National Radioactive Waste Management Act

In 2005, the Howard Coalition government passed the appalling Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act despite opposition from the ALP and minor parties. In 2012, the ALP government – with Coalition support – passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Act which was a cut-and-paste job, almost as bad as the legislation it replaced.

Now (2018), the Coalition is in government again and spin-doctors like departmental bureaucrat Bruce Wilson say the National Radioactive Waste Management Act is ‘worlds best practice’. It isn’t.

A 2017 report by law student Amanda Ngo summarises the problems with the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012.

Undemocratic nuclear waste legislation should be dumped

Jim Green, 10 April 2017, Online Opinion,

A new report released by Friends of the Earth Australia points to serious problems with Commonwealth legislation governing the push to establish a national nuclear waste facility in South Australia. The report ‒ written by Monash University fifth-year law student Amanda Ngo ‒ concerns the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 (NRWMA). Its release comes against the backdrop of the federal government’s targeting of a site near Hawker in SA’s Flinders Ranges for a national radioactive waste store and repository.

The NRWMA gives the federal government the power to extinguish rights and interests in land targeted for a radioactive waste facility. In so doing the relevant Minister must “take into account any relevant comments by persons with a right or interest in the land” but there is no requirement to secure consent -‘or to back off if consent is not forthcoming.

Aboriginal Traditional Owners, local communities, pastoralists, business owners, local councils and State/Territory Governments are all disadvantaged and disempowered by the NRWMA.

The NRWMA goes to particular lengths to disempower Traditional Owners ‒ in this case Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners from the Flinders Ranges. The nomination of a site for a radioactive waste facility is valid even if Aboriginal owners were not consulted and did not give consent. Federal Labor MPs complained long and loud about similar provisions in the Howard government’s legislation, describing it as ‘extreme’, ‘arrogant’, ‘draconian’, ‘sorry’, ‘sordid’, and ‘profoundly shameful’. At its 2007 national conference, Labor voted unanimously to repeal the legislation.

But it took five years for Labor Resources Minister Martin Ferguson to repeal the legislation, and Labor’s NRWMA isn’t much different to the legislation it replaced. It states that consultation should be conducted with Traditional Owners and consent should be secured ‒ but that the nomination of a site for a radioactive waste facility is valid even in the absence of consultation or consent.

The NRWMA has sections which nullify State or Territory laws that protect the archaeological or heritage values of land or objects, including those which relate to Indigenous traditions. The Act curtails the application of Commonwealth laws including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Native Title Act 1993 in the important site-selection stage. The Native Title Act 1993 is expressly overridden in relation to land acquisition for a radioactive waste facility.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners have been clear in their opposition to the planned radioactive waste facility in the Flinders Ranges. “I call upon the Federal and State Governments to put an end to this volatile position that the Adnyamathanha people are facing,” said Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Enice Marsh. “Native Title and the Aboriginal Heritage Act are not protecting our land. This needs a complete review or a Royal Commission. The Barndioota site in the Flinders Ranges must be struck off as a potential radioactive waste dump site and the National Radioactive Waste Management Act needs to be amended to give us the right to say ‘no’.”

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Regina McKenzie, who lives on Yappala Station near the proposed dump site, said: “The NRWMA is a political attack on Adnyamathanha women’s spiritual beliefs. The destruction of our culture and significant woman’s sites is a form of assimilation and thus breaches the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The NRWMA has been criticised in both Senate Inquiries and a Federal Court challenge to an earlier federal government attempt to impose a national radioactive waste facility at Muckaty in the Northern Territory.

The NRWMA also puts the federal government’s radioactive waste agenda above environmental protection as it seeks to curtail the application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Successive governments have taken baby-steps towards a fair, responsible approach to radioactive waste management. The NRWMA outlines a process for land-owners to volunteer land for a waste facility. That’s clearly an improvement on earlier, failed attempts to impose facilities on unwilling communities. But land-owners weren’t required to consult neighbours or local communities or councils before nominating their land. Thus the process led to acrimonious disputes at many of the nominated sites. The Flinders Ranges site was nominated by a formal Liberal Party politician and the nomination was accepted by the federal government despite overwhelming opposition from Traditional Owners, including those living near the proposed dump site.

Over the past year, the government has revised its process such that it will not accept any future nominations of land for a radioactive waste facility unless the applicant can demonstrate “broad community support”. Again, that’s a welcome step towards a consent-based process. But the government still holds a very big stick behind its back ‒ the NRWMA ‒ which allows it to override opposition from communities, councils and Traditional Owners.

A senior government official told a public meeting in Hawker, near the proposed dump site, that the NRWMA is based on ‘world’s best practice’. In fact, the legislation systematically disempowers local communities and Traditional Owners and weakens environmental protections. It needs to be radically amended or replaced with legislation that protects the environment and gives local communities and Traditional Owners the right to say ‘no’ to radioactive waste facilities.

