The federal government recently announced that it plans to establish a national nuclear waste 'facility' near Kimba on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. It will comprise a permanent dump for low-level nuclear waste, and an 'interim' store for long-lived intermediate-level waste.
Shamefully, the federal government has decided to move ahead despite the unanimous opposition of the Barngarla Traditional Owners, native title holders over the area.
The federal government refused a request from the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation (BDAC) to include traditional owners in a community ballot held last year. So BDAC initiated a legal action protesting their exclusion. The court case is ongoing and an outcome is expected soon.
BDAC also engaged the Australian Election Company to conduct a confidential postal ballot. Not a single Barngarla Traditional Owner voted in favour of the dump. BDAC wrote to the government calling for the dump proposal to be abandoned in light of their unanimous opposition, and stating that BDAC will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it being imposed on Barngarla Country against their will.
The National Radioactive Waste Management Act systematically discriminates against Australia's First Nations. For example, the nomination of a site for a nuclear dump is valid even if Aboriginal traditional owners were not consulted and did not give consent.
And the Act has sections which nullify or curtail the application of laws such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, and the Native Title Act 1993.
The federal government recently announced that it plans to amend the Waste Management Act. While the Act is sorely in need of an overhaul, the planned amendments aren't those that are needed.Clauses in the Act that dispossess and disempower traditional owners will remain untouched.
The SA Labor Party argues that traditional owners ought to have a right of veto over nuclear projects given the sad and sorry history of the nuclear industry in SA, stretching back to the British atomic bomb tests.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Susan Close says that SA Labor is "utterly opposed" to the "appalling" process which led to the recent announcement regarding the Kimba site.
Compare that to the federal government, whose mind-set seems not to have advanced from the 'Aboriginal natives shall not be counted' clause in the Constitution Act 1900.
The current debate follows a history of similar proposals â€’ all of them defeated, with traditional owners repeatedly leading successful campaigns.
In 2004, after a six-year battle, the Howard government abandoned plans for a national nuclear waste dump in SA. The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta â€’ a senior Aboriginal women's council â€’ congratulated the government for belatedly getting their 'ears out of their pockets'.
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