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Govt attack on Indigenous people

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 5 Dec 2006


Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (1.10 p.m.)-I rise today to oppose the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 and to put it in the context of the Howard government's nuclear agenda for Australia, because it has to be seen in that context. The government is currently working on three separate fronts to advance the cause of George Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. That is what we are talking about here today.

Earlier this year, in 2006, President Bush announced his grand nuclear vision for the world: the US would set up a number of nuclear fuel supply centres around the world, they would produce the nuclear fuel, it would be leased to other countries and then those nuclear fuel supply centres would take back the waste.

Up until that point, the Howard government's total nuclear agenda had been about expanded uranium mining. That is something that a large number of Labor Party supporters and members object to. But others in the party, like Mr Martin Ferguson, actually want that to occur. That debate will happen at the ALP conference next year. Either way, up until President Bush's announcement earlier this year, the government's agenda had been expanded uranium mining and exports to China, Russia and anywhere else they could get away with sending it to. That included a debate about whether they would sell it to India, even though India is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

In May this year Prime Minister Howard went to the United States, where he had a meeting with President Bush and was told that, if Australia did not engage in President Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, Australia would not be invited to meetings at the table. That was a horrendous indication to Prime Minister Howard that he would not be part of George Bush's grand plan. It was from that point that things changed.

What facilitated the change was the role of someone whose name is not on the lips of most Australians-in fact, they have never heard of him. But they should hear of him. He is Dr John White, chairman of the federal government's Uranium Industry Framework. He is also head of Australian waste company Global Renewables, which is a strange name for essentially a nuclear waste dump management company.

Dr White went to Washington at the same time that Prime Minister Howard was there. He is the person who links all of these politicians. In an interview with an Australian journalist with regard to Australia setting up a nuclear waste dump to take high-level nuclear waste from around the world-in particular, from the US-this is what he had to say:

If we agree to do this for America, we will never again have to put young Australians in the line of fire. We will never have to prove our loyalty to the US by sending our soldiers to fight in their wars, because a project like this would settle the question of our loyalty once and for all.

Of course, the project he was talking about was the nuclear waste dump in Australia-a waste dump to be developed by an international consortium of nuclear experts, US think tanks and businessmen from around the world. It fed into the Prime Minister's nuclear task force and into the House of Representatives report on nuclear energy, which came out yesterday.

The interesting thing is that Mr White, the chairman of the Prime Minister's uranium industry framework, has already spent $45 million developing an Australian nuclear fuel leasing company, which would facilitate and manage enrichment, fabrication, leasing, transport and storage of 15 to 20 per cent of the world's nuclear fuel needs. This person has a very grand vision for Australia as a global waste dump.

We are now seeing all of this coming to fruition via the Howard government's legislation. Let us go through it. We have already had the ANSTO legislation through this house. What did that do? Firstly, it gave to ANSTO the power to manage nuclear waste dumps in Australia and, secondly, it gave to ANSTO the capacity to accept the management of waste generated outside Australia, not from within Australia.

Then we have the EPBC amendments before this house. What they do is set up a number of loopholes which would allow the federal environment minister not to examine a nuclear waste dump proposal under the environmental legislation of this country. They do that by saying that if the minister determines that a nuclear waste dump is consistent with the principles of a bioregional plan then it would not have to be assessed, could be the subject of a ministerial declaration and could be the subject of a partnership arrangement. Of course, in this case the way in which a nuclear waste dump is being envisaged by Mr White, and no doubt the Howard government, is that it would be a private sector investment. In fact, the Prime Minister's task force report said that any nuclear enrichment facility in Australia would not see Australian companies managing it, that there is a very high entry level, that it is likely that it would be managed by multinational corporations and that either a UK or a US company would be facilitated in that regard.

Then we have the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry and Resources released yesterday. What does it say? I am very pleased that Senator Stephens has stated clearly that a Labor government would not overrule consultation with Indigenous people because, unfortunately, three Labor MPs signed on to this report: Mr Martin Ferguson, Mr Dick Adams and Mr Michael Hatton. They have signed on to a report that, at recommendation 9, says:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Council of Australian Governments, seek to remedy the impediments to the development of the uranium industry identified in this report and, specifically ...

• ensure that processes associated with issues including land access, Native Title, assessment and approvals, and reporting are streamlined …

Here we have three Labor MPs signing on to a government report which says 'get rid of the impediments', which is code for saying, 'get rid of native title legislation in this country that might hold up our nuclear ambitions and particularly our nuclear waste dump.' So I am glad that the Labor Party has got this amendment in here. And I hope that the new leader of the Labor Party will pull Mr Ferguson, Mr Adams and Mr Hatton into line, because what they are doing is undermining the capacity of traditional owners to exercise the ownership rights that they have over their land. If flies completely in the face of all the talk from the new leader about community rights, public participation and so on.

Also in the House of Representatives report we have further proof that the whole Global Nuclear Energy Partnership-the George Bush plan, the John White plan and the uranium industry framework plan-is alive and well. Recommendation 12 recommends that the Australian and state governments:

... examine whether, in light of the advances in spent fuel management proposed in the GNEP initiative, there is in fact a potential role for Australia in the back-end of the fuel cycle ...

'Back-end of the fuel cycle' is code for 'nuclear waste dump'. That is also something that the three Labor members signed on to and, of course, it supports the government's total initiative in this regard.

Sadly, they also signed on to the ludicrous proposition that there be a community education campaign that is nothing other than a propaganda campaign to be put through Australian schools. Specifically, the report recommends that the government:

... seek to rectify any inaccuracies or lack of balance in school and university curricula pertaining to uranium mining and nuclear power ...

