Senator Jenny McAllister
Access to nuclear medicine is of critical importance to Australians and the Australian healthcare system. Australia requires appropriate storage arrangements to safely manage the waste which arises from these processes.
The Gillard government enacted the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 to provide a timely and certain process to select a site fora radioactive waste management facility.
This legislation established a pathway to select a site for a facility. The Minister is empowered to make a determination on the location of a facility at the conclusion of the processes set out in the legislation.
The government has proposed a facility at Napandee (near Kimba) in South Australia to permanently store low level waste and temporarily store intermediate level waste. This proposal arises from a process initiated in 2014 under the legislation above.
The committee has heard evidence that many, although not all, members of the Kimba community are supportive of the proposed Facility. Some members of the community are concerned about the impact of the Facility on the region’s agricultural production. Others consider the Facility will provide important economic and employment opportunities in the local area. Evidence from local community members is set out in the majority report, and in the submissions.
The proposed Facility has not received the support of the relevant traditional owners, or of many other First Nations representatives in South Australia. In particular, the process undertaken to assess community attitudes to the Facility has been criticised as inadequate by the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, including on the grounds that its members were excluded from participating in the community ballot commissioned to assess sentiment.
The government is now seeking to legislate selection of their preferred site, notwithstanding the power allocated to the Minister under existing legislation to make an order specifying the location of the site. The reason for this change in approach has not been clearly articulated.
Schedule 1 to the bill gives effect to this by specifying the location of the proposed site.
A critical concern expressed by opponents of the bill, including by the Barngarla People, is that altering the existing process for site selection will override the existing right of judicial review that would apply to a determination by the Minister under the current legislation.
In evidence to the committee, the Department confirmed that the effect of the change proposed in the legislation is to remove the requirements for procedural fairness in the selection of the site.
McAllister: Can we just get confirmation that the effect of the change proposed in the legislation this committee is considering is to remove the requirements for procedural fairness in the selection of the site.
Ms Chard: That is correct Senator.
The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation submitted that:
Should the government’s bill proceed… a removal of judicial review would ultimately deprive the Barngarla... of the fundamental legal right to such review of an administrative decision making process.
The recommendation in the majority report urging the government to repair the relationship with the Barngarla with the assistance of a mediator is welcome. However, on the evidence before the committee, it seems likely this objective will be substantially impeded if the legislation, particularly Schedule 1, proceeds at this time. Stakeholders, and specifically the Barngarla, consider they are entitled to a fair process, including the capacity for judicial scrutiny of the government’s actions to date.
The decision in relation to a national waste storage facility is of national significance. The existing policy framework for making this decision recognised the importance of obtaining meaningful community consent in relation to any proposed site, and contains important assurances about the process by which this will occur. The current proposed site is the product of a process initiated under this framework. The government has advanced no compelling reason to alter the process for selection.
That the elements of the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 which alter the existing process for site selection not proceed at this time.
Senator Jenny McAllister
Labor Senator for New South Wales