The ALP’s racist, undemocratic National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012

The Australian Labor Party voted against the Howard government’s 2005 Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, with Labor parliamentarians describing it as “extreme”, “arrogant”, “draconian”, “sorry”, “sordid”, and “profoundly shameful”. At its 2007 national conference, Labor voted unanimously to repeal the legislation. Yet after the 2007 election, the Labor government passed legislation − the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA) − which was almost as draconian and still permitted the imposition of a nuclear dump with no Aboriginal consultation or consent (to be precise, the nomination of a site was not invalidated by a failure to consult or secure consent).

Here’s some information about the NRWMA and the ALP’s duplicity and racism.

Half-truths and half-lives double community resolve to stop Muckaty nuclear dump

Media Release / March 13, 2012

The Beyond Nuclear Initiative (BNI) says radioactive waste management legislation passed this afternoon in the Senate is deeply flawed and will not slow down the campaign against the proposed Muckaty radioactive waste dump in the Northern Territory. The dump is earmarked for low and long-lived intermediate level waste, including spent fuel rods and decommissioned reactor parts from the Lucas Heights nuclear facility in Sydney.

The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill was introduced two years ago and is strongly opposed by the Northern Territory government, Traditional Owners and a growing number of trade unions and civil society groups.

Minister 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”.

Muckaty Traditional Owners have launched a federal court case against both the federal government and the Northern Land Council, which nominated the Muckaty site in 2007.

Muckaty Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said, “At the start Senator Nigel Scullion said ‘not on my watch’ will the waste dump happen. He should be fighting against it and look after people in the Territory. Its very confusing for us ‒ the Senators are meant to represent us. Do they care about Traditional Owners, do they care about people in the Barkly, the cattlemen? The government should come and see this country. We have been inviting them many times and they have ignored us”.

“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,” Ms Phillips added.

BNI coordinator Natalie Wasley said, “Passing this law before consulting with the affected community is putting the radioactive cart before the horse. The Minister has never visited Tennant Creek to talk with Traditional Owners or the broader community. The discussion about Muckaty should be had sitting on red dust, not the red carpet of the Senate”.

Ms Wasley concluded “BNI welcomes the passing of Senator Scott Ludlam’s amendment that international waste cannot be stored at the facility, however, the rest of the legislation is neither new nor good. It builds on the mistakes of the Howard era and lacks credibility and consent. There are still many hurdles for the government before a dump is up and running, and this proposal will be challenged every step of the way.”

Renewed call for Muckaty dump plan to be scrapped as ‘draconian’ nuclear waste legislation hits two-year mark.

March 13, 2014, Media release

Marking two years since passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA), Traditional Owners and supporters have renewed calls for the government to drop plans for locating the first national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty, 120km north of Tennant Creek in the NT.

Beyond Nuclear Initiative convenor Natalie Wasley said, “The National Radioactive Waste Management Act is draconian and gives the Minister absolute discretion in key aspects of radioactive waste management. It overrides any state or territory law that would ‘hinder’ the plan, and limits the application of environmental protection laws, Aboriginal heritage protection legislation, and appeal rights. It does not grant ‘procedural fairness’ in relation to the existing Muckaty nomination.”

“Radioactive waste management laws should require engagement with civil society stakeholders in line with international standards. Australia’s targeting of remote communities considered politicially expedient through application of draconian legislation like the NRWMA is an international embarrassment.”

Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said “We had very hurt feelings when the legislation passed the Senate two years ago. We had been saying no for a long time- my old aunty Bunny Nabarula cried her heart out. People are upset that the new government is pushing ahead, but we are not going to stop fighting. We want the government to put a full stop to the nomination.”

“If the Northern Land Council prepares another nomination on Muckaty then we will stand up to them again. This country is very important to us. We also want people to remember the transport accidents that have happened on the road and rail in the NT. If the waste travels a long way, then any of those areas could be affected.”

Ms Wasley added, “Muckaty is the only site currently under consideration but the community is not being left to fight the proposal themselves. The Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other national groups are calling for the proposal to be dropped in favour of an independent Commission to examine all options radioactive waste management. A federal court trial challenging the site nomination will be heard throughout June.” added Ms Wasley.

Ms Phillips concluded “Minister MacFarlane said he will visit Tennant Creek and meet with us. It is time for him to see the country and learn why we are saying no. People are getting tired, especially the old people, but we all work together and we haven’t backed down, we are still strong against it and will keep going until the Muckaty plan is stopped.”

Below are responses to the 2010 tabling of the National Radioctive Waste Management Bill

Ferguson To Dump Nuclear Waste On ‘Soft Target’

Natalie Wasley, New Matilda, 24 Feb 2010

The Government wants to go ahead with its radioactive waste dump plans — and it’s no coincidence that those plans involve Aboriginal land far from marginal seats, writes Natalie Wasley

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson announced on Tuesday that he intends to pursue plans for a national radioactive waste repository at Muckaty, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

Ferguson’s media release asserted that he was restoring “fairness” to the difficult issue of managing Australia’s radioactive waste. Elements of the Minister’s announcement do just that — in particular, the repeal of the 2005-06 Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, extraordinary legislation which permitted the imposition of a dump in the absence of any consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners.

