Written by: Nick G. on 6 June 2022
The ALP’s new Resources Minister Madeline King has wasted no time in showing her support for the proposed nuclear waste dump at Napandee, near Kimba on Eyre Peninsula.
In response to an appeal to herself and PM Albanese from the disenfranchised and ignored Barngarla traditional owners, King has today stated that the nuclear waste dump was “a step forward” in the management of nuclear waste.
Napandee was one of three sites proposed by the former Coalition government for the storage of intermediate and low-level nuclear waste. Two, including Napandee, were at Kimba, whilst a third was at Wallerberdina in the Flinders Ranges.
The operation of any of the three sites in SA was illegal under SA law.
Under state legislation introduced by the Olsen Liberals and strengthened by Rann Labor, it is illegal to operate a nuclear waste facility in SA or to import or transport nuclear waste in SA.
The legislation is quite clear and states:
8—Prohibition against construction or operation of nuclear waste storage facility. A person must not construct or operate a nuclear waste storage facility. Maximum penalty: In the case of a natural person—$500 000 or imprisonment for 10 years. In the case of a body corporate—$5 000 000.
9—Prohibition against importation or transportation of nuclear waste for delivery to nuclear waste storage facility. A person must not— (a) bring nuclear waste into the State; or (b) transport nuclear waste within the State, for delivery to a nuclear waste storage facility in the State. Maximum penalty: In the case of a natural person—$500 000 or imprisonment for 10 years. In the case of a body corporate—$5 000 000.
This legislation came about largely through the actions of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta (the Anangu women of Coober Pedy) who led a campaign against a 1998 Howard Government proposal for a nuclear waste dump in SA.
In 2004, following Howard’s conceding defeat on the issue, three of those women, Eileen Kampakuta Brown, Ivy Makinti Stewart and Angelina Wonga issued a statement that began: “People said that you can’t win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up…money doesn’t win.”
In 2016, SA Labor Premier Jay Weatherill set up a Royal Commission into SA’s nuclear energy future which included a proposal for a dump for high level overseas nuclear waste. Massive protests were held and a “citizen’s jury” effectively knocked all talk of nuclear waste dumps on the head.
The resurrected SA site proposals were met with further protests. The Adnyamathanha peoples led opposition to the Wallaberdina site and were successful in winning the vote in a community consultation of people in the Flinders Ranges.
The initial Kimba sites were rejected by former Minister Josh Frydenberg in 2016 due to a lack of broad community support; however in 2017 his replacement Matt Canavan revived the proposal and accepted Napandee as the site for the dump.
Barngarla Pushed Aside
Approval for the Kimba site required broad community support through a community consultation. In preparation for a local vote, millions of dollars of federal funds were poured into Kimba for “social and economic development” during the consultation process. Community facilities were upgraded, footpaths and gutters put in, and the town generally given a face lift.
No definition of “broad community support” exists in legislation, but Canavan mentioned a figure of “around 65%”. Kimba Council defined those eligible to vote as ratepayers living within a prescribed area and excluded the Barngarla native title holders on the grounds that they lived in other towns on Eyra Peninsula.
The Barngarla appealed to the Federal Court which upheld the Council’s decision on the grounds that the Barngarla would be “too difficult to identify”. A vote was held, resulting in a 61.5% vote for the dump with a majority of 70 in favour.
The Barngarla commissioned the Australian Election Company to poll people identified as Barngarla by the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation and identified 209 eligible voters. There were no votes for the dump, and 89 against it.
Had those 89 Barngarla votes been included in the Kimba Council “consultation”, the outcome would have been a “no” vote carried by a small majority.
Labor Opposition facilitates Napandee declaration
In Opposition, Labor had the opportunity to block the declaration of the Kimba site. However, Madeline King did a deal with the Coalition in June 2019 that allowed new Resource Minister Keith Pitt to declare Napandee as the site for the dump. Under the original federal legislation, an aggrieved party to the declaration had no right of judicial appeal. King negotiated to provide the appeal right and withdrew Labor opposition to the declaration despite saying that Labor would not pass the bill unless traditional owners were comfortable with it.
They clearly were not, and neither did they have the resources to properly fund a judicial appeal, although that process has now begun in the Federal Court.
Who is Madeline King?
Madeline King is a right-wing Labor politician with close ties to the mining industry and pro-US lobbyists.
She is a commercial lawyer who immediately prior to entering parliament was the chief operating officer of the Perth USAsia Centre, a think tank based at the University of Western Australia.
King was a ministerial adviser to federal Labor MP Gary Gray from 2011 to 2012. Gray had been National Secretary of the ALP from 1993 to 2000, but resigned to take up a position with fossil fuel giant Woodside Petroleum. As its Director of Corporate Affairs, he was an executive at the time when, in 2004, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer ordered the bugging of the East Timorese government during negotiations aimed at depriving the island nation of desperately needed revenue from underwater gas deposits. Gray was part of the Woodside negotiating team.
In 2007, Gray contested the WA seat of Brand and became part of Rudd’s Labor team. He retired in 2016 to take up a position with Mineral Resources, but was appointed Australian Ambassador to Ireland by Scott Morrison in 2020 in what some people have said was a move to prevent him having to testify in the case against Bernard Collaery and possibly incriminating Downer under cross-examination.
King’s employment as advisor to Gray has made her no stranger to the interplay between the corporate world and the benefits that accrue to Labor politicians who do their bidding.
No need for a Kimba dump
Opponents of the Kimba dump point out that much of the low-level waste (some of which needs to be stored for up to 300 years) is already safely stored at Woomera in SA. Some of it is stored at facilities at which it is produced. Medical nuclear waste accounts for only around 1% of the total and is short-lived and decays quite safely at the hospitals and treatment centres at which it is generated.
Intermediate level waste is generated at Lucas Heights in Sydney. Its decay time is far longer and needs to be kept from contact with humans for 10,000 years. A 2020 federal parliament inquiry confirmed that ANSTO, the operator of Lucas heights, has the ability to manage its waste onsite for “decades to come”. Ultimately, it will need to be stored in an underground repository. The government says this will take decades while the federal nuclear regulator says it could take a century to identify and construct.
If intermediate level waste is transported the 1700 kilometres from Lucas Heights to Kimba, it will be stored there as a temporary measure, in drums above the ground, pending its removal at some future stage to a permanent underground facility.
It therefore makes no sense to move these drums of intermediate level waste across the continent when there is storage capacity at Lucas Heights. Kimba is a temporary solution to a non-problem.
The issue of nuclear waste storage is one that must be referred to nation-wide community consultation. It is not a matter to be placed on the shoulders of this or that “remote” community to decided. We are all involved and we should all decide.
SA Unions made their position clear on March 15 when they unanimously supported a motion standing with the traditional owners. SA Unions Secretary Dale Beasley said “South Australian unions are completely united in their support of the Barngarla Traditional Owners and their opposition to the proposed nuclear waste site at Kimba”.
Let’s make this year’s Hiroshima Day (August 6) a day for concerted action against nuclear energy, nuclear waste dumps and nuclear-powered submarines.
Let’s keep alive the spirit of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta.
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