it. I wasn’t aware of that at the time, but that wasn’t the reason I bailed. The minister at the time said, ‘You would put me in an impossible position.’
But anyway, others in the community nominated, and since that time there were 28 nominations. It was whittled down by the department to six. We then had surveys in each of those in communities, and eventually one was chosen: Wallerberdina. It was the only one that had a high enough level of support for the government to push ahead with. My community of Kimba believed we’d made the wrong decision and actually found some new properties to nominate where the neighbours were less hostile than the original nomination. We approached the minister to put in another nomination—it was still open—and two more were accepted. Eventually we had ballots, and then we had another ballot, and in the end Kimba was chosen, with 61.8 per cent of residents voting in favour. They are without doubt the best-informed community in Australia on this issue—and are pretty fed up, I must say, with all of the gratuitous advice that’s come from all around Australia from people who know far less than them about their ability to make a decision for their own future.
If the minister did exhibit bias in selecting the Napandee property after a five-year process of searching for a landowner who would nominate a paddock in a community that wanted the facility—well, of course it was biased! What would anyone else expect? What was the point of the whole process if it was not to find the right community to hold this? So I reject the justice’s decision just purely on that basis. I mean, to accuse bias of the former minister, I think, is absurd given the situation and given the process we had been through to get to that point in time.
Now, on another issue, given that around Australia we are discussing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice and in Western Australia they’re discussing cultural heritage acts and all these things, I’d like to explain this site to the parliament. This site is a 500-acre paddock. It’s not flat, but it’s certainly not hilly; it’s undulating. We had a rainfall event just a little over 12 months ago where approximately 200 millimetres of rainfall fell on the property in about 48 hours. There are no creeks or rivers on this, so it just runs off evenly all the way around, and it contributed to some waterways further away. There was no pooling of water on it. Every stump had been torn out of the ground and burnt up long ago. There are no rocks over the size of my fist across this thing. It is about as nondescript as you could possibly imagine. There is a small clump of trees up on one boundary.
Now, just so people understand, the Kimba district only has 300 millimetres of rainfall. We know that Indigenous groups did not live there on a permanent basis, but they did pass through in the winter months. There are a number of granite outcrops around the district where water would pool, and that would sustain life. We can find the relics around those rocks. No-one disputes that, and they could be significant sites. But none of those sites are anywhere near this particular site. I think the nearest one would be somewhere around 15 to 20 kilometres away. It was tight mallee scrub. So there was no water, there was tight mallee scrub you’d virtually need a machete to smash through to get there, and we find now that this small clump of trees was a Seven Sisters sacred birthing site. Now, people can make up their own mind about the value of that of that claim, but it seems a very unlikely spot for a birthing site. One would think you’d be looking for water.
On every case, though, it is very important that the government stand up and be counted on this. This is an issue of national importance, and they need to find a backbone.