However the Minister’s new legislation entrenches another unfair process which began under the Howard government. Section 11 of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 provides the Minister with the power to override any and all State/Territory laws, which might in any way impede his nuclear waste dump plans. Ferguson said yesterday “Our new law will effectively have the same application as the previous government in respect of that area. In no way can we allow any state or territory government to get in the way of establishing a repository”.

Overall then, the Minister is pursing an approach with is scarcely less draconian than that of the Howard government.

Indeed, a reading of the Bill reveals that Ferguson also intends to override the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 in relation to site selection. Thus Ferguson is denying the Environment Minister any role in the site selection process.

Ferguson claims that Ngapa Traditional Owners support the nomination of the Muckaty site. He well knows that many Ngapa Traditional Owners oppose the dump — as well as numerous requests for meetings, he received a letter opposing the dump in May 2009 signed by 25 Ngapa Traditional Owners and 32 Traditional Owners from other Muckaty groups. When quizzed about the letter on ABC radio yesterday, Ferguson quickly changed the topic.

Ferguson is also well aware of the unanimous resolution passed by the NT Labor Conference in April 2008 which called on the Federal Government to exclude Muckaty on the grounds that the nomination “was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners and affected people and as such does not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act”.

And Ferguson knows that Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin among many others has acknowledged the distress and opposition of many Muckaty Traditional Owners.

As well, a joint ALP media release issued in 2007, from Senator Trish Crossin, Senator Kim Carr, Minister Peter Garrett and Minister Warren Snowdon said “Labor understands that many families in the area are strongly opposed to the waste dump idea, and that these families are concerned their rights have been ignored in the process”.

The nomination of the Muckaty site hinges on a contract signed between the Northern Land Council, Federal Government and Muckaty Land Trust, but requests to view this contract — requests made by Traditional Owners and by a Senate Committee dedicated to the issue — have been denied.

The Australian National Audit Office was approached to assess the validity of the “commercial in confidence” status of the contract, but merely referred the request to the Department, which replied that the NLC had requested it remain confidential.

If the negotiations are truly to be “open, transparent and accountable”, as the Rudd Government claims, the site selection study and site nomination deed must be available for independent scrutiny. If not, they will continue to be mistrusted by Traditional Owners and stakeholders who have been shut out of many stages of the process to date.

Traditional Owners opposed to the radioactive waste dump will continue fighting to keep their country clean — and they may prevail after yet another protracted struggle. Muckaty Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes has been speaking against the proposal since its inception and is determined to see it through. “We have been writing letters to the government body signed by the Traditional Owners. We have been asking for someone to come and sit with us so that we can talk to them face to face. We want to keep talking about it and continue to fight it until we are listened to. The big capital N‐O.”

Yesterday, while outlining his new dump process, Ferguson mentioned nuclear medicine repeatedly. But the practice of nuclear medicine in no way depends on securing a dump site — let alone the hotly contested Muckaty site — and it is simply scare-mongering for the Minister to suggest otherwise.

How should we handle the contentious issues surrounding nuclear waste? It’s easier said than done, but all we need is a little common sense. Firstly, as with the production of all other hazardous materials, it needs to be demonstrated that radioactive waste is not being produced unnecessarily. It is by no means clear that Australia needs to operate the research reactor at Lucas Heights — our sole reactor. Measured by radioactivity, the reactor (and in particular its spent nuclear fuel) is the source of well over 90 per cent of the waste in question. For its part, the Labor Party, when in opposition, was itself opposed to the construction of the new “OPAL” research reactor.

Secondly, all options for radioactive waste management need to be considered — not just the option of “remote” repositories (which are always more remote for some people than for others). This includes the option of ongoing storage at the Lucas Heights site, which is operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. ANSTO is the source of most of the waste and is host to most of Australia’s radioactive waste management expertise. All the relevant organisations have acknowledged that ongoing storage at Lucas Heights is a viable option — those organisations include ANSTO, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, the Australian Nuclear Association and even Ferguson’s own department.

Additionally, requiring ANSTO to store its own waste is the best — and perhaps the only — way of focussing the organisation’s collective mind on the importance of waste minimisation principles.

Thirdly, if a site selection process is required it ought to be based on scientific and environmental siting criteria, as well as on the principle of voluntarism — if a community gets a site like this, it should be because that community can see benefits in it. At the moment site selection is made for rather different reasons. In 2005, the Howard government chose the Northern Territory, and ruled out NSW, on purely political reasons.

When the federal Bureau of Resource Sciences conducted a national repository site selection study in the 1990s, informed by scientific, environmental and social criteria, the Muckaty site did not even make the short-list as a “suitable” site. The fact that Martin Ferguson now favours it isn’t about the site being genuinely suitable — it’s about Muckaty being seen as a politically soft target.

