The Australian Greens believe the site selection process is
fundamentally flawed. There has been a consistently stated commitment by the
Minister to respect the views of the communities relevant to the process by not
proceeding without "broad community support", ensuring that the
absence of such shall serve as an effective veto. However, the Minister has
refused to explain what he would consider to be sufficiently "broad",
ensuring that any number can be considered sufficient, or insufficient, and
ultimately disenfranchising affected communities in the name of ministerial 'discretion'.
Jobs figures have been floated and inflated. Traditional owners have
been cherry-picked or ignored altogether. Sites have been nominated by absentee
landowners with no direct tie to the community on which the site selection
process is being inflicted. And this process is simply unnecessary. It does
nothing to address the need for long-term intermediate level storage,
consistent with international best practice. It avoids amending the relevant
Act by spending millions of dollars on a divisive and unnecessary process that
is being pushed through to align with the electoral cycle instead of the
ARPANSA Chief Regulatory Officer Mr Jim Scott has told the Committee
that Lucas Heights cannot offer long-term storage of low-level waste under the
ANSTO Act. He argues that this requires the identification of a long-term
Low-level waste is set to be disposed at the NRWMF, consistent with
international best practice regarding low-level waste management. However,
intermediate level waste is also set for long-term storage at the NRWMF. This
is not consistent with international best practice which supports medium to deep
burial disposal of intermediate level waste.
The challenge of finding another site to store radioactive waste is one
entirely created by the ANSTO Act not allowing Lucas Heights to serve as such a
site. An amendment to the Act would at least allow for extended interim storage
long-term intermediate level waste disposal pathway is investigated, as
consistent with international best practice.
The Committee notes that the communities of Hawker and Kimba have been
"significantly impacted" by the ongoing selection process. Community
members have avoided discussing the issue for fear of retribution, and
friendships have been lost. The process has been divisive.
It is disappointing then that the nature of "broad community
support" has remained undefined throughout the process. The Minister has
insisted that no site will proceed without broad community support, but refused
to indicate a threshold at which point support is considered sufficiently broad
to proceed. As a result, the community is at a loss as to what threshold needs
to be met or avoided, and considerable uncertainty remains entrenched.
The Minister has broad discretion to make decisions with regard to 'broad
community support'; he has previously indicated that he will not proceed with a
site without it. The concept is not defined within the National Radioactive
Waste Management Act 2012, nor is it stated that such support is required.
Rather, the term is left to the Minister's discretion.
According to DIIS:
The Minister has committed that the Facility will not be
placed in an unwilling host community or, in other words, a community in which
it does not enjoy broad support (noting that no individual or group has a right
of veto). Community support is an important but by no means the only factor
that the Minister will consider in taking forward a nomination and selecting a
These two concepts, taken together, appear to imply that a site will not
proceed without broad community support, but that even if the condition of
there being broad community support is met, there is no guarantee that such a
site will be selected.
As such the condition is of vital importance. It is concerning that it
remains undefined and impossible to determine. it is not open to scrutiny and remains
wholly at the Minister's discretion. It is incredible that the Minister would
have the right to decide what does and does not constitute broad community
support, instead of the community itself. It is even more remarkable that the
Minister would be able to define it only after all other stakeholders within
the community have made their feelings known. In no way should the goal posts
be so flexible.
As noted by No Radioactive Waste in Kimba or SA:
The definition of broad community support has been inconsistent
throughout the entire process, with differences occurring both over time and
between sites. Despite a strong focus on its need, no definitive definition of 'broad
community support' has been given, allowing the Minister to effectively 'move
the goal posts' at whim.
DIIS argues that "any threshold" for broad community support
"would be arbitrary in nature". The Department has suggested that
"setting a mandated threshold would...potentially disenfranchise minority
elements of the community or result in a minority group having an automatic
veto or dictating power of the majority".
If the Department is considered with reducing arbitrariness in the
decision-making process, then one can think of few more effective ways to do so
than establishing a threshold before the process commences. Without a clear
threshold established prior to the commencement of the site selection process,
decision-making power of the Minister is wholly arbitrary. It is nonsensical to
say that we must accept an arbitrary decision-making process as a means to
avoid arbitrary decision-making processes. Surely the only relevant test is
whether a decision increases or reduces arbitrary factors.
