Labor MPs hijack local outrage over uranium dump plan

A protest meeting in Kemps Creek on February 18. Photo: Western Sydney residents against radioactive dumping/Facebook

Angry residents from Kemps Creek and surrounding neighbourhoods packed the local sports and bowling club auditorium on February 18 to protest against the state government’s plan to dump radioactive waste in the area.

The NSW Liberal government is proposing to shift 5800 tonnes of soil from an area in Hunters Hill, where a uranium ore processing plant once stood, to the Kemps Creek SITA dump site.

Cancer clusters have been detected in Hunters Hill, which have been linked to the contamination left behind at the former plant site.

The amount of community concern against the project was shown by the more than 3000 submissions against the proposal over the past two months.

The meeting was addressed by three federal politicians and a councillor from Penrith, all from the ALP.

Chris Bowen, whose marginal seat of McMahon covers Kemps Creek, said western Sydney “should not be a dumping ground for the rest of Sydney ... we are not second-class citizens.”

Criticising claims made by the state government that the soil was safe, he said: “If it’s safe leave it there, if it’s dangerous we don’t want it.”

Despite being invited to address the meeting, NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann was told at the last minute that she would not be seated on the stage and would only get to speak at the start of discussion time.

Faehrmann said the issue should not be turned into “a political football” that could “pit communities against each other.” Instead it was incumbent on all to look for a solution.

She raised the proposal of shifting the waste to the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site, and said that if the federal Labor government wanted to, they could step in now to make this a reality through an amendment to national laws.

Despite a number of people in the crowd pressing the speakers to address this idea, all preferred to side step it.

Member for Fowler Chris Hayes said it was “not up to us to come up with an alternative, we just have to say no”.

Lindsay MP David Bradbury said Labor’s policy was to establish the Muckaty radioactive dump site as a place to dispose of all nuclear waste.

This proposal has been strongly opposed by local Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory community.

A number of others in the audience were also sceptical about the motivations of the Labor politicians.

A resident from Cecil Hills asked: “Shouldn’t we all be a bit cynical given that it was the NSW Labor government that first proposed shifting the waste out to Kemps Creek back in 2010?”

He said Labor was responsible for setting up the radioactive waste dump in Lidcombe, which was strongly opposed by the local community.

Another speaker said the best way to avoid this situation was to stop digging up uranium in the first place. The Labor government has been pushing for more uranium mining.

Despite the questions and pleas for guidance on what to do next, all the politicians proposed was to hand a letter to Premier Barry O’Farrell noting that the meeting was opposed to his plans, and a photo shoot of the crowd at the end with politicians up the front.

Comments

I attended the meeting at the Penrith Council Chambers hosted by Tanya Davies, the State Liberal member for Mulgoa on the 17th December 2012. The meeting was held to present a proposal for public discussion on the transfer of toxic waste from Hunters Hill to Kemps Creek. I learned at the meeting that while in opposition, Ms Davies had “manned the barricades” over a labour government proposal to transfer toxic waste from Hunters Hill to Kemps Creek and that such things would never happen under a Liberal Government. To present the Liberal, new safe version of the proposal, Ms Davies brought along bureaucrats, independent experts and a representative of the disposal plant, all of whom I assume would be paid by the State Government. The proposal is that the really nasty stuff will be transferred from a site at Hunters Hill, a wealthy socio-economic suburb to Lidcombe, a low socio-economic suburb. The less nasty stuff will be transferred to Kemps Creek an area made low socio-economic by bureaucrats. I also gained the impression that there is not a toxic waste disposal site in Woollahra or in fact, anywhere else in the world that can take this material! The subject of why toxic waste dumps are sited in populated areas was not raised. The people of Kemps Creek who I could best describe as having political post-traumatic stress disorder have had to live the endless nightmare for many years of bureaucrats proposing to turn the area into a giant landing strip (Sydney’s second airport). It was not surprising that the Kemps Creek residents were not having a bar of any new government proposal. The cynical timing of public consultation ie from the 17 Dec to the 8 Feb 2013 is timed to perfection to ensure as many citizens as possible and the media are distracted by Christmas and holidays. This now a common ploy of governments and has been used by Penrith Council in the conversion of the North Penrith Army base to a housing development. The public viewing and discussion of each new stage occurs in Dec each year prior to Christmas. It became obvious that people who have been harmed by bureaucrats and their proposals in the past aka the residents of Kemps Creek do not trust in the least, bureaucrats who say that future proposals will not harm them, no matter how much evidence the bureaucrats present. It also became obvious that Tanya Davies is unwittingly caught between the State Government (no ministers were at the meeting) and the people of Kemps Creek and that political expediency will sometimes come back to bite you. Peter Ray Regentville