Nuclear waste dump likely for NT

Sara Everingham, February 23, 2010

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Government has announced plans to repeal legislation which could force the Northern Territory to accept a national nuclear waste dump.

But a dump is likely to be located there anyway. It looks increasingly likely that waste will be kept at a remote pastoral property on Aboriginal land north of Tennant Creek. It has been offered to the Federal Government as a possible site. But there’s debate about whether Aboriginal custodians have been properly consulted.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Federal Government says low and medium level nuclear waste being reprocessed overseas has to be returned to Australia and a nuclear waste facility is needed to store it. The longstanding question has been where it will go. Muckaty Station, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek could be the site.

The Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson.

MARTIN FERGUSON: The initial consideration will be for the site that has volunteered to be by the Northern Land Council on behalf of the Ngapa people.

SARA EVERINGHAM: In 2005 the Howard government introduced legislation that would override any Northern Territory law opposing a nuclear waste dump being established in the Northern Territory. It looked to the Northern Territory after South Australia won a High Court challenge against a federal government’s plan to build the facility there.

The former government nominated three sites on defence force land in the Northern Territory as possible locations. The Northern Land Council nominated another Muckaty Station on Aboriginal land.

Now Martin Ferguson says his Government plans to overturn that legislation.

MARTIN FERGUSON: I will introduce in its place a process which requires me as the Minister to actively engage to establish a purpose-built facility, having proper regard to the normal processes that exist in Australia, going to issue of heritage and environmental protection.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The bill rules out the three sites proposed by the previous government. That leaves Muckaty Station. The traditional owners at Muckaty Station offered a one and a half square kilometre patch of land for a one-off payment of $12 million.

In 2007 one of those traditional owners told the ABC they made the decision for their children’s future but 57 other traditional owners from the Muckaty Land Trust have signed a petition opposing its use as a nuclear waste dump.

Diane Stokes is one of them.

DIANE STOKES: I want to get the traditional owners together, talk about it and then maybe have a ceremony to show Martin Ferguson who we are, because he didn’t come when we asked him.

We’ve written him a letter to come, he never come towards us. He never came and faced us. He never came and talked to us. None of the people, not even the NLC came and talked to the traditional owners.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Northern Land Council wasn’t available for an interview today. A spokesman says the council is still waiting to see the full detail of the legislation. In the past the council has said it has consulted with the relevant traditional owners within the Muckaty Land Trust.

Natalie Wasley from the Beyond Nuclear Initiative says all the traditional owners in the land trust have the right to be consulted.

NATALIE WASLEY: There’s a large number of traditional owners who have written to the Minister, the latest letter which was received by the Minister in the middle of 2009 has 57 signatures from traditional owners who have strong cultural connections to that area, expressing opposition to the proposal.

And this is a very important document because there’s a large number of people from the Ngapa group which is the group the Minister is purporting are all in support of this proposal. So it clearly does not have consent from all of the affected people.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Have you spoken to the traditional owners who have nominated their site?

NATALIE WASLEY: I haven’t spoken directly to those traditional owners. They have been mostly in discussion with the Northern Land Council but I have spent a number of years around Tennant Creek and speaking with people affected by this proposal and they have said they will sustain their opposition, they strongly believe they have a right to be speaking about this proposal.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Muckaty nomination has also been criticised by Martin Ferguson’s own Labor colleagues. In opposition in 2007, Peter Garrett said the consultation process was a joke and that the project needed the full consent of communities.

Martin Ferguson says Muckaty Station will be subject to a full scientific and environmental assessment and most importantly, the approval of Muckaty’s traditional owners including those who don’t approve of the proposal.

MARTIN FERGUSON: Well I’ve indicated to the Northern Land Council that I’m prepared to meet with the traditional owners. It would then be a requirement for them through my department to have full and proper negotiations.

SARA EVERINGHAM: If Muckaty Station fails those tests, the Minister says he’ll call for other nominated sites around the country.

Central Land Council reponse to dump law

The Central Land Council (CLC) expressed “profound disappointment” that the Senate passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill on March 13, describing the legislation as “fundamentally flawed”.

CLC Director David Ross said: “This legislation retains many of the provisions that are in the old Act (Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005). It seeks to find a politically expedient solution, shows contempt for state and Territory laws, and a disregard for decision making processes enshrined in the Land Rights Act.

“This legislation is shameful, it subverts processes under the Land Rights Act and is clearly designed to reach the outcome of a dump being located on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, whether that’s the best place for it or not.

“The passage of this legislation will further inflame the tensions and divisions amongst families in Tennant Creek, and cause great stress to many people in that region. The Minister should have acknowledged some time ago that the Muckaty nomination is highly contested, and he should have insisted on a thorough and proper consultation process as set out in the Land Rights Act.”


