Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson issued a media release in September claiming that he welcomes debate on Australia’s radioactive waste management options. Friends of the Earth invited him to participate in just such a debate but we were told by his office last week that he wouldn’t participate.
Small wonder. The government’s ongoing effort to impose a nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land in the NT is the most disgraceful example of "radioactive racism" since the Menzies government exploded atomic bombs on Aboriginal land in the 1950s.
Ferguson claims that Muckaty traditional owners support the dump despite clear evidence that a majority do not. Traditional owners have written to him repeatedly voicing their objections. They have repeatedly requested a meeting with Ferguson and he repeatedly refuses. Traditional owner Dianne Stokes said: "Martin Ferguson has avoided us and ignored our letters but he knows very well how we feel. He has been arrogant and secretive and he thinks he has gotten away with his plan but in fact he has a big fight on his hands."
Traditional owners also initiated ongoing legal action in the Federal Court to try to stop the imposition of a nuclear dump — and Ferguson continues to claim they support the dump! Julian Burnside and other legal heavyweights are working pro bono on the case. Launching the legal challenge, Mark Lane Jangala, a senior traditional owner, said: "I am senior Ngapa man for Muckaty and I did not agree to the nomination of the site, along with other senior Ngapa elders for Muckaty Station who did not agree. We don’t want it. I want to look after my country and Dreaming, look after the sacred sites I am responsible for and to make sure my children are raised properly in their country."
Worse still, Ferguson has introduced legislation to Parliament which overrides the Aboriginal Heritage Act and disregards the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. As Crikey’s Bernard Keane noted in May 2010, Ferguson’s draft legislation (which has yet to pass the Senate) "is in many sections a cut-and-paste of the [Howard government’s legislation], stripping procedural fairness from the waste dump site selection process, overriding territory laws and neutralising environmental protection requirements".
Opposition to the dump goes beyond the traditional owners. The NT Government is opposed and the NT Parliament has passed legislation attempting to prevent the dump. There has been solid union support for traditional owners, including from the ACTU. A growing number of councils along the transport corridor have voiced their opposition, churches and environment groups are actively supporting traditional owners, and thousands of Australians have attended public meetings around the country to hear traditional owners speak.
Teenage traditional owner Kylie Sambo has had great success with her "Muckaty Rap" — all the more so after she spoke on Q&A recently:
Don’t waste the Territory
This land means a lot to me
Been livin’ here for centuries
This place we call Muckaty.
You’re drillin’ a hole
Right through my soul.
Ferguson’s response to the growing support for Muckaty traditional owners? He recently told a constituent of his Batman electorate that traditional owners are "puppets" of green groups.
There is a simple solution: leave the waste where it is produced at the Lucas Heights nuclear research centre south of Sydney, operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). That is where the waste is produced, and that is where Australia’s nuclear expertise is heavily concentrated. As ANSTO’s Dr Ron Cameron said: "ANSTO is capable of handling and storing wastes for long periods of time. There is no difficulty with that." Similar views have been expressed by the Commonwealth nuclear regulator, by the Australian Nuclear Association — and by Mr Ferguson’s own department.
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