The federal Labor government put a new law before the Senate on June 14 to set up a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory.
The same day, opponents of the radioactive waste dump plan gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra to protest.
Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson has said the government’s preferred site is Muckaty station, 100 kilometres north of Tennant Creek. The proposed bill also gives the government the go-ahead to set up dumps elsewhere in the NT.
The bill passed the House of Representatives in February, with the support of the Liberal and National parties.
The rally was endorsed by Beyond Nuclear Initiative, the Conservation Council of Western Australia, the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory, Friends of the Earth Australia, Japanese for Peace, the Medical Association for Prevention of War, the Public Health Association Australia, the Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance and Unions NT.
Below are excerpts of the speeches delivered at the protest. The full-length speeches can be heard at http://beyondnuclearinitiative.com/audio
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Muckaty traditional owner Dianne Stokes: I’ve been travelling a lot ever since I went against the dump and I’ve been talking to my elders.
I’m standing here before the crowd: I come here with all the strength I have from my elders and the message they gave me was: “Be strong. Talk to these people. Tell them that we still don’t want the dump to come to Muckaty.”
Muckaty is a station, but around it is a land trust, an Aboriginal land trust. Inside it, we have the dreamings …
It’s my mum’s country. It’s my grandfather’s country. My little sister here with me, I asked her if she would come along with me and make a presentation here today.
I’d like to thank the traditional owners of this country and the spirit of this country. For the Aboriginal people that walked this country many, many years ago.
That makes me think of my people, how they walked through the country, along with their spirits and being very strong and living out there in the country, and giving birth to their babies in the country, and buried their people in their country.
This is a very strong country. Australia is very strong for Aboriginal people. I come here to say that we don’t want the waste dump. I’ve always said that.
We wanted the government to come and sit with us, talk to the traditional owners.
Muckaty Traditional Owner Kylie Sambo: I wrote some rap music about Muckaty and I’ve travelled from Tennant Creek to come here to speak on behalf of my elders.
I keep saying it over and over — we don’t want this poison in our land because our land means a lot to us. It’s just like the chorus of my song:
Don’t waste the territory
This land means a lot to me
Been living here for centuries
This place we call Muckaty
Electrical Trades Union Queensland secretary Peter Simpson: Our union does have a proud history of fighting the nuclear industry. It goes back to the ’40s —you can trace the first policy announcement from us.
It’s been strengthened in the last couple of years in the Queensland and Northern Territory branch. We’re fortunate, and unfortunate obviously, to cover the area that is going to be earmarked for this dump.
People aren’t happy with the nuclear industry and where it’s going. And I think we’ve been vindicated recently with Fukushima. Our fears for workers’ safety and for the safety of the community have been vindicated.
We’re going to go up there on August 15, leading a delegation of unions up to Muckaty. We’re going to talk to the traditional owners …
One justification I [have heard for the dump] is that we export the uranium so we’re beholden to bring the waste back … I’ve got a fix for that: don’t dig the shit up and don’t export it.
Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlum: I can’t think of a worse way to deal with the worst categories of radioactive waste that this country produces.
This is not Diane [Stokes’] mob’s problem to deal with. This is a national radioactive waste dump and it has drawn forth a national campaign.
We’ve got friends here from the union movement. We’ve got friends from all over the country.
We will fight this thing. And probably we will lose the vote when it finally comes. And so my main message to you this afternoon is that is not the end. That is very much the beginning.
That stuff is not going to Muckaty station. The radioactive waste that we have been producing in this country for 50 years needs to be safeguarded for tens of thousands of years.
The very last thing that we propose to do is stick it on a flat bed [truck] and take it to a cattle station 120 kilometres from Tennant Creek.
Dr Helen Caldicott: The so-called waste dump at Muckaty station is not going to receive intermediate waste. It’s going to receive high-level radioactive waste, which will last for up to half a million years.
Muckaty station is over an aquifer. There is high rainfall there and it probably [connects] with the Great Artesian Basin.
What we will do by putting radioactive waste there is probably contaminate the Great Artesian Basin for the rest of time …
We may become the world’s radioactive waste dump. What do we think we’re doing.
We have got to stop this. And we will not receive the world’s radioactive waste and we will not allow radioactive waste to be dumped at Muckaty station.
Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt: The conduct of the minister [Martin Ferguson] and the government on this issue has been nothing short of disgraceful.
If you were going to build a nuclear waste dump in Australia, you would think you would have a scientifically-chosen site, you would have world’s best practice safety regulations for transporting it and disposing it, and you would think you would comply with international law and get the consent of any traditional owners on whose land you were going to put it.
The government has done none of those things. And when John Howard proposed [a waste dump at Muckaty], Labor rightly said from the rooftops that this was a disgraceful act.
Now they are in power, and instead of changing it they are doing exactly the same thing.
Dave Sweeney, Australian Conservation Foundation: We’ve got a government … that started off its term in office saying sorry to a grave injustice to the first nations people of Australia.
And it's in [parliament] today, and it's having something to be bloody sorry about. Because what is happening in there is improper, ineffective and cowardly.
It is not a responsible way to manage industrial waste. It is a short, quick, nasty way to deal with a long, slow, nasty waste …
The long and short of it is when we — all of us here — are dead and gone, the material they are currently debating will remain a real and active threat to people and country.
That’s why we have to get its management right. And what’s happening at Muckaty is profoundly wrong.
Steve Phillips, Greenpeace Australia/Pacific: There is a very broad and diverse movement of people who are against the nuclear industry and in particular the Muckaty waste dump.
Greenpeace remains steadfastly opposed to all stages of the nuclear cycle: from mining, to nuclear power, to nuclear weapons and of course the toxic, seemingly endless aftermath to all this, which is nuclear waste.
Once again, this is being directed at Aboriginal people of Australia through this toxic legislation that is being introduced to parliament today.
We fully support this campaign. We fully support the Muckaty traditional owners in their efforts to defeat this. Together, we’re going to stop it.