Jim Green seems to think it is, but I am not 100% sure about that. I remember from when I was studying property law that appropriating Aboriginal land for agriculture was justified using arguments along the lines of “why leave the land to feed hundreds when it could feed thousands?”.
A similar argument could apply here. We are not talking about demolishing houses and expelling the residents of villages, the dispute is over vast tracks of sparsely populated land on which Aboriginal people live nomadic lifestyles. In many ways, it seems the most ideal place in the world to be dumping nuclear waste, particularly with regards to the amount of uranium buried underneath it anyway.
Is it so unreasonable that the government can fence a part of this off against the wishes of the tribespeople who wonder it?
More to the point, can egalitarian policy like this be called “racist” because it infringes on the concept of Aboriginal land rights — one that has always been extremely difficult to incorporate into Australian law?
The nomination of the Muckaty site in the Northern Territory was originally made with the promise of $12 million compensation for a small group identified as the exclusive Traditional Owners. While a small group of Traditional Owners support the dump in return for financial compensation, a larger group have been ignored and they have initiated legal action in the Federal Court challenging the nomination of the Muckaty site.
Even though the court case is unresolved, the Government has passed legislation targeting Muckaty as the only site under active consideration for a radioactive waste dump. The National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 is draconian, overriding the Aboriginal Heritage Act and bypassing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. It allows for the imposition of a dump on Aboriginal land with no consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners. Nuclear racism in Australia is bipartisan – both the Labor Government and the Liberal/National Opposition voted in support of the legislation.
Muckaty Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said:
“The Government should wait for the court case before passing this law. Traditional Owners say no to the waste dump. We have been fighting against this for years and we will keep fighting. We don’t want it in Muckaty or anywhere in the Northern Territory.”
The Central Land Council expressed “profound disappointment” at the passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act. David Ross, Director of the Land Council, said:
“This legislation is shameful, it subverts processes under the [Aboriginal] Land Rights Act and is clearly designed to reach the outcome of a dump being located on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, whether that’s the best place for it or not. This legislation preserves the Muckaty nomination without acknowledging the dissent and conflict amongst the broader traditional owner group about the process and the so-called agreement. The passage of this legislation will further inflame the tensions and divisions amongst families in Tennant Creek, and cause great stress to many people in that region.”
Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has refused countless requests to meet with Traditional Owners opposed to the dump. Muckaty Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes says:
“All along we have said we don’t want this dump on our land but we have been ignored. Martin Ferguson has avoided us and ignored our letters but he knows very well how we feel. He has been arrogant and secretive and he thinks he has gotten away with his plan but in fact he has a big fight on his hands.”
Dianne Stokes is not alone. Many Traditional Owners are determined to stop the dump and they are supported by the Northern Territory Government, key trade unions including the Australia Council of Trade Unions, church groups, medical and health organisations, and environmental groups. If push comes to shove, there will be a blockade at the site to prevent construction of the dump.