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Dumping a nuclear core election promise?

By Natalie Wasley - posted Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has prided himself on his commitment to keep promises made before the 2007 federal election. For this to ring true, he will need to rein in Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who is stalling on the implementation of commitments regarding nuclear waste management.

At Labor's national conference in April 2007 the party committed to repealing the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA) if elected. Labor also promised a method of addressing radioactive waste management issues which is "scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms" and to "ensure full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes".

Responses from Minister Ferguson to recent (written) Senate questions make it clear that he is considering breaching Labor's promise to repeal the appalling CRWMA legislation, which allows for the dumping of nuclear waste on Aboriginal land in the absence of consultation with, or consent from, traditional owners.


The repeal is said to be "under consideration" by Mr Ferguson. Logically, another matter under consideration must be the option of maintaining the CRWMA and therefore breaking an unequivocal pre-election promise. Apparently, the question of what specific matters are under consideration is also "under consideration" (PDF 21KB).

Despite repeated promises from Labor to handle the controversial issue of nuclear waste management in a more transparent and democratic manner, Martin Ferguson has been every bit as secretive as his Coalition predecessors on this issue.

Unequivocal promises from Howard not to impose a dump in the Northern Territory, made before the 2004 election, were breached with the July 2005 announcement that three sites in the NT had been short-listed for assessment. There was no consultation with the NT Government or affected traditional owners and communities. None.

The draconian and undemocratic Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA) 2005 was then pushed through Parliament, overriding NT laws prohibiting transport and storage of nuclear waste. A raft of environmental, public health and safety protections went out the window because of this legislation. In addition, the legislation prevents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 from having effect during investigation of potential dump sites, and it excludes the Native Title Act 1993 from operating at all.

Amendments passed the following year override Aboriginal Land Rights Act procedures requiring informed consent from all affected people and groups.

Under the amended process, Muckaty, 120km north of Tennant Creek, was added to the short-list of potential dump sites by the Northern Land Council. This ignored strong, public opposition from a number of traditional owners for the 18 months that it took to go from rumour to the reality of the nomination.


After a decade of the Coalition government's haphazard and bullying approach to radioactive waste management, there was a cautious sigh of relief when Labor committed last year to a different approach.

When, how and what this actually means is now under close scrutiny, as affected communities and stakeholder groups battle to get a clear answer from the Rudd Government. Mr Ferguson is yet to adequately respond to enquiries from affected community members, national environment groups and the NT Environment Minister.

It is time for Prime Minister Rudd to haul his maverick minister into line and to ensure that pre-election promises are not broken. Repeal of the CRWMA is a necessary first step in this process. While national attention is focused on outcomes of the 2020 summit, Territorians are left pondering the effects of current radioactive waste policies on the next 20 generations.

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About the Author

Natalie Wasley is a maritime worker and long time nuclear free campaigner.

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