Greens Senator Ludlam calls for independent commission radioactive waste management

Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Radioactive Waste

The campaign to support Dianne and the Muckaty mob was born out of this dismal injustice; racism, with a 25,000-year half-life. The NLC negotiated for $12 million for the 300-year head lease. It works out at a little bit over $800 a week, with the land passing back to the mob sometime in the 24th century. Beads and blankets, not laced with smallpox but with caesium.

We must never do this to an Australian community again. The Muckaty mob won this time, but it cost them, in stress to families, division in the community and time away from home. The Kunkas in South Australia had to go through this trauma a decade earlier. They won too. The mob at Cosmo Newberry were in the firing line when Pangea came calling in 1999 with a proposal to dump 20 per cent of the world’s spent nuclear fuel. It took us a year to beat that. The Navajo prevailed over a similar project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada in the United States. What do all these projects have in common? The expectation that it is aboriginal communities that should bear the burden. This has to stop.

The Greens propose a new way forward. Its most important element is that it does not assume, as a foregone conclusion, that it should fall to some remote Aboriginal community to take responsibility for this poisonous time capsule. In fact, the most important thing we could do now would be to admit that there is no scientific or community consensus that a remote shed surrounded by barbed wire is anything like an appropriate management strategy for this material. It is time, as Dave Sweeney would put it, for a process, not a postcode.

We propose therefore an independent commission on radioactive waste management to run an open, deliberative process that acknowledges, as a starting condition, that if material is dangerous in Sutherland Shire, it will still be dangerous in the Barkly. It is time to leave the politics outside the room and bring together the best minds in the country, learning from 60 years of overseas experience, to design a long-term strategy of custodianship and eventually, perhaps, isolation of radioactive waste. It will confront us with the question of whether we should be producing this material at all.

Read full speech