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Ferguson continues Howard’s nuclear policies, but with a deceitful edge

Media Release
Scott Ludlam 3 Jun 2009

The Australian Greens have written to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd demanding that responsibility for radioactive waste management be stripped from Industry Minister Martin Ferguson and returned to the Science portfolio.

"It is clear that Minister Ferguson's management of the radioactive waste issue is at odds with ALP pre-election promises, and his manner of dealing with Departmental officers extremely questionable," said Australian Greens nuclear issues spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam.

"It was shocking to learn in Senate Estimates hearings yesterday that the senior officer responsible for progressing the national radioactive waste dump admitted he has been waiting for directions from Minister Martin Ferguson since February and has no idea what the Government's intentions are,"

"When in opposition, the ALP promised consultation on radioactive waste management. Instead we are seeing one of the least consultative processes possible. Even the public servants responsible have no idea if the Minister intends to select one site, the original four, or begin a whole new process from scratch," said Senator Ludlam.

"The Department is now getting the same treatment as Traditional Owners, conservationists, Greens MPs and the entire population of the Northern Territory. This becomes increasingly worrying when you consider that it is the Department's responsibility to spend $10 million dollars to initiate the waste dump project, after the Minister finally announces his intentions."

"Eighteen months after coming into Government, Minister Ferguson has not asked the Department to draft the repeal legislation promised prior to the election campaign."

"The scoping work on the four sites announced under the Howard Government was completed in February and the Minister is still considering them. As far as the Department knows, only these sites are under consideration, meaning that ALP policy has been disregarded in favour of seamless continuity with John Howard's process."

"The only difference with this Minister's handling of radioactive waste dumps is that at least John Howard was honest about his intentions. It is well past time the Prime Minister removed this responsibility from Minister Ferguson, as he has no intention of delivering on any promises to the Australian people," he concluded.

For more information or media enquiries please call Tim Norton on 0418 401 180


December 2005
The Howard Government passes the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA) through the Senate in a truncated debate, overriding relevant NT legislation prohibiting radioactive waste dumping and identifying three sites on Commonwealth defence land for a proposed national waste dump. None of the three sites were shortlisted in earlier processes of site selection undertaken in the 1990s.

The legislation prevents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 from having effect during investigation of potential dump sites, and it excluded the Native Title Act 1993 from operating at all. Procedural fairness was curtailed through the suspension of the Judicial Review Act.

December 2006
Amendments are made to allow the act to override the Aboriginal Land Rights Act procedures requiring informed consent from all affected people and groups. These changes explicitly stated that site nominations from Land Councils would be valid even in the absence of consultation with and consent from Traditional Owners.

6 March 2007
A media statement from opposition ALP members Kim Carr, Trish Crossin and Warren Snowdon commits Federal Labor to:

  • Legislate to restore transparency, accountability and procedural fairness including the right of access to appeal mechanisms in any decisions in relation the sighting of any nuclear waste facilities;
  • Ensure that any proposal for the siting of a nuclear waste facility on Aboriginal Land in the Northern Territory would adhere to the requirements that exist under the Aboriginal Land Rights, Northern Territory Act (ALRA); 
  • Restore the balance and, pending contractual obligation, will not proceed with the establishment of a nuclear waste facility on or off Aboriginal land until the rights removed by the Howard government are restored and a proper and agreed site selection process is carried out; and
  • Not arbitrarily impose a nuclear waste facility without agreement on any community, anywhere in Australia.

31 July - 2 August 2007
At the 45th ALP National Conference the ALP policy platform is agreed, with Chapter 5 committing the ALP to:

  • Repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005;
  • Establish a process for identifying suitable sites that is scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms;
  • Ensure full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes; and; 
  • Commit to international best practice scientific processes to underpin Australia's radioactive waste management, including transportation and storage.

September 2007
Under the amended process, a site on Muckaty station 120 km north of Tennant Creek, is nominated by the Northern Land Council. The site is added to the short-list of potential sites, with former Science Minister Julie Bishop accepting the contentious nomination.

27 September 2007
Then Shadow Science Minister, Senator Kim Carr, states: "Labor is committed to repealing the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and establishing a consensual process of site selection. Labor's process will look to agreed scientific grounds for determining suitability. Community consultation and support will be central to our approach."

On December 3 2007
Incoming Prime Minister Kevin Rudd makes the unusual decision to transfer responsibility for radioactive waste management from the science portfolio to the resources portfolio, giving carriage of the issue to Industry Minister Martin Ferguson.

February 2008
In Senate estimates hearings Greens Senator Kerry Nettle establishes that the Department of Resources is waiting for instructions from the Minister Martin Ferguson's office before proceeding.

September 2008
Senator Ludlam tables the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management (Repeal and Consequential Amendment) Bill 2008 which was referred to an Inquiry of the Environment, Communication and the Arts Committee that received 103 submissions and held hearings in Canberra and Alice Springs.

October 2008
Estimates committee hearings reveal the Department of Resources has been instructed to proceed with the process established under the Howard Government and is still assessing the four sites nominated in 2005-6.

December 2008
The government-dominated Committee tables its report, exposing the extraordinarily coercive nature of the legislation, its deficiencies and its' consequences. The Committee recommends that this discriminatory and flawed legislation be repealed in the first few Parliamentary sitting weeks of 2009. The Committee also outlines an entirely new approach to finding a solution to this complex and long standing problem, a process founded on rigorous consultation, voluntary consent, environmental credibility, and which utilises best-practice models tested internationally.

17 February 2009
The government votes against a motion in the Senate calling for repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and for implementation of the Senate Committee's recommendations and ALP policy.

12 May 2009
The government votes against a motion in the Senate which is a word for word re-statement of ALP policy.

2 June 2009
Estimates committee hearings reveal the Department of Resources completed its' assessment work in late February 2009 and is now waiting for instructions from the Minister's office before proceeding. No repeal or replacement legislation has been drafted by the Department, and the head of the section dealing with radioactive waste has a budget of approximately $10 million over four years and no workplan, no instruction on basic details of the scope of work, and no idea whether sites other than the original four will be considered.

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