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.