In other words, 'Let's run a propaganda campaign through Australian schools to promote nuclear power.' The government should, the report goes on to say:

• encourage companies to conduct programs of visits to uranium mines for teachers, school groups, media
representatives and political leaders; and

• encourage industry to be forthright in engaging in public debate, where this may assist in providing a more balanced perspective on the industry and its impacts.

As soon as you see the words 'balanced perspective' used in relation to the curriculum you know that it means the government's view is underrepresented. So what you have is Prime Minister Howard's vision for the country whereby you do not get school funding unless you have a flagpole in the front yard, and you do not get school funding unless you teach history-and the history that you teach is the John Howard version of history. And now we have a curricula directive on putting in a nuclear education campaign. I wonder if the version of history that is going to be taught in Australian schools will include the hideous nuclear accident at Chernobyl or the use of nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki or, indeed, the current nuclear arms race that is going on around the world. Or will that be deemed to be not 'balanced' in the curriculum that is envisaged?

And so I come to the current legislation, which we now have before us, the government having already given ANSTO the right to manage the dumps and take back waste from overseas and having brought in amendments to the EPBC. Interestingly again, the House of Representatives report recommends that the EPBC should be amended to abolish the prohibitions that relate to nuclear facilities which are already in the EPBC. The report says to abolish them, so the Labor members signed on to the abolition of those particular clauses in the current legislation.

Now we have before us a bill which does three things. First, it says that if a waste dump is put forward it can be accepted as an appropriate nomination even if it has not complied with the requirements of consultation under the Native Title Act and other provisions associated with Aboriginal rights. It says quite clearly, 'It does not matter if you haven't consulted the traditional owners, if they haven't given prior consent and if they do not understand; you, as the minister, are quite within your rights to accept it as an appropriately nominated site.'

Second, the bill goes on to say, 'Having accepted the nomination on that basis you can approve that nomination and be exempt from judicial review if the judicial review relates to procedural fairness.' So we have abolished procedural fairness. I find it extraordinary that any government could come in here-having already done this time and time again in relation to Indigenous people-and extend the abolition of procedural fairness to the issue of nuclear waste dumps and the approval of those dumps and then say it is exempt from judicial review.

All you are going to do is block up the High Court. That is what will happen. That is what happened under immigration law. When you tried to remove procedural fairness it ended up as a prerogative writ case in the High Court, and that is precisely what is going to happen here. If you think that taking away these rights in this matter is going to stop Indigenous people standing up for their own rights, and advocacy groups working with Indigenous people and helping them to take it to the High Court, then you are sadly mistaken. That is where this is going to be fought out, and I do not think the High Court will appreciate the fact that, once again, you have shoved a whole new workload up to the High Court because you have abused due legal process.

There are fundamental principles in the law and procedural fairness is one of them. The right to judicial review if you have been denied procedural fairness is a basic tenet of law. It demonstrates what hubris has set in in the Howard government-that it should take away and try to deny people the most fundamental rights they have in a democracy. And it will go to the High Court with one of the prerogative writs. We will see that occurring when the government moves on this agenda.

Third, the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 says that the government has a discretionary right or ability to return to Indigenous people any nominated waste site that has operated as a waste dump. You know how that is going to play out. It will be managed, for as long as it is profitable, by a private company. And then as soon as it is no longer profitable-as soon as liability issues kick in and vast amounts of money have to be paid in liability claims-the government will exercise its discretionary right to hand back the mess to Indigenous people. The government will hand Indigenous people back their own land, degraded by the onslaught and assault on the spiritual integrity of the land by a waste dump, and then say, 'Here, you can have it back; we've finished with it and we don't want to engage in and have to put up with the liability issues.'

Earlier this year I went to one of these prospective sites-Mount Everard in the Northern Territory-and I spoke to some of the traditional owners. They took me to where the proposed site is going to be. They told me what an affront it will be to their cultural integrity if that site is undermined and destroyed by what the government intends to do. Even then they only had a vague idea of what a nuclear waste dump might be like. Unlike in the United States, where there have been huge cases-huge protests about the Yukka Mountain site-these Indigenous people have no idea of what is coming their way. In fact, they were flown down to Sydney to look at Lucas Heights and told, 'There you are; it is just going to be a small repository taking this. Don't worry, this'll all be sorted. No problem here.' What the government is doing with this decision to impose on Indigenous people a radioactive waste dump is completely dishonest and disingenuous.

So when I see the collective of what the government is doing I have to stand in the Senate and ask myself about the state of democracy in Australia under a Howard government, which is using its majority power in both houses to undermine the fundamental principles of law, the fundamental principles of participatory democracy and the fundamental principles of fairness. I can see that people are amused by this. I can see advisers in the box amused by the notion that this is my view of the world. Well, it is how I see it. I happen to have sat out there with Indigenous people and shared with them and listened to them tell their stories about how they are feeling about this assault on them and their land without consultation and prior consent.

I do not know how anybody who says that they embrace Australian and family values which relate to fairness, decency and honesty, could bring in a piece of legislation-on top of the other two lots of legislation-which is setting up the whole process for the Howard government to go down the path of expanded uranium mining and taking back high-level waste.

What happens with enrichment in the middle, with fuel fabrication and transport remains to be seen. I have always thought that the nuclear reactors issue was just a distraction from the main game, but I know that Prime Minister Howard is locked in with President Bush to the global nuclear energy partnership. The key, who is facilitating all this, is John White, on the uranium industry framework. Those linkages needed to be examined here, and I hope that when history looks at the fact that the government was able to force this legislation through the Senate, when a waste dump site is selected, when it does not comply with consultation with Indigenous people, when it is approved, having taken away procedural fairness and judicial review and when it ends up in the courts and there are protests around the country, people might recognise the damage that has been done to democracy in this country by a majority Howard government. That is why I will be opposing this legislation.

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