23 February 2010
Radioactive Waste Dump: Territory still the target
The Government has foreshadowed the introduction of legislation to repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, but left Muckaty Station outside Tenant Creek as the most likely target for the national radioactive waste dump.
“If Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is serious when he says, ‘there is no pre-determined site outcome’ and that he is putting in place proper processes for site selection, then he should scrap Muckaty and start from scratch, then we’ve got half a chance of an honest process,” said Greens spokesperson on nuclear issues Senator Scott Ludlam.
“The nomination of Muckaty Station as a site for the dump was only possible under the Radioactive Waste Management Amendment Act (2006) – which the ALP opposed, and described as ‘a major attack on the rights of Traditional Owners and an abuse of power’
“How can the Government continue to progress the nomination of Muckaty, while claiming to repeal the Act that made it possible?
“Muckaty has been contested from the start – this proposal promises to make the debate even more divisive,” Senator Ludlam said.

Nuclear waste likely to be dumped in NT

By Jano Gibson and Kirsty Nancarrow
February 23, 2010

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has revealed Muckaty Station, about 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, as the location the Federal Government will pursue for a national radioactive waste repository.

“We will proceed firstly with the only voluntary site that we have, and that goes to the Ngapa land with respect to the Muckaty Station,” he told 105.7 ABC Darwin.

Mr Ferguson said several sites preferred by the Howard government would no longer be pursued.

“We have knocked out the three sites which were not volunteered by the community but were determined by politicians in Canberra,” he said.

This is “despite the fact that scientifically they actually stack up”.

Should environmental and scientific assessments fail at the Muckaty site, Mr Ferguson said the nuclear waste dump could be located elsewhere in Australia.

“I also have the capacity, if I assess that that is not a proper site, to then open up to a national voluntary site nomination process.”

Mr Ferguson said the Government would this week repeal Howard government legislation that would have enabled it to force the waste dump on the Northern Territory.

He said radioactive waste stored at the site would not be linked to Australia’s uranium exports, but to isotopes used in medical treatments.

Ownership disputed

He said the Muckaty site had been nominated by the Northern Land Council, however he acknowledged that some traditional owners were not in agreement.

“Clearly there are some differences in terms of the Muckaty Land Trust.”

He said before the site could be approved as a waste dump, the Northern Land Council would “have to prove that it’s been done in accordance with the law of the Northern Territory”.

He said a final decision on the dump site would still take a long time.

“If the science stacks up, and if it meets environmental approvals – but thirdly and more importantly, it obtains the necessary approval from the Ngapa people, through the Northern Land Council – then it will potentially be the appropriate site.”

Natalie Wasley from the Beyond Nuclear Initiative says the decision is extremely disappointing.

“There is an agreement that was made between the Northern Land Council, the Federal Government and some traditional owners of the land trust,” she said.

“This agreement has never been made public and there’s been a number of documents submitted by other traditional owners calling for the contract and the agreement to be made public so they can see what’s actually been agreed upon for their country.

“It’s a very contested nomination.”

A woman representing some traditional owners of the Muckaty Land Trust says she wants the Federal Resources Minister to visit her country before making decisions about a nuclear waste facility.

Dianne Stokes represents the area’s Miyilwayi traditional owners and says any past agreement with the Ngapa people is not valid.

“I want to get the traditional owners together, talk about it and maybe have a ceremony to show Martin Ferguson who we are, because he didn’t come when we asked him,” she said.

“We’ve written him a letter to come.

“He never came towards us, he never came and faced us, he never came and talked to us.

“None of the people, not even the NLC, came and talked to the traditional owners.”

‘Unilateral nomination’

The Greens Senator Scott Ludlum has asked whether Mr Ferguson actually read correspondence from traditional landowners who oppose the waste dump.

“The Muckaty nomination for a nuclear waste dump is heavily contested,” he said.

“It was at the time that it does not have the continued support of the Ngapa clan as the Minister’s press release wrongly states.

“And can the Minister outline what appeal rights will be available to people aggrieved by the Northern Land Council’s unilateral nomination of their land for this facility.”

The Territory Government says it may try to block the Federal Government if it attempts to establish a nuclear waste facility at Muckaty Station.

The Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, says he is pleased the Government intends to remove its legislation blocking the Territory’s environmental assesment processes.

But Mr Henderson says the Government should have considered other sites in Australia.

He says the Territory is preparted to get into a stoush and it could win if the science shows Muckaty is not the best location.

He says recent earthquakes in the area raise questions about the appropriateness of the site.


FEBRUARY 23, 2010

Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson’s announcement that he will pursue plans for a national nuclear waste dump at the Muckaty site, north of Tennant Creek in the NT, continues the shabby and unfair process set in train by the Howard government.

Mr Ferguson’s media release falsely claims that the nomination of the Muckaty site has the support of the Ngapa Traditional Owners. He well knows that many Ngapa Traditional Owners oppose the dump; for example he was sent a letter opposing the dump in May 2009 signed by by 25 Ngapa Traditional Owners and 32 Traditional Owners from other Muckaty groups.

Mr Ferguson is also well aware of the unanimous resolution passed by the NT Labor Conference in April 2008 which called on the federal government to exclude Muckaty on the grounds that the nomination “was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners and affected people and as such does not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act”.

