Australian news, and some related international items

Senator Scott Ludlam speaks in Parliament about Australian Nuclear Free Alliance.

This industry is on the way out—not simply because of its internal contradictions and the disastrous toll it inflicts on host communities everywhere it touches down, but because of the extraordinary, selfless and tireless work of the campaigners that I was privileged to spend a few brief days with in Alice Springs. I hope that we have some better news by the time ANFA reconvenes this time next year.

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (19:37):  I rise tonight to make some brief remarks about an event that occurred this past weekend just outside Alice Springs: the 15th meeting of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance. It is the 15th anniversary.

The first one occurred in 1997, in the same town in Alice Springs, and the spur for that meeting was also the event that I suppose first got me properly involved in politics. The Jabiluka uranium mine was being proposed and seriously progressed by mining company ERA, at that time owned by North Ltd. A campaign led by strong Aboriginal women in Kakadu—which is a theme I will return to in a moment—called for help from around the country to fend off the activities of a predatory mining company which had the full support of the Howard federal government, which had only been in office for a year or two, and the Northern Territory government.

It was a profoundly important experience for me as a young person to get involved with that campaign, to realise that I was stepping out of what I thought was purely an environmental campaign into a land rights battle led by strong Aboriginal women. They prevailed in that instance and protected their country from mining. The company now has a signature on a piece of paper that says they will not mine it without the consent of the senior custodian, Yvonne Margarula, who is an inspiration for many people right across the country and around the world. That was in 1997.

The eve of that campaign saw the first gathering of Aboriginal elders, younger leaders coming through and greenies—people from the environment movement from groups around Australia—who came together to work out what they could do to support each other to in defence of country from an industry that is contaminating, obsolete, toxic, extremely dangerous for the people who come into contact with it. It is in fact in the process of phasing out, although to read some industry press releases you would not think so.

Fifteen years on, the alliance has brought together Aboriginal people, environment groups, health groups, trade union representatives and other supporters of the Aboriginal people who are leading this campaign to strategise, to plan and to campaign. The alliance this year met at a pivotal time, as the Prime Minister is due to appear in India, as soon as next week, to progress a uranium sales deal with India, which is a nuclear weapons state. We have seen senior Indian nuclear officials openly state that they want to lock in external sources of uranium supply so that they can free up their dwindling domestic sources for nuclear weapons programs. This is the country that has stayed outside the only multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation framework that the international community has. Australia is proposing to sell uranium for a fleet of nuclear reactors that has been slowly under construction for a number of years.

I want to acknowledge—and I put this on the record last time we were here—the extraordinary work done by tens of thousands of Indian campaigners, villagers and people in fishing communities down the Tamil Nadu coast and elsewhere, for putting up a spirited fight which cost five of them their lives and put large numbers of people into hospital. Their struggle was acknowledged at the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance.

Australian uranium was in all four of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Three full meltdowns, one reactor that is still in an extremely risky state, all of the caesiam now littering that part of Tohoku and the pollution and the poison that has spread further, all originated with Australia. It is pretty heartbreaking to hear from the ANFA people from whose country that uranium came. They have been telling Australians in the south for decades that the stories and the songs of that country are of protection, sickness, death and nondisturbance, that under no circumstances do you disturb or distress that country because it will hurt people on the ground but it will also harm people much further away. It is pretty heartbreaking for them to be told, as we discovered late last year, that uranium from all four of those plants came from their country. The news that Australian uranium was present I think simply underscores what they have been telling us all along.

But the meeting noted that numerous uranium mining proposals have been stalled in recent years partly because of the work of groups like ANFA, and partly because of the sheer contradictions inherent in the industry and what it has done to itself: the Olympic Dam expansion; Mt Gee, or the Arkaroola wilderness sanctuary, which attracted people from right across the political spectrum, taking the lead again from Aboriginal people from the area; Myponga in South Australia; Koongara in the Northern Territory; and the proposed heap leach operation in the Northern Territory. Kintyre and Yeelirrie in Western Australia have both been shelved while the price remains depressed—partly as a result, as I say, of the fact that the market is sick and the industry is terminal, but partly because of the tireless and enduring work of campaigners around the country who have led campaigns based on very few financial resources, campaigns held together effectively with love and determination. It is certainly not money that keeps them going.

I wanted to note the fact this week the uranium spot price hit a new two-year low of $45.75 a pound. In February 2011, right before the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, the average spot price was $69, and in mid-2007, in the middle of a uranium bubble, it reached a height of $135 per pound. By the sound of some of the boosters in the Australian uranium industry, people who still do not get the state of terminal decline that this industry has entered, you would imagine that they still imagine the price is that high. Of course, the industry has begun its collapse. It has begun its long, slow decline. I feel like my job as an anti-nuclear campaigner supporting these people out on country is to just win this a day at a time while the industry gradually folds under its convictions. Our job is to make sure that on the way out it harms as few people as possible, that it is not allowed to devastate places the way it has devastated Japan’s pacific coast and the way it devastated hundreds of square kilometres around the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine.

ANFA called for Australia’s existing radioactive waste to remain at designated federal storage sites at Woomera in South Australia and at Lucas Heights in New South Wales, pending an independent public commission of radioactive waste management in Australia. That is a call that I made. I put an amendment to this chamber when the Muckaty bills, the radioactive waste bills were debated in here in March. It is something that the government and opposition used their combined numbers to vote down. I invite the government and opposition to reconsider that position. It is something that I think we are going to need to do sooner or later, so that we are not having continued inquiries and campaigns into which remote Aboriginal community should host this toxic waste, but instead hold an honest, open, deliberative inquiry for the first time in this country’s history to work out the most appropriate way to deal with this material.

ANFA also called for justice and acknowledgement for communities and people suffering the intergenerational health impacts from British atomic weapons-testing at Maralinga and Emu Field in the north-west of Western Australia. We have been unsuccessful here, through a campaign by me, my colleague Senator Penny Wright and by Senator Nick Xenophon from South Australia in getting a gold card for service personnel whose lives were damaged and in some cases destroyed—or for their successors, their widows and their partners. We have not even been able to get a gold card health standard for those personnel, and nothing for the traditional owners whose homelands were bombed. As though they were still considered flora and fauna they were left there to be turned blind or to die on country. And they have been left to rebuild their lives and their children’s lives. There has been nothing—silence—from this place.

I wish—I really do—that we could give Uncle Kevin Buzzacott 20 minutes on the mic in here, and then maybe give him leave for another 20, so that he could tell the stories directly about what he has seen happen on his land. He has shown leadership as have others—people like Mitch, who is Aranda and has led the campaign in central Australia against the radioactive waste dump; Barb Shaw, whose name I am sure is familiar to many in here; Peter Watts, from South Australia; Kado Muir and other elders and leaders from my home state of Western Australia, and their supporters like Mia Pepper—who are taking the fight up against Toro Energy.

I cannot go on without noting Nat Wasley, the tireless campaigner, who has done so much work over so many years to keep bringing us together so that these stories can be told and heard.

This industry is on the way out—not simply because of its internal contradictions and the disastrous toll it inflicts on host communities everywhere it touches down, but because of the extraordinary, selfless and tireless work of the campaigners that I was privileged to spend a few brief days with in Alice Springs. I hope that we have some better news by the time ANFA reconvenes this time next year.


October 9, 2012 - Posted by | General News

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