What’s wrong with Ferguson’s National Nuclear Waste Management Bill – speech

Speech to ACE Collective Rally outside Ferguson’s office, 30 April 2010 By Alex Bhathal, Greens candidate for Batman

It’s been two months since we were last here outside our local member’s office, although there’s been a few other community groups here in between times, keeping our seats warm for us!

In these two months, there have been quite a few developments around Martin Ferguson’s National Radioactive Waste Management legislation:

  • The Senate Inquiry has held its two public hearings, and as we know, is due to hand down its report today.
  • The plight of the owners of Muckaty Station has attracted the interest of human rights lawyers who believe there’s a legal basis on which to challenge the site’s nomination process.
  • There’s growing awareness amongst the general public about Ferguson’s legislation and what it means.
  • And of course, elders from the Muckaty Station lands have travelled the length of the country in an attempt to get a fair hearing.

In the past two months, I’ve learnt quite a bit more about the Muckaty Station site and have followed the Senate hearings closely.  Some of what has transpired in this time really shocked me.

The shocks started with Ferguson’s National Radioactive Waste Management Bill – if anything, it’s more draconian than the original Howard government legislation it replaces.

In fact, Ferguson could quite easily have kept the original legislation and made some minor amendments – but I’m guessing that the Rudd government wanted to give the appearance of progressive reform.

After all, Labor went to the 2007 federal election with a clear promise to ensure a transparent process for selecting a nuclear waste site, a process which placed community consultation at its centre and which would be based on agreed scientific evidence about the suitability of sites as repositories for radioactive waste.

And what do we get instead?

  • First, we get the most secretive process possible, where the legal documents recording the nomination of Muckaty Station are not available to the public or let alone that, even to the people who own the land!
  • Second, instead of scientific evidence, we get legislation which puts the decision solely in the hands of the Minister for Energy and Resources.  We get a site which was not even shortlisted as a potential option in the last comprehensive audit of possible radioactive waste sites across Australia and which experienced an earthquake as recently as 2005.  And we get legislation which flies in face of medical community opinion in Australia, which states that a centralised nuclear waste facility is just not necessary in this country.
  • And finally, we get a Senate Inquiry process which reinforces the Legislation’s lack of respect for community consultation, property rights and justice for ordinary Australians.  As I said two months ago, Ferguson’s legislation wouldn’t be amiss in a one-party state.  The failure of the Senate Inquiry to travel to Tennant Creek to hear from the people directly affected by this proposal is what has shocked me most of all.  You’ve got a group of politicians, none of whom would be on less than $100,000 a year and you’ve got a community of remote Australians, all of whom would be living on or below the poverty line.  And the politicians force the community members to travel half the length of the country to plead their case.  This is just completely unacceptable in a country that purports to be a democracy.

At last Thursday’s public meeting at Northcote Town Hall, I made the point that Martin Ferguson is completely unrepresentative of public opinion on nuclear issues in this electorate.  I said that in ten years of electoral campaigning in this seat, I’ve never met a resident who supports uranium mining.  But I think what would shock Batman residents even more is the draconian legislation and processes which their local member is currently engaged in trying to enforce.  Thank you.

Pic by Dominic O'Brien. Traditional owners from Muckaty, near Tennant Creek, NT come to Melbourne for legal meetings about their federal court case against a nuclear waste dump on their country. L to R Posing infront of a billboard in Northcote are Gladys Brown, Mark Lane, Jeannie Sambo, Dianne Stokes and Doris Kelly.

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