Aboriginal people vow to stop nuclear waste dumps

Issue 
Adnyamathanha elder Regina McKenzie is fighting a nuclear waste dump.

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

Most South Australians remain sceptical. And among the state's Aboriginal population — on whose ancestral lands the dumps would be located — opposition to the scheme is rock-solid.

“It's very simple and easy to understand,” Aboriginal activist Regina McKenzie told Green Left Weekly on May 24. “No means no!”

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

Most South Australians remain sceptical. And among the state's Aboriginal population — on whose ancestral lands the dumps would be located — opposition to the scheme is rock-solid.

“It's very simple and easy to understand,” Aboriginal activist Regina McKenzie told Green Left Weekly on May 24. “No means no!”

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

Most South Australians remain sceptical. And among the state's Aboriginal population — on whose ancestral lands the dumps would be located — opposition to the scheme is rock-solid.

“It's very simple and easy to understand,” Aboriginal activist Regina McKenzie told Green Left Weekly on May 24. “No means no!”

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

Most South Australians remain sceptical. And among the state's Aboriginal population — on whose ancestral lands the dumps would be located — opposition to the scheme is rock-solid.

“It's very simple and easy to understand,” Aboriginal activist Regina McKenzie told Green Left Weekly on May 24. “No means no!”

In the plans of governments in Adelaide and Canberra, South Australia is to become the country's “nuclear waste dump state”.

Most South Australians remain sceptical. And among the state's Aboriginal population — on whose ancestral lands the dumps would be located — opposition to the scheme is rock-solid.

“It's very simple and easy to understand,” Aboriginal activist Regina McKenzie told Green Left Weekly on May 24. “No means no!”

McKenzie is an elder of the Adnyamathanha people, on whose lands near the Flinders Ranges the federal government plans to site a repository for low and intermediate radioactive waste created by Australia's nuclear industry.

Other spokespeople for the Adnyamathanha are equally forthright.

“This is our land, we have been here forever and we will always be here and we are totally opposed to this dump,” Vince Coulthard told the Guardian in April. Coulthard, who is chief executive of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association, said he was “totally disgusted” by the moves to set up the repository.

Throughout South Australia, traditional owners are alarmed and angry.

Sue Coleman-Haseldine, a Kokatha-Mula elder living in Ceduna, related early this year how her people had suffered as a result of British nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Atomic bomb tests began in the desert areas north of my birthplace in 1953 when I was two years old. I grew up under the Maralinga nuclear cloud.

“They've poisoned us once and there's no way they're going to do it again.”

Members of the Kokatha, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunyjatjara peoples were removed from their lands, to allow the testing to take place. Today, Coleman-Haseldine is co-chair of the Aboriginal-led Australian Nuclear Free Alliance.

Her traditional lands, meanwhile, are being eyed by SA's Labor government as it pushes its scheme to host imported high-level reactor waste in a huge outback repository.

Waste storage for profit

The plan to store foreign waste for profit enjoys aggressive backing from South Australian business circles. As the state's car manufacturing and steelmaking have tanked, local capital has looked to the nuclear industry for salvation.

In December 2014, Business SA chief executive Nigel McBride called for building a $3 billion reactor designed to turn used nuclear fuel and surplus plutonium into energy. As reported by the ABC, McBride said the technology was “safe and innovative”, and would also see nuclear nations pay Australia to take their spent fuel rods.

“What we need from government,” McBride argued, “is we need government to get out of the way.”

To accommodate the mood in business, Premier Jay Weatherill and his cabinet ditched decades of opposition by the state Labor Party to the nuclear cycle.

South Australians, however, remain broadly unconvinced. Early in May the Murdoch-owned Advertiser ran a survey on its AdelaideNow website, asking readers: “Are you in favour of a nuclear waste dump in SA?”. Embarrassingly for the Advertiser, readers replied: No, 61.04%; Yes, 35.63%; Undecided, 3.33%.

This result, moreover, came after a “snow job” of blizzard proportions. A Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, headed by former SA Governor Rear-Admiral Kevin Scarce, had just pronounced the international waste dump project “safe”.

