What Labor delivered : the National Radioactive Waste Management Act
Upon being elected to power, Labor promptly did nothing. Later that year, a senate inquiry initiated by the Greens recommended immediate repeal of the Act, but when the senate was asked to vote on a motion to repeal a few months later, government senators rejected the motion
Eighteen months later, without any further consultation with stakeholders, the Federal Resource Minister Martin Ferguson tabled the National Radioactive Waste Management Act, which he claimed would deliver on Labor's election commitment to repeal the previous government's dump laws.
But in fact, the new Bill merely repeats the worst offences of the Act it replaces. Large swathes of text are duplicated from the old Act in the new Bill, and in some cases the Bill specifically declares clauses from the 'repealed' Act to remain valid.
And in doing so, the broader election promises from the 2007 ALP Policy Platform have been abandoned. Instead, the new Bill sees the ALP Government pursuing Muckaty Station, which was identified in the absence of scientific criteria. When the federal Bureau of Resource Sciences conducted a national repository site selection study in the 1990s, informed by scientific, environmental and social criteria, the Barkly area did not even make the short-list of "suitable" sites.
The new Bill does not restore transparency to the nomination, but rather continues to hide behind the confidentiality of the former government's secret deal with the Northern Land Council (NLC), and retains the protections from scrutiny, procedural fairness and judicial review that were provided by the old CRWM Act : in some cases, explicitly referencing and deeming valid specific clauses from the Act to be 'repealed'.
The new NRWM Bill maintains the extreme measures of the CRWM Act to protect the nomination of Muckaty by the NLC from public scrutiny and legal challenge by the many Traditional Owners of the Muckaty Land Trust who remain opposed to the nomination.
A genuine commitment to best practice must give due attention to international standards and trends towards recognising the importance of community participation in the siting of radioactive waste facilities. A conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 20003 addressed the siting of repositories and emphasised the importance of early and sustained public participation.
The UK Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (UK CoRWM) recommended in a 2006 report that :
"community involvement in any proposals for the siting of long term radioactive waste facilities should be based on the principle of volunteerism, that is, an expressed willingness to participate ... there is a growing recognition that it is not ethically acceptable for a society to impose a radioactive waste facility on an unwilling community."
By this measure, the present strategy falls well short of world's best practice.
The NRWM Bill fails to restore transparency, accountability and procedural fairness, or indeed any access to appeal, regarding the nomination of Muckaty Station. There are therefore no grounds for testing the adherence of the Muckaty nomination with the decision making provisions and responsibilities of the Land Council under ALRA. To the contrary, if this Bill is enacted, subsection 4 of section 4 would guarantee that the nomination will be deemed valid even if it were found to be in conflict with the ALRA provisions.
Labor were not elected to government with a promise to repeal the CRWM Act – then rewrite most of it in a similarly named Bill, and deem certain actions and provisions under the old Act valid despite it's repeal.
Rather, Labor came to government on a well defined, clearly communicated and prominently repeated broad commitment to make a clean break from the previous 12 years of the failed strategy of dumping on vulnerable communities. There's no simple misinterpretation of the word 'repeal' going on here : this Bill represents the Labor party turning their back on well understood and agreed principles of consensus; consultation; transparency; best practice; rights to appeal; fairness; and accountability.
In short, the NRWM Bill is not what is required in order to fulfill Labor's election commitments.