The argument that establishing a threshold would potentially "disenfranchise
minority elements of the community" or give minority groups "an
automatic veto or dictating power over the majority" is one against
considering broad community support at all. It was the Minister who elevated
the consideration of "broad" community support. This implies a
threshold higher than 50 per cent. With this in mind, it is a condition
introduced by the Minister himself that the views of the simple majority are
Furthermore, it is unclear how any person or persons can be
disenfranchised by having their views considered in the context of a broader
community with similar standing on an issue or issues. We do not consider a
person who votes for an unsuccessful election candidate to have been
disenfranchised in or by the process. In this context, no minority element is
disenfranchised from there being a threshold to determine what does and does
not constitute "broad majority support" any more than a minority
element is disenfranchised in an election when the party for whom it votes
fails to win a majority in the House of Representatives. We dispute this
The Committee's view—that the community sentiment vote "is only one
contributing factor to assessing community support"—ignores the relative
privilege this factor enjoys compared with other factors. Indeed, the Minister's
previous commitments to not proceed without broad community support, give this
factor precedence above all others. In effect, this consideration represents a
potential veto on the site selection process. As such, it deserves to be
clarified. Indeed, it must be clarified as a matter of utmost urgency.
The view of the committee, that "it is important for a Minister to
have some discretion", is not disputed. The Minister is entitled to
discretion where it is appropriate. Ministers do not have the discretion to
force radioactive waste dumps onto unsupportive communities. He is welcome to
use his discretion, which he enjoys as a function of his role in the
Government, to mandate a threshold. To do otherwise is to abuse his ministerial
It is possible for the extent of ministerial discretion to be excessive.
There is a risk that decisions—the ramifications of which will persist for
centuries—are being made within the pressures of a single election cycle. Furthermore,
ministerial discretion must be informed by a consistent set of principles, lest
it fall prey to the particular whims of the Minister of the day. To this point,
we note that there have been five Ministers for Resources since 2014.
A critical question regarding the ballot being conducted by the
Australian Electoral Commission is who should fall within the definition of 'community',
for the purposes of determining broad community support. The ballot is being
used to measure community support using a limited and narrow scope of
community. This scope ignores the significant relationship that exists between
traditional owners and the land. Similarly, radioactive waste sited in any
location in South Australia must be transported to that location in order to be
stored long-term. Communities around and along the transport route for this
radioactive waste have not been included in the scope of the ballot despite
having clear interest in how it proceeds.
The Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA) has disputed the
decision by DIIS to exclude traditional owners of the site near Hawker who live
outside 50km from the proposed site from the ballot surveying community
You just can’t limit Adnyamathanha people to just the few
Adnyamathanha people who live in this area. It’s got to incorporate and capture
all Adnyamathanha people.
The Adnyamathanha people have a demonstrable interest in the process of
site selection. It is disappointing that DIIS has opted that they do not meet
the Department's definition of community. Arguments such as those by Robyn
Stewart and Councillor Dean Johnson, (that those living outside the geographic
boundaries of each nominated site may not have the necessary level of
information to make an informed decision) sets a remarkably high bar to
participation that, if sustained, would make this ballot the least democratic
of its kind in any exercise in Australian history. We do not limit the right to
vote to only those able to demonstrate they know what they're voting on; nor
should we. What's more, there is every possibility that people living outside
the geographic boundaries of each site have a more than workable knowledge of
the issues contested.
Wider community views
Observations from Malcolm McKenzie, that uranium mining at the Beverley
Mine has not negatively "shut down" the tourism industry of
Arkaroola, are important as a means to demonstrate the need for effective
legislative protections to ensure the survival of environmental asset, such as
those introduced by the South Australian State Government in 2011. It should
not be taken for granted that tourism will be unaffected in its absence.
Indeed, as noted by submissions from Greg Bannon and Dr Susan Anderson,
it is impossible to rule out an impact on the attractiveness of the Flinders
Ranges as a tourism destination. If the presence of a radioactive waste dump
causes only one in twenty potential tourists to think twice about visiting the
area, the annual impact is $21.3m and 95 direct jobs lost.
The effect of this lost economic activity would thoroughly swamp any positive
effect arising from the presence of the radioactive waste dump.
The committee has taken a view that the final site of any radioactive
waste dump is a matter for regional economies to consider. This ignores the
fact that the radioactive waste management facility is designed to store
national radioactive waste. The impact of the decision is to be felt
nationally; stakeholders are not simply confined to any one local government
Furthermore, it is condescending and inaccurate to suggest that
community concerns around the impact of a radioactive waste dump on agriculture
and tourism perceptions of safety and attractiveness are unfounded. This site
will house intermediate level waste for an unspecified period of time.
