In February 2010, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson introduced the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill into the House of Representatives, saying it represented "a responsible and long overdue approach for an issue that impacts on all Australian communities".
The legislation names Muckaty, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, as the only site to remain under active consideration for a national nuclear waste dump.
The proposal is highly contested by the NT Government and is also being challenged in the Federal Court by Traditional Owners. Despite this, the Bill passed a Senate vote on March 13 with only the Greens and Independent Nick Xenophon opposing it.
Ferguson's legislation repeals three Department of Defence site nominations made by the Howard government − Harts Range, Mt Everard and Fisher's Ridge − but preserves the highly contested Muckaty nomination.
Mitch, a spokesperson for Harts Range and Mt Everard said "It is almost seven years since the NT dump plan was announced. We are happy that Harts Range is now off the list but we support the Muckaty people to say no. This proposal is based on politics not science. This is a very sad day."
Traditional Owners are angry that they continue to be sidelined. Muckaty Traditional Owner Penny Phillips, from the Wirntiku group, "The government should wait for the court case before passing this law. Traditional Owners say no to the waste dump. We have been fighting against this for years and we will keep fighting. We don't want it in Muckaty or anywhere in the NT."
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam called for the vote on the proposed law to be delayed, saying "It is either a complete waste of the parliament's time to be debating a bill that targets a site which, if the applicants to the Federal Court action are successful, will be taken permanently off the table or it may prejudice or get in the way of that action itself."
Ferguson's law is a crude cut and paste of the Howard government's Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act that it purports to replace. It limits the application of federal environmental protection legislation and it curtails appeal rights. The draft legislation overrides the Aboriginal Heritage Protection Act and it sidesteps the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. It allows for the imposition of a dump on Aboriginal land with no consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners. In fact, the Minister can now override any state or territory law that gets in the way of the dump plan.
Before it won government, Labor promised to address radioactive waste management issues in a manner that would "ensure full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes", and to adopt a "consensual process of site selection". Yet despite many invitations, Martin Ferguson refuses to meet with Traditional Owners opposed the dump.
Traditional Owners have now written to the Governor General asking her to meet with them before considering whether to give Royal Assent to the law.
Nigel Scullion, Country Liberal Senator for the NT, was originally opposed to the dump being foisted on the NT. He has now changed his mind after securing a deal with the Gillard Government for funding for NT medical services.
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