Published by courtesy of Stephen Hagan, Editor of the National Indigenous Times
The story appeared in its 15 February edition
A nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory is a step closer to reality, after the ALP and the Federal Coalition parties revealed they had struck a deal on laws to allow a facility to be built. Despite calls from a local Aboriginal group at Muckaty Station and the Australian Greens for debate to be postponed, the Senate began debating the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill last week.
Liberal Senator, Nigel Scullion from the Northern Territory said he had struck a deal with the ALP back in November that would have the Coalition back the Bill as long as States and Territories that used the site paid for access.
Although the Bill doesn’t specify a waste dump would be built at Muckaty Station, about 100km north of Tennant Creek, that is the only site currently under consideration.
Senator Scullion said the deal reached between the major parties would see States and Territories pay for storing nuclear material at the dump.
He said under an amendment to the Bill an initial $10 million would be put in a fund that would be available to the Northern Territory Chief Minister if the Muckaty site was confirmed.
“When that $10 million is paid back, then the Commonwealth has got its pay back then it will just keep going into the fund and the fund will build,” Senator Scullion said.
“The fund goes forever and ever but it is not necessarily $10 million, it could be more than $10 million per year, or it could be less,” he said.
Money raised by the charges would go towards investments in health infrastructure, including scholarships, he said.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has confirmed that the ALP will support the amendments to the Bill.
The deal means the contentious Bill is likely to pass through parliament but plans for a dump at Muckaty may still be derailed by court action.
A Federal Court case is underway to determine which Traditional Owners were the custodians of the area and needed to give consent for the dump.
Penelope Phillips, a member of the Wirntiku people who are disputing ownership of the Muckaty land, said the Bill should not go ahead until the court hearing has finished.
“How can the politicians pass the legislation while we are still having a court battle?” she said. “Why don’t they just wait for the court case?” she said.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said Parliament should not deal with the issue of the dump until the outcome of the court case was known.
But in a statement, Mr Ferguson said the legislation would not alter the outcome of the court hearing and the government would be legally bound by the decision of the Federal Court.
“The government’s Bill will put in place a proper framework to ensure that a site is selected in a fair and proper way,” Mr Ferguson said.
Environment Centre NT co-ordinator, Stuart Blanch condemned the political deal to pass the law that he said amounted to a $10 million bribe.
“Five years ago Nigel Scullion said ‘not on my watch’ would a nuclear waste dump come to the Territory,” Dr Blanch said.
“You can’t trust Nigel on nuclear waste.”