Intermediate level waste requires shielding to be safely contained. It is wrong
to say that there are no legitimate safety concerns around this proposal.
Workers in Lucas Heights have been exposed to potentially dangerous levels of
radiation as a result of accidents in the last twelve months. These workers
deal with dangerous materials. The committee is incorrect to suggest otherwise.
We dispute the position of DIIS that it continues to work closely with
local traditional owners. The process to date has already inflicted significant
adverse impacts on the community and site itself. ATLA, rightly recognised by
this committee as the peak body for all matters relating to land, culture,
heritage, language and native title for Adnyamathanha people, has withdrawn
from cooperating with the site selection process. It remains deeply unhappy
with how the process has been managed to date.
Indigenous consultation in Kimba has been almost non-existent. The
overwhelming majority of indigenous people present between the two Hawker and
Kimba hearings have been against the proposals. It is misleading to
characterise the nearly uniform opposition as "mixed views".
There are clear deficiencies in the degree of Indigenous consultation in
the site selection process to date. In the absence of consent from Native Title
representative bodies that cover the proposed sites, there is no mandate for
the process to continue.
Financial compensation and
incentives to communities
Considering the inevitable social and economic upheaval produced by this
contentious site selection process, there is a clear issue with allowing sites
to be nominated by absentee landlords with no ties to the local community.
Nonetheless this is exactly what has occurred at the proposed site at
Wallerberdina Station in the Flinders Ranges. The site owner stands to receive
a financial gain of around four times the land's value, while the community in
which the site is situated bears the impacts. The prospect that one former
politician with a clear track record of advocating for nuclear waste disposal
in South Australia may financially benefit from this site selection process
should be galling; it is correct that this perception risks "further
politicising an already contentious process".
Regarding the prospect of 45 jobs, the community does not have the
capacity to provide the jobs this site is anticipated to generate. There are
only 53 unemployed people in the Flinders Ranges statistical area where
Wallerberdina Station is stationed. Of these, approximately 20 have a TAFE or
There are 47 unemployed people in the Kimba - Cleve - Franklin Harbour
statistical area where the Napandee and Lyndhurst sites are based. Of these,
about 21 have a TAFE or university qualification.
DIIS estimates that 26 jobs will be supported by on-the-job training not
requiring previous expertise, with the other 19 jobs requiring either TAFE or
University qualifications. DIIS says there will be "no fly-in, fly-out
If the local labour force cannot absorb these jobs, they will be filled
by people from outside the community. This is a statistical necessity. This
does not appear to have been communicated to anybody in the community, a large
proportion of which remain convinced that the promise of 45 jobs will be a boon
to the local economy.
Further, the net impact on jobs will be modest at best, once job losses
at Lucas Heights are taken into consideration.
This process necessitates the double-handling of intermediate level
radioactive waste, as the NRWMF is only intended to serve as a temporary
holding site until waste is transported to its final more permanent disposal
site, which is yet to be identified.
This double-handling is not consistent with international best practice
in the disposal of intermediate level waste. Nonetheless, it is inevitable if
the current practice proceeds unamended. Alternatives should be canvassed,
including the suspension of the site selection process until a permanent
disposal site can be identified.
It is imperative that all stakeholders within transport corridors should
be consulted. The presence of a radioactive waste dump in South Australia will
require Port Lincoln, Whyalla or Port Pirie to serve as nuclear waste ports. As
a result, these communities will necessarily be involved in the handling and
transportation of dangerous nuclear waste. They have a stake in the
decision-making process because they will bear some of the risk of such an
Every community impacted by the potential thoroughfare of nuclear waste
have an interest in ensuring that their fate is not determined by another
community without any consultation or cooperation. While ANSTO has been at
pains to ensure that low-level waste can be transported safely, it is not a
decision for ANSTO to make in isolation. Communities should be fully informed
of the relevant costs and benefits, throughout the transport chain, and offered
the opportunity to have their say on the proposal.
1.40 The Australian Greens believe the Federal Government has no mandate
to situate a radioactive waste management facility in South Australia. It has
mismanaged the site selection process, fallen short of international best
practice and failed to secure the consent of traditional owners. For these
reasons the Australian Greens recommend that the site selection process does
not proceed further.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
Senator for South Australia
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