The traditional owners of Muckaty in the Northern Territory celebrated a significant victory last month with the Federal Government abandoning plans to build Australia’s first nuclear waste dump on their land.
By Ben Coney, Socialist Party
This came about after an out of court agreement was reached stating that the Northern Land Council (NLC) would withdraw their support for the Federal Government’s plans. The Government had been hoping to use the site as a dumping ground for waste from the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney.
Speaking on national television after the victory traditional owner Kylie Sambo said “I have fought very hard to get the country back and we’re not just going to give it away just like that.”
Importantly, a legal challenge was not the sole tactic of the campaign but was used to compliment a broader campaign to mobilise the community. The most recent rally in May in Tennant Creek was attended by 250 people representing a sizeable chunk of the small town’s population of about 3000.
Traditional owners made it clear that if the government proceeded with their plans, the community were determined to use direct action to block construction of the dump and transportation of the waste. They were also working to build links with workers in order to strengthen their hand if direct action was required.
The Government had been relying on the NLC’s cooperation in pretending that the traditional owners had given permission for the dump. Land Councils operate under the pretence of negotiating outcomes that meet the needs of both the Indigenous communities and the powerful interests who want access to their land. In reality, there is a fundamental contradiction between these needs that cannot be resolved in a profit-driven system.
While this victory for Muckaty’s traditional owners should be celebrated, we must recognise that as long as the nuclear industry continues unabated there will be further attempts to establish nuclear waste dumps elsewhere in Australia. The reality is that not one single country has in place a proven, viable, permanent nuclear waste management plan.
Despite this, the nuclear industry spends millions of dollars on disinformation. Because their profits are at stake, they distort the facts about the human and environmental costs of nuclear disasters with assistance from capitalist governments.
In 2006 the Federal Government commissioned the Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review, which was blatant in its pro-nuclear spin. It published a report claiming there had only been 31 deaths associated with nuclear reactor accidents during that period. A tiny footnote added that “these figures do not include latent or delayed deaths such as those caused by air pollution from fires, chemical exposure or radiation exposure”.
In May, Tony Abbott’s top advisor on Indigenous Affairs Warren Mundine launched a scathing attack on communities defending their local environment against misuse by the energy and resources sector. Mundine complained that he could not think of a single new mining, energy or infrastructure project that has not been met with opposition from ‘green groups’.
Mundine’s comments demonstrate that for capitalists there is a clear struggle over how we use our land and our energy future. It is crucial therefore that environment groups, traditional owners and workers in the sector work together to demand an end to profit-driven decision making. Considering the huge risks still posed by nuclear power, we must also demand the immediate implementation of a plan for a rapid transition to renewable energy production, utilising and further developing the already existing safe technology.
However, unless we fight to bring energy production and distribution into public control, this will not happen and the nuclear industry will continue to put us all at risk. This is why the fight against the nuclear industry needs to be linked to the fight for a democratic socialist future.