Mr Ferguson should redress the glaring conflict of interest whereby Land Councils are meant to represent Traditional Owners yet stand to profit if they can persuade Traditional Owners to host a dump.

His comments linking the dump to nuclear medicine are disingeuous. The ongoing practice of nuclear medicine is in no way dependent on securing a dump site anywhere let alone pursuing the hotly-contested Muckaty nomination. Only 10-20% of the waste arises from nuclear medicine.

Mr Ferguson’s claims that it is low-level waste and that it will be safely buried are false. Measured by radioactivity, over 90% of the waste comes from the overseas reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from Lucas Heights nuclear research reactors. This long-lived intermediate-level nuclear waste (LLILW) will be stored above ground adjacent to the dump site. This ‘interim’ above-ground storage could last for decades or centuries since the government has made no progress establishing a deep underground repository for LLILW.

Mr Ferguson’s handling of the issue has been highly secretive – a clear breach of Labor’s 2007 election promise to handle the issue in a transparent and accountable manner. He says he intends to consult after announcing a dump site. But that is not consultation – it is an insult.

None of the sites under consideration in the NT was short-listed when scientific and environmental criteria were used by the federal government’s Bureau of Resource Sciences to assess alternative sites around in Australia for a radioactive waste repository in the 1990s. The NT was selected on purely political grounds, just as NSW was excluded on purely political grounds.

Mr Ferguson should repeal the nomination of the Muckaty site and start from scratch with an inquiry into all the options available for managing Australia’s radioactive waste, including the option of ongoing storage at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site – the source of most of the waste and most of Australia’s radioactive waste management expertise. Mr Ferguson’s department, the Lucas Heights nuclear agency ANSTO, the regulator ARPANSA, and the Australian Nuclear Association have all said that waste can continue to be stored at Lucas Heights.

LUDLAM, Senator Scott, Western Australia

I move That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Senator Carr) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ludlam today relating to a nuclear waste dump.

I rise to take note of the answer that was given by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr, a short time ago on behalf of the Minister for Resources and Energy, Mr Martin Ferguson, who we are told will tomorrow introduce legislation, presumably into the House of Representatives, repealing the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and the amendments to it that were passed in 2006. Both the original act and the amendments in 2006 were opposed by the Labor Party, who were in opposition at the time. I can remember their words well. I was working for Senator Siewert at the time and we were gobsmacked that the Howard government was moving with such speed to coercively land a radioactive waste dump, which is the responsibility of the entire country, on a series of politically vulnerable communities in the Northern Territory. I can remember very clearly the positions that were taken at the time by ALP senators in this place, who spoke with heart and conviction I believe on the absolutely unjust tactics that were being used against politically vulnerable communities in the Northern Territory. It is entirely the wrong way to go about dealing with some of the most intractable and most dangerous categories of waste that industrial society has ever produced.

It is profoundly sad to see how close Minister Carr could have come to getting it right with the announcement that we have seen today. The government has announced that it is opening the process up to take another look and to take nominations for other sites, and that is an acknowledgement that the former process was really going nowhere. But it leaves live the nomination of a site on Muckaty Station—an Aboriginal managed cattle station outside Tennant Creek—and that is absolutely unconscionable. It was based on a nomination that was flawed. It was based on legislation that members of the present government opposed when it was passed. They said that it ran ‘roughshod over affected Indigenous communities’ and that it was legislation ‘driven at the behest of one land council in the Northern Territory’ that effectively shut out traditional owners. The government thinks that it will somehow be able to let that nomination—which has been put forward under the 2006 amendments to the act—stand, built on that foundation that was condemned at the time by the Australian Greens, by the Democrats and by the Labor Party.

A little bit of history: I think it would really have helped if the minister had read the unanimous report that the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee produced at the end of 2008. Senator Birmingham, who is in the room at the moment, attended those hearings, and I am sure that it made as strong an impression on him and other senators as it did on me to hear the evidence from the people most closely affected at Muckaty—people with traditional responsibilities for the lands around Muckaty Station who gave clear and unambiguous evidence at the time that the nomination around that area was absolutely contested and not shared by the five families who make up the Muckaty Land Trust. I read one quote—and I wish the minister had read it or been in the room at the time that it was said—from Ms Marlene Bennett. She tendered this evidence to the committee in Alice Springs on 17 November 2008, and she travelled a long way to be there. She said:

I am also very disappointed in the NLC consultation process. The NLC is the Aboriginal people’s voice, and they failed to represent them.

She went on:

I think the consultation process was very flawed and that the time for trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes is past. Open and honest discussion should be happening involving all the right people, not just with certain elements of the people.

All they are asking for is inclusion and for the opportunity for their voice to be heard. When the committee visited Alice Springs—we have never been to Muckaty Station—it was the first time that those people had been invited to have their voice heard in this debate. I thought that was shameful at the time. They really appreciated the opportunity to do that and I hope that that same committee, or whichever committee the Senate chooses to refer the bill to when it is finally introduced into this place, will be given time to sit down with the people most intimately concerned rather than with bureaucrats sitting in offices thousands of kilometres away and making these decisions which have profound implications for the lives of people with responsibilities for culture and country a long way from this building.

