Newcastle City Council declared Newcastle nuclear free in 1982, a commitment that has been threatened by the federal government’s announcement that the regional city is among three potential sites for a new nuclear-powered submarine base.
About 40 unionists and peace activists gathered on March 11 in a protest called by Hunter Workers to support Newcastle remaining nuclear free. Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes attended the protest, but did not speak.
Hunter Workers’ secretary Leigh Shears said: “I stand confident that the working people of this region stand firm that Newcastle is a nuclear-free zone and will remain so. We will do everything in our power to ensure that we hold the line.”
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris told the protest the submarine base is not wanted in Port Kembla either. He said Prime Minister Scott Morrison was so desperate for votes that he “has put his finger on the nuclear button so people are finally going to stop talking about bushfires and floods and pandemics and any other crisis, and instead start talking about this".
Rorris said Newcastle has a proud history of providing workers to keep Australia functioning, but this proposal would do the opposite. “It will not create jobs. Morrison is going to crowd out the jobs we have and are likely to have. Newcastle is on the cusp of multi-billion-dollar investments in hydrogen and other technologies. When we are on the verge of this, why would you bring in the American military to take up half your port?”
Secretary of the Hunter Peace Group (HPG) Lynda Forbes reminded the protest that the HPG, together with former Lord Mayor Joy Cummings, had declared Newcastle a nuclear free zone. “The amount of money that is being spent on these submarines is rather disgusting, when there are people out there coping with bushfires and floods and struggling just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.”
Other speakers included representatives from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Teachers’ Federation. Socialist Alliance Senate candidate and nurse Niko Leka also spoke about the dangers of nuclear submarines entering Australian ports.