Resources Minister Martin Ferguson ignores waste dump challenges

AAP Sydney Morning Herald April 27, 2010

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is confident he is consulting with the right traditional owners over the site of Australia's first nuclear waste dump, despite a looming legal challenge.

The government is considering Muckaty Station, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, for a facility that would store low and intermediate level radioactive waste.

The land was nominated by the Ngapa traditional owners, one of five family groups who are custodians of the land, but others oppose the dump.

They have engaged lawyers for a possible legal challenge over who can rightfully have a say over the land.

Mr Ferguson on Tuesday told ABC Radio the Ngapa peoples' link with the site had been identified in a Northern Land Council anthropological report, which would not be made public.

He was confident the government was dealing with the right group.

While not surprised a legal battle was looming over the dump, Mr Ferguson said time was running out to find a "mature" solution to the nuclear waste problem.

"Half a million Australians a year benefit from nuclear medicine," he said.

"Eighty-five per cent of that nuclear medicine is actually manufactured in Australia, in accordance with international protocols we have to select a site."

The waste dump had to be selected and built by 2014 because "time is not on our side".

A Senate committee examining the legislation that will establish the site is due to deliver its report at the end of April.

Mr Ferguson said his department would consult with the Ngapa people and surrounding clans before the site was approved, as required by the law.

Plan For Nuclear Waste Dump Faces Backlash

Stephen de Tarczynski IPS News Apr 26, 2010

Diane Stokes
(Archive image)

Aboriginal landowners in Australia’s far north are battling government plans to construct this country’s long-term nuclear waste storage facility on their land.

Diane Stokes, an indigenous woman from the Warumungu and Warlmanpa tribes in the Northern Territory, is opposed to radioactive waste being dumped on her clan’s land at Muckaty Station, a former cattle station located some 200 kilometres north of the Territory town of Tennant Creek.

"We don’t want it to come to the Northern Territory. Nobody wants it there," said Stokes at a public meeting held in the southern city of Melbourne on Apr. 21.

The question of what to do with Australia’s radioactive waste from the country’s medical, industrial, agricultural and research use of nuclear material has been ongoing for decades and remains far from resolved.

The waste is currently stored at numerous sites around the country. Some Australian radioactive waste is also stored in Scotland and France.

The current Kevin Rudd-led government, as well as the previous government under John Howard, have regarded these sites as temporary and have looked to develop a permanent facility at which to store the waste.

A bill presently before parliament rules out the possibility of using one of three previously nominated sites on Australian Defence Force land in the Northern Territory, effectively leaving Muckaty Station as the only potential site currently up for consideration.

While the Minister for Energy and Resources, Martin Ferguson, said that the bill "means that a site can no longer be automatically imposed on a community in any state or territory," the proposed legislation also recognises the "voluntary" nomination of the Muckaty site made by Ngapa clan members in 2007.

The clan is one of several aboriginal family groups who are the traditional owners of land at Muckaty Station.

"We made our decision; we nominated our land because we wanted to make a better life for our children," said Ngapa spokeswoman Amy Lauder at a senate hearing into the bill on Mar. 30.

Lauder and her kin are expected to receive upwards of $12 million Australian dollars (11.14 million U.S. dollars) as compensation for building the waste facility on their land.

"We are satisfied that the waste can be stored safely, provided it has been through the environmental impact process to be followed over the next few years. We are united on this decision as the Ngapa clan," Lauder told the senate committee.

It is a position supported by the Northern Land Council (NLC), which represents aboriginal landowners in the north of the Northern Territory. The NLC nominated the Muckaty site on behalf of the Ngapa clan in 2007.

"The Ngapa people have taken a courageous stand in putting forward their traditional land for consideration as a potential site for a facility to house the nation’s radioactive waste," says Kim Hill, chief executive officer of the NLC.

Hill argues that "not one person is disputing that the area in question belongs to the Lauder clan."

But that is exactly what appears to be in dispute.

"The waste dump that they’re going to put in that land is not Amy Lauder’s country," Diane Stokes told those in attendance at the Melbourne public meeting.

Stokes is not alone in disputing the issue of land ownership.

A joint letter from members of the Milwayi and Wirntiku clans, as well as other Ngapa clan members, was read out at a second senate hearing on Apr. 12. The letter states that the proposed site is actually on Milwayi land rather than on land belonging to Lauder’s family group.

"We are demanding to see the anthropologists’ evidence provided to the Northern Land Council regarding Ngapa clan," say the letter’s signatories.

Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam has called for Muckaty to be scrapped as a potential site for radioactive waste storage as the nomination process for the site was "flawed."

"Numerous traditional owners outlined how they and their people were completely excluded from the shared decision making process, which is the norm in aboriginal custom on issues to do with kinship of land. Despite claims to the contrary, it is clear that they were not consulted and have never given consent," says Ludlam.

Dave Sweeney, an anti-nuclear campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), has slammed Minister Ferguson for breaking away from the principles set out by his own party regarding radioactive waste.

The ACF activist said that in 2007 the governing Australian Labor Party promised "a new process, a new site selection study based on community inclusion and consent, based on best science, based on robust and transparent processes and principles."

Sweeney argues that much is at stake "with radioactive waste that lasts thousands of years, that can be cancer causing and gene changing, that can mobilise into the external environment, that can affect bush food and people’s perception of their relationship with the land."

Dr Bill Williams, president of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, said that a leak from a radioactive waste facility could easily reach humans through food and water, while an airborne leak could be breathed directly into the lungs.

"There is no such thing as a safe dose of ionising radiation to any of us," he warns.

Lawyers Convinced of Winning Muckaty Station Dumping Case

Prakash Sharma 07th April 2010

Lawyers who are planning to dispute a waste dump at Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek are confident that if reports are correct then it is probable that they would win the case and the decision will be reversed.

George Newhouse, who is part of the three lawyer team who are taking up the case met with traditional owners in Tennant Creek this weekend.

It has been reported that some traditional owners claim to have ownership of the land that the Federal Government is considering for the dumping. They also claim that they were not consulted about the site's nomination.

Newhouse also claims that quite a few of people had gathered to protest against the nuclear facility. He stated that, the demonstration was the largest ever in the history of Tennant Creek.

He also evinced that the lawyers will require a week or two to analyze the matter and consider what they have been told by traditional land owners. However, he maintained that after the onset of the case, the legal proceedings would move quickly.

He said, "It may be that the process of nominating was so flawed that we can attack it on other bases, denial of natural justice, unfairness those sorts of things".