Finally, I touch on the fact that there is no engineering or scientific reason why we prefer remote sites, for why we continually choose remote Aboriginal communities as repositories for this waste. We heard from Mr Bradley Smith from the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, who said:

It would appear that politically the pragmatics seem to be that that is the only viable site at the moment that I am aware of for a Commonwealth facility.

Similarly, Mr Steven Mackintosh, from ANSTO, when asked ‘Why does Australia mainly look at remote sites?’ answered:

I believe it is for political reasons, Senator.

There is a lot more of this story yet to tell.

MAPW debunks medical need for Muckaty nuclear dump

Medical Association for Prevention of War
Media Release, 23/02/2010

MAPW today issued a statement expressing concern over today’s announcement by Energy Minister Martin Ferguson that the Australian Government will pursue Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory as the preferred site for a nuclear waste dump. MAPW President Dr Bill Williams said:

“Mr Ferguson is quoted as saying that the waste requiring storage in this dump is isotopes used in medical treatments. This dump is absolutely not needed for this purpose. MAPW believes that the safest current option for management of this toxic waste is likely to be continued storage at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.”

“The decision to store the waste on Aboriginal land at Muckaty station fails to meet world standards, either for scientific appraisal, or for community consultation.”

“The Minister has not fully assessed all options available for storage of the waste, including the costs, risks and benefits of continued storage at Lucas Heights,” Dr Williams said.

MAPW policy notes that nuclear waste is a long-lived and serious environmental hazard, and remains an unresolved problem in every place that has nuclear power or nuclear weapons. The policy also notes that that Indigenous Australians have already suffered from imposition of nuclear contamination through the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga.

Public Health Association of Australia



Decision to proceed with Muckaty Station Nuclear Waste Dump based on ideology not science

The Public Health Association of Australia today expressed its disappointment at the Commonwealth Government’s announcement to proceed with attempting to locate a national nuclear waste dump on Mukarty Station, a remote Aboriginal owned station in the Northern Territory.

“The decision to push ahead with a proposed nuclear waste dump on Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory goes against good health and environmental policy”, said PHAA environmental health spokesperson and NT Branch Secretary Clive Rosewarne.

“The ALP has produced an unsatisfactory outcome for all Northern Territorians but most especially those traditional owners of Muckaty station that have for the last 5 years expressed their opposition to having the facility placed on their land”.

“This decision defies the logic of best practice in radioactive waste management and is an abrogation of a clear promise by the ALP prior to the last election”.

There is no scientific imperative to force this dump on any NT community. The Bureau of Resource Sciences identified a region in SA, even the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has stated that its waste could be stored on site at Lucas Heights. Therefore there is no need then to have a waste dump unless there is an intention to import waste from overseas. This is a political decision.

The Public Health Association in submissions to both the Howard and Rudd governments and in public evidence to a Senate inquiry called for the Commonwealth government not to proceed with attempting to force a nuclear waste dump on the Northern Territory.

In 2008 the Public Health Association, in a joint letter to the Prime Minister asked the Government to honour its pre-election commitment to repeal the Howard government’s Radioactive Waste Management Act. Today’s announcement by Minister Ferguson does not honour that promise, but rather attempts to wriggle out of it, by repealing one piece of legislation with another version focused solely on one community. This new proposal is slap in the face to all Territorians and most particularly Aboriginal Territorians with legitimate concerns for their community’s health.

“While the transportation and storage of radioactive waste pose a potential health threat, the experience of marginalisation and disempowerment felt by Aboriginal people because of the government’s approach may contribute to negative health outcomes that are stress related”.

“This process has placed Aboriginal people under incredible stress. Today’s announcement greatly increases that stress and sends a message to Aboriginal Australia that the nuclear industry in this country comes first. The Rudd government’s credibility on Aboriginal health and its commitment to closing the health gap must be questioned when on an issues with obvious health consequences they ride rough shod over clearly expressed local community opposition”, said Mr Rosewarne.

NT Government still opposed to dump

Debates – Eleventh Assembly, First Session – 02/16/2010 – Parliamentary Record No: 11
Topic Date: 02/23/2010
Question: Nuclear Waste Facility in Territory– Government Opposition
Question Date: 02/23/2010

Member: Mr TOLLNER

Today, your comrades in the federal parliament have said they will be repealing legislation which allowed the nuclear waste facility to be built in the Northern Territory. However, in the same breath, they are saying they are negotiating to build the facility at Muckaty Station and this, in fact, is their preferred site. It is a fact that your federal Labor comrades ran a completely deceptive and dishonest campaign and intended to place the facility in the Northern Territory the whole way through. Are you going to continue to oppose the facility coming here, or will you roll over, say one thing at election time, and do another.