The Advertiser, South Australia's sole print daily, had feverishly boosted the scheme. Economic modelling performed by the nuclear industry consulting firm Jacobs MCM had promised riches to outdo a gold rush.
But clearly, very large numbers of South Australians do not trust the government — or business, or Murdoch — on anything to do with the nuclear industry.

Meanwhile, Scarce and Weatherill have painted themselves into a corner by accepting that the state should not accept imported high-level waste without popular support.

The royal commission, Weatherill acknowledged on May 17, had found that “broad social and specific community consent” would be needed for the waste dump plan to proceed. But how to secure this agreement from an unconvinced public?

Manufacturing consent

Plainly, the snow job will now swell to an avalanche. And the “community consent” will be had from a small group of snow-blinded citizens — notably, two “citizens' juries” of 50 and 350 people, to be picked at random from the state's population.

The first of these groups, as stated in the invitation mailed by the government to prospective participants, will produce “a short independent guide to help every South Australian understand the recommendations raised by the Royal Commission's Report”. In other words, the group will not be a jury at all, but an oversized drafting committee preparing pro-dump propaganda.

The second group, to convene in October, will produce a report supposedly summarising the community's position for the government to consider.

The “juries” have been promised access to “expert witnesses”, but there is no indication that these will include specialists critical of the government's plans. On the other hand, articulate spruikers for the nuclear lobby will undoubtedly be thrust on the “jurors” by the authorities.

Resonating in the heads of the “jurors”, meanwhile, will be Advertiserheadlines and the trumpeting of a recently-launched government campaign entitled “Nu-Clear”. The latter has been set up to encourage people “to explore the facts on the nuclear cycle, with advertisements to be run on radio, television, print and social media”.

Like the royal commission, the state government's “consultation” process is not genuine research into popular attitudes or anything else. Its real purpose is to legitimise moves the government long ago decided it wanted to implement.

But with popular mistrust so widespread, the Labor cabinet and its business backers cannot be sure of getting their way. Active popular opposition, mobilising forces outside the parliament and bureaucracy, can stop the nuclear dumpsters.

Insult to culture

In this, SA's Aboriginal communities are playing a crucial role. For Aboriginal people, what is at stake is not just a share in a future nuclear pay-off.

The federal government's projected low and intermediate-level waste repository, Adnyamathanha woman Candace Champion told the ABC in mid-May, poses “a threat to Aboriginal culture and society and it is cultural genocide.”

The projected site for the dump, on Wallerberdina Station near the Flinders Ranges town of Hawker, is described by the Adnyamathanha as lying “in the middle of a very important story/songline”.

Locating the dump there, McKenzie told the Guardian in February, would be an attack on the traditional owners' belief system.

“It's an insult to our culture,” McKenzie explained to Green Left Weekly. “The place where they want to put it is very significant for the Adnyamathanha people.

“We hunt and gather in the Wallerberdina area. We're the traditional owners.”

Consultation by the federal government with the local Aboriginal people, McKenzie noted, had been “zero”.
Talking with South Australian Aboriginal elders, it is impossible not to be struck by their unity in opposing the dumps. “For all the people I keep in contact with, the answer is no, definitely no,” Adnyamathanha woman Enice Marsh assured Green Left Weekly.

Tauto Sansbury, Chairperson of the Aboriginal Congress of South Australia, told Green Left Weekly of a meeting at which leaders of native title groups from around the state had discussed the nuclear waste issue with Scarce. “Every chairperson in the room, 27 of us, said a definite 'no',” Sansbury recalled.

Unsurprisingly, the Weatherill government has not offered traditional owners a voice within its “juries”. State cabinet reportedly envisages a “specific program of Aboriginal engagement', with “the guidance of Aboriginal community leaders”.

But Sansbury stressed to Green Left Weeklythat although the Aboriginal Congress had called on the Premier to meet with native title groups, there had been no response.

Weatherill, no doubt, understands and fears the kind of guidance Aboriginal leaders are already providing, including for the state's non-Aboriginal population.

In defending their land, SA's Aboriginal people are exposing the real nature — dismissive of popular concerns, and more than incidentally racist — of federal and state governments, of Liberal and Labor parties.

And in pursuing their own mode of politics, independent of corporate power and reliant on popular activism, people like McKenzie and Sansbury are pointing the way forward for all workers and dispossessed.

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