The Guardian • Issue #2094

No Nukes, No Waste, No AUKUS!

Public meeting Coogee Community Centre

Rally to oppose the government's nuclear submarine deal, Melbourne 2021.

Rally to oppose the government's nuclear submarine deal, Melbourne 2021. Photo: Matt Hrkac – flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

As the Australian government continues to ramp up this nation’s commitment both militarily and financially to AUKUS, those parts of the country that will actually shoulder the equipment and resources for this adventure are concerned about the impacts to their environment, economy and health.  One of these locations is Cockburn Sound as the Stirling Naval Base is just offshore. Fremantle, Rockingham, and Coogee would suffer collateral damage in the event of a nuclear accident  military strike.

To create awareness of the impact AUKUS would have on the area around Cockburn Sound, Greens WA held a town hall meeting at the Coogee Community Centre where Greens Senators for WA Jordan Steele-John and Dorinda Cox, Greens NSW Senator David Shoebridge, and Greens WA candidate and former ABC reporter Sophie McNeill were the speakers.

Senator Steele-John said that the people of Fremantle have long made their feelings known on uranium, nuclear waste, and the military-industrial complex. Australians showed they were against war when 98 per cent of people  polled said they were against Australia going to war in Iraq in 2003. Steele-John asked if we need another war under the auspices of AUKUS to tread the same path.

The ALP has decided to bind us to the US with AUKUS to the tune of at least $368 billion and have further embedded the US military within Australia by allowing greater access by US forces to Australian defence facilities. Senator Shoebridge said that he had asked several questions about the Australian Naval Nuclear Power Safety Bill in the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade as he had concerns about the procurement and storage of nuclear fuel and waste from what would be our submarines and those of our AUKUS ‘partners.’

This nuclear safety bill would create a regulatory body for dealing with nuclear waste, answerable only to the Minister for Defence. There is no long-term solution to the storage of nuclear waste, and the UK and US which have been stockpiling nuclear waste in temporary facilities are looking for a place to offload their nuclear waste. There would be no environmental assessment of the proposed location of any nuclear waste storage facility in Australia and no oversight of this proposed regulatory body by anyone independent of the Department of Defence.  There would be no requirement to consult the community, Aboriginal people, or environmental groups. Steele-John summed up the government’s approach as “Nothing to see here.”

Greens candidate Sophie McNeill said that the government’s actions on AUKUS and the proposed regulatory framework showed a lack of transparency and accountability.  Upgrading Stirling Naval Base to receive the nuclear submarines would have a significant environmental impact on Cockburn Sound. There would be more disturbance of Cockburn Sound through the increased traffic and a proposal to dig an extra trench for the passage of larger submarines. McNeill said that AUKUS was not the vehicle to make us safer.

Senator Dorinda Cox who has Noongar Aboriginal ties to the Cockburn Sound or Derbal Nara in the Noongar language, had asked the Joint Committee if there had been consultation with local Aboriginal people.  The Committee asked Senator Cox if she knew anybody who would be suitable. Senator Cox had replied that she wasn’t there to do their job. She accused Defence of being out of touch not only with Aboriginal people but the broader community on nuclear and peace issues. Cox added, “This is a government that wanted a Voice to Parliament, but they don’t even want … consultation with Aboriginal people on the use and misuse of their land.”

Australian people have seen what happened at Maralinga in South Australia and Monte Bello islands off the coast of Western Australia with the British atomic tests.  These places are still prohibited areas. Now, with talk about the submarines required for AUKUS and climate change, there has been a ramping up of proposals for nuclear power and uranium mining – without consideration of the environmental and financial costs of the clean up of uranium mining sites and the intractable problem of radioactive nuclear waste with a 10 thousand year half-life.

The senators were asked if saying No to AUKUS meant they also saying No to deterrence. Senator Steele-John answered that addressing fundamental human needs made conflict less likely. Senator Shoebridge said that the AUKUS Treaty and greater interoperability of our defence force and exchange of technology with the US involved projecting our defence posture beyond Australia and into the South China Sea. We were then consciously putting ourselves in the line of conflict. Australia needed to be an advocate for peace rather than project ourselves beyond our sovereign borders.

Shoebridge argued that concentrating on the defence of Australia’s sovereign land and sea borders would take a fraction of the cost of the AUKUS proposal. De-escalation not escalation should be the narrative we should be following.

Senator Steele-John had the last word, saying the ALP government has its spending priorities wrong for the Cockburn Sound area. The cost of living crisis, rising rents and housing costs are driving a growing homelessness crisis. The $368 billion earmarked for the nuclear submarines of AUKUS will not make Australia safer or more secure but  is stopping the funding of necessary expenditures on housing, education, public health, and renewable energy, which could make us  more secure and prosperous.

The Communist Party of Australia calls on the Federal government to stop funding AUKUS, be fully transparent and accountable about the Australian Naval Nuclear Power Safety Bill and its purpose, continue the ban on uranium mining and storage of nuclear waste from defence or military industrial purposes and sign the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons.

6 April 2024

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