The Guardian • Issue #2027

Dumping on First Nations People

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2027

Protestors at Parliament House in Adelaide [Source: Don’t Dump on SA, Facebook]

“That dump would poison the water and poison everything else, the food, the cattle, and everything else that’s gonna live off of the water.”
Eileen Wani Wingfield and Eileen Kampakuta Brown, 2003

For almost two decades now, the Barngarla First Nations of the Eyre Peninsula have steadfastly opposed the establishment of a nuclear waste dump in South Australia on their land through the courts. As the preferred location, the Napandee Site, near Kimba is in the heart of the state’s wheat belt and bordering on a conservation park and a national park, it looms as a potentially devastating environmental hazard.

In fact, not only national, but more especially international implications could be involved with the possible acceptance of radioactive waste from both the United Kingdom and France and later under AUKUS, from the United States.

Apart from the Barngarla people, without direct consent, the citizens of Adelaide, and particularly, Port Adelaide will become involved. This is despite Port Adelaide’s status as a nuclear-free zone, and in contradiction of the South Australian Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000. Furthermore, the tenacious opposition of the traditional owners, a public relations firm, Australian Public Affairs, engaged by the former federal government, claimed “success” in their promotional campaign to sell such a potentially hazardous project to South Australians. Only forty-five jobs were likely to be created, and these were mainly during the construction stage.

A solar power plant in this semi-arid, sun-drenched part of the nation makes much greater sense, financially and more significantly, from an environmental viewpoint.

Although the “anti-waste dump act” was introduced by the Olson Liberal government and even strengthened by the Rann Labor government, anecdotal evidence suggests that within the Labor Party there were moves during the time of Weatherill Labor government to change the ALP’s official opposition to involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle. This was by suggestion that it be presented as part of the answer to combating the climate change disaster that is now overwhelming the planet.

At least one ALP branch was presented with an attractive account of how a cash-strapped state like South Australia could develop a multi-million dollar industry from nuclear waste storage. Nuclear energy nations such as France desperately sought means to dispose of their ever-increasing stockpiles of spent radioactive material. In addition, a guest speaker at a public event sponsored by the same branch, tried to reassure an audience of potential Labor voters of the intrinsic safety of the nuclear fuel cycle as it then operated.

In 2015, as premier, Jay Weatherill took the “unusual step” of establishing a Royal Commission into possible South Australian Involvement in the nuclear industry. Headed by former governor, Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, the Commission’s final report was in favour of the establishment of a waste storage facility, but claimed that the generation of nuclear power would not be economically viable. Premier Weatherill made it clear that a nuclear waste dump would need “both public and bipartisan support,” which the Liberal leader at the time, Steven Marshall, declined to provide.

It has been suggested that the decision to hold the Royal Commission could have been influence by lobbyists who had represented the corporate owners of the Beverley and Honeymoon uranium mines in South Australia.

With the advent of the Morrison government in Canberra in 2019, federal pressure forced its way into the “waste dump” saga through the offices of the Australian Waste Management Agency under the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, whose minister, Keith Pitt, was keen to show government support for the residents of Kimba with the following announcements:

“As the host community for the facility, Kimba in South Australia will receive a community development package of up to $31 million.”

“We are also sponsoring activities in the Kimba community that support our community engagement and provide tangible benefits. Local not-for-profit organisations can apply for up to $2,000 each.”

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the former premier Jay Weatherill and his wife have become actively engaged with lobbying groups involved with the nuclear industry.

However, the APA’s boast of a public relations success is probably based on the results of a 2017 Kimba town vote with a result of 396 to 294 in favour of a further investigation of the prospect of a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility being established in the region. At the same time, there was concerted opposition from community groups such as No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural Land in Kimba or SA and the Against Radioactive Waste Action Group. Over 200 native title holders who largely lived outside the boundary of the Kimba District Council, were excluded from the vote simply because they were native title holders. This, of course, had the effect “of nullifying or impairing their rights,” thus raising First Nations concerns with reference to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

In fact, the mayor, whose relatives had offered the Napandee Site to the Federal government as a potential location for nuclear waste storage, opposed native title holders voting on the dubious basis that they were not ratepayers.

In a promotion exercise, the local federal Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey explained that the waste would be derived from more than 100 sites around Australia, such as hospitals and universities, and the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney.

Ramsey, who tried to nominate his own property near Kimba for the dump, was barred as a federal MP, added that there would be no “fly-in, fly-out workers at the facility,” and claimed there would be a “long-term community benefit.”

Last year, the enabling legislation was amended in the Senate to allow for legal challenges to take place, and listed three potential sites, not just the preferred Napandee Site. The amendments at least met some of the requirements of the Barngarla people, who felt there had been no real community consultation in the whole process of site selection.

For two decades or more, the Barngarla First Nations have fought to have their voices heard. In fact, two of their elders, Eileen Wani Wingfield and Eileen Kampakuta Brown, were awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize in the US for environmental activism in 2003 worth $US125,000 to continue work. In addition, since 2016 the Adnyamathanah people of the Flinders Ranges have been facing “emotional stress … off the charts,” as “custodians of their lands,” as land nearby their community is being proposed as a potential site.

Sovereignty and native title has most certainly become crucial for First Nations Australians in the light of these proceedings.

(The investigative journalism of Matilda Duncan and First Nations’ reportage in the Koori Mail have been revealing in this critical matter.)

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