Federal ALP Resources Minister Martin Ferguson recently announced he intends to pursue plans for a national radioactive waste dump in the Northern Territory (NT), despite opposition from many traditional owners. The Liberals and National opposition have decided to support government legislation to do this.
The ‘preferred site’ at Muckaty Station, 120km north of Tennant Creek, was first put forward in a $10 million deal – details of which remain ‘commercial in confidence’ – between the Northern Land Council and the Howard Government in 2007.
By Will Kaplan, Socialist Party
The Rudd Government has claimed that Ngapa traditional owners support the nomination of the Muckaty site, but this is a cynical, misleading statement at best. Ferguson was sent a letter opposing the dump in May 2009 signed by 25 Ngapa traditional owners and 32 traditional owners from other Muckaty groups. Requests for face-to-face meetings have been denied.
Contradicting the ALP’s claims of consent, the April 2008 NT Labor Party conference unanimously passed a resolution calling on the federal government to exclude Muckaty because 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.” Several federal ministers and members of government have also acknowledged the opposition and distress of locals.
This gives lie to Ferguson’s claim that he is restoring ‘fairness’ to the issue of radioactive waste management, a claim based on the repeal of the 2005-06 Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act. This extraordinary legislation permitted the imposition of a dump in the absence of any consultation with, or consent from, traditional owners.
However, the ALP’s National Radioactive Waste Management Bill (2010) entrenches a remarkably similar process that allows the minister to override any laws that impede his nuclear waste dump plans. Ferguson stated that “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”. The minister’s approach is just as draconian as that of Howard’s.
How should we deal with the issue of nuclear waste in Australia?
With existing waste materials, if a new waste site is required it should be based on scientific and environmental criteria, and the principle of voluntarism, rather than choosing politically ‘soft’ targets. It is no coincidence that current plans involve Aboriginal land far from marginal seats.
In 2005, the Howard Government chose the NT, and ruled out NSW, for 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 of ‘suitable’ sites.
The Socialist Party is opposed to nuclear power as it is an expensive and dangerous alternative to fossil fuels. It is definitely not a solution to global warming. Fossil fuel emissions are released at nearly every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. Moreover, nuclear power is capable of producing only a tiny percentage of our energy needs and produces waste that remains poisonous for hundreds of thousands of years.
There is also the threat of nuclear disasters, especially when energy companies are run for profit. Nuclear and fossil fuel-based energy production needs to be phased out and replaced with serious investment into renewable energy like wind, wave and solar power. Ultimately only a democratically organised plan of production will ensure an effective energy policy that does not produce dangerous nuclear waste to be dumped on rural communities.