Opposition growing to SA nuclear plan
16/11/16; Michele Madigan;
‘We are not a dump is SA, we want to keep it beautiful’ — Umoona Community. ‘We’ve got to think about the country’ — Ceduna.
Michele Madigan is a Sister of St Joseph who has spent the past 38 years working with Aboriginal people in remote areas of South Australia and in Adelaide. Her work has included advocacy and support for senior Aboriginal women of Coober Pedy in their campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump.
The last 30 days have seen some big developments in the ongoing attempts of SA Premier Weatherill’s plan to import high-level and intermediate level radioactive waste into South Australia.
On Sunday 6 November came the surprising decision of the Premier-initiated Citizens Jury. By the end of their six day deliberations, the 350 second round jurists showed a decided shift in opinion. Their 50 page report, presented to a somewhat discomfited Premier, had a strong two thirds majority declaring the international nuclear dump was not to go ahead ‘under any circumstances’.
Contrary to expectations, my own included, the jury, realising the bias of the royal commission and other government initiated forums, had insisted on their own choice of counter experts. In particular they invited four economists (Richard Denniss, Richard Blandy, Barbara Pocock, Mark Diesendorf), whose convincing analyses led to their firm conclusion of ‘no confidence in the economics’.
The jury also insisted on a strong second round of Aboriginal Traditional Owner witnesses: Pitjatjantjara, Yankunyjatjara, Adnyamathanha, Nukunu, Kokatha and others from various language groups across the state. Witnesses reported that various jurists were very moved by these many powerful and passionate statements, with their final report quoting Keith Peters from Yalata — ‘Any damage to the environment is damage to spirit and body’ — along with several extracts from the Aboriginal Statement, as above.
The title Citizens Jury, however, remains a misnomer. A genuine Citizens Jury has the power to make a decision. The Premier has made it clear he retains that power. Still, in the ABC Q&A program held in Adelaide, he had assured Karina Lester, chair of the Yankunyjatjara Native Title Corporation, that without Aboriginal consent ‘it will not go ahead’.
The 15 October rally…of 3000 strong must have been one of the first revelations to the Premier that his extraordinary push for the project has major concerted opposition, despite the $10 million ‘persuasion campaign’.
On this 63rd anniversary of the Emu Field British bomb explosion in north eastern SA, Karina Lester, daughter of Yami Lester, who was blinded by the ‘Black Mist’ explosion, was co-MC. Traditional Owners Mima Smart (immediate past chairperson of Yalata Community) and Keith Peters (immediate past chairperson and present member of Maralinga Tjarutja) spoke their history and present fiery opposition.
“With just 15 protestors the previous year, it was clear again that voter opposition had mushroomed, with hundreds of protestors, almost all with their own banners, greeting delegates.”
Union rep Joe Szakacs protested the risks to workers of the international waste plan, explaining how few long term jobs would result. Media reports on ABC, 9 and 7 all included a well-known SA identity noted in the crowd. Introduced as ‘an Academy Award nominated film director’, Scott Hicks was incredulous at the proposal: ‘Let’s find smart industries! Don’t just get in on the end of a failed industry.’
Two weeks later, on 29 October, the ALP State Convention revealed divisions within the party, such that the matter reportedly threatened to take over the whole convention until being deferred to a proposed dedicated meeting. With just 15 protestors the previous year, it was clear again that voter opposition had mushroomed, with hundreds of protestors, almost all with their own banners, greeting delegates.
Sean McDonagh, the Columban environmental theologian, visited Adelaide on 5 November. Astounded by my explanation of the Premier’s plan, he asked, ‘Including plutonium?’ Yes — a total of 138,000 tonnes of high and 390,000 tonnes of intermediate-level waste — simply dumped for at least the first 28 years.
Stephen Long’s ABC revelations on 8 November meant a rare entry into national media coverage. In summary: ‘Let’s be clear on what this means — lobbyists and former nuclear company executives co-wrote large parts of the SA Nuclear Royal Commission report.’
On Friday 11 November, the Conservation Council of SA and Aboriginal reps presented the Premier with 5000 ‘Don’t Waste SA’ signed protest postcards, and the Australian Conservation Foundation’s 30,000 strong petition. That same day a bombshell from the Liberal opposition leader. Removing the necessary bipartisan support, Stephen Marshall declared, ‘I have a much greater vision for SA than becoming the world’s nuclear waste dump.’
On Sunday 13 November the Community Review Report which the Premier had urged South Australians to wait for, delivered another surprise with far from positive approval for the dump. Then, this week, on 14–16 November, the first ever Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle conference took place in Adelaide to ‘examine top level topics associated with establishing an international waste and fuel management facility in SA’. Attending nuclear industrialists were ‘expecting a policy statement’.
At 2.30pm Monday 14 November Premier Weatherill, faced with all of the above, declared a referendum would be held on the issue. Result: a widespread media eruption. On Tuesday 15 November the State Government’s official response to the Royal Commission — no doubt the expected ‘policy statement’ — citing expansion for the mining industry but seeming to withdraw from the referendum (at least for now).
So the saga continues. And as Pitjantjatjara Elder Keith Peters and Glenn Wingfield, Kokatha, remind us, ‘This is an issue for all Australians! Once it gets out, it gets out for every one of us!’
Australia, South Australia