Madam Speaker, it is patently clear that Territorians know the government’s position has been clear, consistent, and it continues today. We oppose the establishment of a nuclear waste facility at Muckaty Station. We oppose that, unlike the member of Fong Lim and Senator Scullion from the Northern Territory who support the establishment of a nuclear waste facility in the Northern Territory.

We will continue to oppose the establishment of that facility at Muckaty Station. The reason why we do oppose, and will continue to oppose, that facility is that it has not been through the same rigorous scientific process that occurred from 1992 to 2004 – a rigorous and scientific process that was established to look at sites around Australia. It is very clear to me that this whole process needs to be revisited and we need to begin again. Scientific criteria need to be established and agreed on for what the site should contain. Sites across Australia that comply with those scientific criteria should be volunteered or nominated for examination.

I have been very clear in the media today that the Australian government should be accepting nominations from other sites around Australia, not just considering Muckaty in isolation. The sites should be narrowed down until the best sites are discussed, full-blown environmental and scientific and heritage assessments should occur, and consultations should occur with the broader local community. And then, and only then, should a final decision be made.

We have been very clear, we have been very consistent, and we will continue to oppose the siting of a nuclear waste facility at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory.

The Hon Martin Ferguson AM MP

23 Feb 2010



The Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson AM MP, will this week introduce the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 to the Australian Parliament.

This honours our longstanding commitment to repeal the Howard Government’s Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005.

The new legislation finally provides a proper process to establish a purpose-built facility for managing radioactive waste generated by Australia’s medical, industrial, agricultural, and research use of nuclear material.

Minister Ferguson said: “The Bill being introduced this week means that a site can no longer be automatically imposed on a community in any State or Territory.

“Firstly, the three sites selected by the Howard Government on Defence land in the Northern Territory have been ruled out, as we promised before the 2007 election.

“Secondly, there is no pre-determined site outcome – the new Bill requires any site to be volunteered by the landowners.

“Affected landowners and communities must also be consulted.

“Thirdly, the Bill restores procedural fairness rights that were stripped away by the Howard Government.

“Fourthly, the Bill ensures the selected site will go through full environmental, heritage and other approvals processes.”

The Bill contains provisions for two volunteer nomination processes.

The first allows a Land Council to volunteer Aboriginal land on behalf of Traditional Owners and the second provides for a nation-wide volunteer process.

The Bill also recognises that Ngapa land on Muckaty Station was a volunteer nomination by the Northern Land Council in 2007 and that the Commonwealth entered into a Site Nomination Deed in relation to that land.

The nomination has the continuing support of the Ngapa clan and the Full Council of the Northern Land Council.

The Deed has no termination date and the parties to it have the reasonable expectation that the Commonwealth will act in good faith and good spirit to implement the 2007 agreement.

For that reason, the new Bill allows the nomination of Ngapa land on Muckaty Station to stand and it will also allow the Land Council to nominate other Ngapa land if that is the wish of the Traditional Owners.

Minister Ferguson said: “Australia has been attempting to meet its international obligations to properly manage its own radioactive waste since 1988.

“It is about time we did so.”

Australia’s radioactive waste stockpile is presently stored at more than 100 less-than-ideal sites at Australian universities, hospitals, offices and laboratories, mostly in our capital cities.

While safe, this situation is not consistent with international best practice.

Australian research reactor waste is also presently stored in Scotland and France.

We have both contractual obligations and a moral responsibility to accept the return of our own waste for proper management by 2015-16.

Australia’s low and intermediate level radioactive waste is an unavoidable result of very many worthwhile activities including the screening and treatment of cancer and other diseases, as well as medical research.

Every year, around 500,000 Australians undergo medical procedures using radioisotopes produced by the research reactor at Lucas Heights.

ACF: Wasted opportunity: Minister gets it wrong on radioactive dump

23 Feb 2010,

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson’s intention to locate a radioactive waste dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory continues the Howard Government’s approach to nuclear waste and is inconsistent with Labor promises and policy, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.
Minister Ferguson today ruled out three of the four sites on his shortlist, leaving Muckaty, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, as the only one he would pursue.
“By putting Muckaty in the frame and advancing a process based on secrecy Minister Ferguson has wasted an opportunity to fulfil federal Labor’s clear 2007 election promise,” said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney.
“Anything less than full repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and a site selection process that is open, transparent and consultative would be inconsistent with Labor’s 2007 election pledges and would continue the Howard Government approach to nuclear waste and Indigenous communities.
“Attempts to dump nuclear waste at Muckaty will be fiercely contested.
“Every state and territory in Australia has laws preventing the establishment of a nuclear waste dump so moves to open up a ‘national voluntary site nomination process’, where marginalised communities bid to host a nuclear dump, are not only ethically questionable but face serious legislative barriers.
“The carrot, stick and secrecy approach is no way to manage radioactive waste.
“It is time for a fresh start and an open and responsible process from the Federal Government,” he said.
ACF is urging the Federal Government to fulfil its promise to establish a “consensual process of site selection” based on “agreed scientific grounds for determining suitability” and “community consultation and support”.