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Dissenting Report by the Australian Greens

Inquiry of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts into the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010

The Australian Greens do not support the findings of this Inquiry.

In choosing not to take evidence or hear witness statements other than from the Proponent of the project, the majority report bases its judgement entirely on the existence of a single departmental briefing and an earlier committee report which, while narrowly premised and deeply flawed, at least took evidence from sources outside Government.

Radioactive waste dump legislation in Australia has been subject not just to one recent Senate Inquiry, but two. Curiously, the majority report notes the second report but omits any mention of the first, which tabled a unanimous report strongly urging a rethink of the coercive approach favoured to date.

As outlined in the Australian Greens dissenting report to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee report of 7 May 2010, this bill is flawed on four key grounds:

  1. An inadequate framework for managing radioactive waste, most notably the lack of procedural fairness or avenues for judicial review, and a lack of sound science being used to inform it.
  2. Wholesale overriding of State and Territory laws, suspension of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, exclusion of the Native Title Act 1993 and suspension of the Judicial Review Act is alarming and heavy handed. 
  3. Failure to uphold international best practice particularly in relation to securing social licence and community acceptance of a radioactive waste facility.
  4. Excessive discretionary power given to a Minister operating with an absolute minimum of transparency, and the withholding of key documents.

In failing to call for submissions, the Standing Committee has based its findings on a single briefing from officials of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, who are working at Minister Martin Ferguson’s direction to implement the waste dump policy.

To commit a report on this issue to the public record without seeking evidence is, the Australian Greens believe, a failure to uphold the committee’s obligation to provide an independent assessment of this piece of legislation. At the very least we believe the committee should take evidence from those Aboriginal custodians who have found themselves on the front line of this long-running and polarised debate through no fault or wish of their own.

In this regard I attach a letter from the Traditional Owners of the Manuwangku/Warlmanpa Land Trust written to all members of the 43rd Parliament stating their clear objection to the Muckaty waste dump, and requesting again that the Minister and all Members of Parliament consult with them (Attachment 1). The letter states:

The last two governments didn't listen to us - you must be different. We have been fighting for the last five years to say we don't want the waste dump in the land. We are again inviting Minister Martin Ferguson and all members of the new parliament to come down and face us in our own country. Come and sit with us and hear the stories from the land.

It is a great indictment on the parliamentary process and indeed this Inquiry that Recommendation 1 of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee majority report of 7 May 2010 specifically addressing consultation with affected parties is still yet to be implemented.

The Recommendation reads:

The committee recommends that as soon as possible the Minister for Resources Energy an Tourism undertake consultations with all parties with an interest in or who would be affected by a decision to select the Muckaty Station site as the location for the national radioactive waste facility.

The legislation in question proposes to site a facility for Australia’s most long lived and hazardous waste materials under an utterly deficient legal framework. The siting decision for the nation’s first Radioactive Waste dump will be subject to less oversight than we would consider appropriate for a shopping centre car park.

It is also worth emphasising that the Climate Change, Environment and the Arts Committee has not investigated any environmental, social or scientific issues or impacts of this bill. A letter sent to this committee on 11 November 2010 by the Australian Conservation Foundation is of major concern in this regard. The letter outlines many serious and unresolved problems with the legislation in its current form. It reminds us that the Bill will override the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act during the site nomination, and it encourages the committee to conduct an open, robust and comprehensive assessment of the legislation and radioactive waste management in Australia. 

The letter states:

We need to take the time and have the processes now that can get the policy architecture right for the long term management of Australia’s radioactive waste. ACF supports an approach that is informed by a transparent and credible process, robust and independent science, accountability and community consent – all things identified in Labor’s federal platform but not adequately reflected in this legislation.

The letter is attached in full (Attachment 2).

The Australian Greens are certain that, had the Inquiry called for public submissions and held formal public and transparent hearings, the committee would have heard far more evidence on these environmental, social and scientific issues.

To further outline reasons for the strong opposition of the Australian Greens to this legislation and the House Standing Committee’s decision to wave it through without examining its merits, Senator Scott Ludlam’s dissenting report to the 2010 Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry is attached (Attachment 3).

Recommendation 1: That the House of Representatives requires the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts to conduct a full Inquiry into the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010, calling for submissions and considering evidence.

Recommendation 2: That the House of Representatives notes the failure of the Minister for Resources and Energy to adopt Recommendation 1 of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee majority report of 7 May 2010, and requests it be adopted urgently.

Recommendation 3: That the House of Representatives not pass the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010.

Adam Bandt MP


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