If the Albanese Labor government wants to restore confidence in its plan for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, it needs to walk the talk and respect Aboriginal voices. Currently, the government is ignoring the Barngarla Traditional Owners who are unanimous in their opposition to the government's plan for a national nuclear waste dump (or 'facility') near Kimba on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.
Labor inherited the Kimba dump plan from the Morrison Coalition government. Barngarla Traditional Owners were excluded from a so-called 'community ballot' by the Morrison government. The results of an independent, professional survey of Barngarla Traditional Owners â€’ which found absolutely no support for the proposed dump â€’ were also ignored.
Jason Bilney, Chair of the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, said: "It is a simple truth that had we, as the First People for the area, been included in the Kimba community ballot rather than unfairly denied the right to vote, then the community ballot would never have returned a yes vote."
Federal parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights Committee unanimously concluded in an April 2020 report that the Morrison government was violating the human rights of Barngarla people. Even the Coalition members of the committee endorsed the report.
But the Morrison government continued to ignore the human rights of the Barngarla people.
The Morrison government also tried to pass legislation which would deny Barngarla Traditional Owners the right to a judicial review of the nomination of the Kimba dump site. However the draft legislation was blocked by Labor, minor parties and independent Senators.
It took 21 years for the Barngarla people to secure Native Title of their country through a court determination. Six months later, the Morrison government nominated Barngarla country for the proposed nuclear waste dump.
It was expected â€’ or at least hoped â€’ that the incoming Albanese Labor government would dump the controversial dump proposal after the May 2022 election. But Labor has pressed ahead with the Kimba dump proposal, led by federal resources minister Madeleine King.
Labor isn't responsible for the plan to dump nuclear waste on Kimba farming land. But that's no excuse for continuing with a controversial and strongly-contested proposal.
Labor's position is that Barngarla Traditional Owners can challenge the dump plan in the courts. And that is what is happening: the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation launched a legal challenge against the Morrison government's declaration of the Kimba dump site. The matter is before the Federal Court and a decision is expected on July 18 (with the proviso that an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court may follow).
There are at least two problems with Labor's position. Firstly, the government â€’ first the Morrison government and now the Albanese government â€’ has vastly greater resources to contest a legal challenge. Indeed the government has spent $13 million fighting the Barngarla Traditional Owners in the Federal Court. Barngarla Traditional Owners haven't even spent half a million dollars; and needless to say they have many pressing demands on their limited resources.
There is no other example in recent Australian history of this level of legal attack on an Aboriginal group.
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