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Aboriginal First Nations and Australia's pro-nuclear 'environmentalists'

By Jim Green - posted Tuesday, 3 July 2018


The plan to turn South Australia into the world's nuclear waste dump has lost momentum since 2016 though it continues to be promoted by some politicians, the Business SA lobby group, and an assortment of individuals and lobbyists including self-styled 'pro-nuclear environmentalists' or 'ecomodernists'.

In its 2016 report, the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission established by the state government promoted a plan to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (about one-third of the world's total) and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste. The state Labor government then spent millions on a state-wide promotional campaign under the guide of consultation.

The government also initiated a Citizens' Jury process. However two-thirds of the 350-member Citizens' Jury rejected the waste import proposal "under any circumstances" in their November 2016 report. The Jury's verdict was non-binding but it took the wind out of the dumpsters' sails.

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A key factor in the Jury's rejection of the waste import plan was that Aboriginal people had spoken clearly in opposition. The Jury's report said: "There is a lack of aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions. The aboriginal people of South Australia (and Australia) continue to be neglected and ignored by all levels of government instead of respected and treated as equals."

The respect shown by the Citizens' Jury to Aboriginal Traditional Owners had been conspicuously absent in the debate until then. The SA government's handling of the Royal Commission process systematically disenfranchised Aboriginal people.

The Royal Commission

Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce ‒ a retired Navy officer ‒ didn't appoint a single Aboriginal person to the staff of the Royal Commission or to his Expert Advisory Committee. Aboriginal people repeatedly expressed frustration with the Royal Commission process.

The Royal Commission acknowledged the opposition of Aboriginal people to its nuclear waste import plan – but it treated that opposition not as a red light but as an obstacle to be circumvented. The Commission opted out of the debate regarding land rights and heritage protections for Aboriginal people, stating in its report: "Although a systematic analysis was beyond the scope of the Commission, it has heard criticisms of the heritage protection framework, particularly the consultative provisions."

Despite its acknowledgement that it had not systematically analysed the matter, the Royal Commission nevertheless arrived at unequivocal, favourable conclusions, asserting that there "are frameworks for securing long-term agreements with rights holders in South Australia, including Aboriginal communities" and these "provide a sophisticated foundation for securing agreements with rights holders and host communities regarding the siting and establishment of facilities for the management of used fuel."

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Such statements were conspicuously absent in submissions from Aboriginal people and organisations. There is in fact an abundance of evidence that land rights and heritage protection frameworks in SA are anything but "sophisticated."

Enter the ecomodernists

Ben Heard from the 'Bright New World' pro-nuclear lobby group said the Royal Commission's findings were "robust". Seriously? Failing to conduct an analysis and ignoring an abundance of contradictory evidence but nevertheless concluding that a "sophisticated foundation" exists for securing agreements with Aboriginal rights-holders ... that's "robust"? Likewise, academic Barry Brook, a member of the Commission's Expert Advisory Committee, said he was "impressed with the systematic and ruthlessly evidence-based approach the [Royal Commission] team took to evaluating all issues."

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About the Author

Dr. Jim Green is the national anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia, and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter produced by the World Information Service on Energy (Netherlands) and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (USA).

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