Gabriella Marchant |ABC North and West SA (February 26 2020)
Native title could be extinguished without the consent of traditional owners in certain circumstances if a bill to build a nuclear waste facility in rural South Australia becomes law, a multi-party Senate committee says.
A federal parliamentary committee says a bill to build a nuclear waste facility could “extinguish” native title
The proposal has identified a site at Kimba on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula
Traditional owners say they have been locked out of a community vote; the Government says they have a voice in the process
The proposed site outside Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula is on land traditionally owned by the Barngarla people, and would store Australia’s low to medium-level radioactive waste, most of which is created by nuclear medicine.
Federal Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said if the facility was built, the law seemed to allow the relevant minister to expand the facility’s proposed boundaries without parliamentary consent, potentially breaching native title.
“It appears that the bill would enable native title to be extinguished, without the consent of the traditional owners,” it said.
The Government had provided “no explanation”, the report said, as to why the legislation only required a minister to notify Parliament, rather than require a vote on a potential expansion.
The report also echoed Barngarla native title holders’ claims they were not included in a community poll in which more than 60 per cent of people voted in favour of the proposal.
It added that it was unclear what percentage of the local community that supported the facility were members of relevant Indigenous groups.
Jason Bilney, chairman of the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, said he was told by then-resources minister Matt Canavan that a separate vote of Barngarla people would be combined with the community vote.
“He did not put them together, so basically it was gerrymandering of the votes,” Mr Bilney said.
“If we were [included], the result would have been different.”
Senator Canavan said he “never said that the ballots would be put together”.
“I did promise that both ballots would be considered, which they have been,” he said.
Mr Bilney said the land and waterways held storylines with significant connections to Barngarla people.
“We took action because our human rights have been overlooked. We feel ignored on our traditional lands and unheard and unrecognised by the Kimba Council,” Mr Bilney said.
“We’re still treated like flora and fauna.
“If they push through legislation, it’s basically taking away our native title rights.
“What does that mean? That they can just step in and take our land?”
The legislation would have implications for Indigenous people all over Australia, Mr Bilney said.
The general manager at the Industry Department’s Radioactive Waste Taskforce, Sam Chard, disputed the Senate Committee report.
“The legislation actually specifies latitude and longitude coordinates for the site. That’s designed to provide more clarity and specificity about where the site will be,” he said.
“It won’t be possible for the site to be expanded beyond that area and there is no native title within that area.”
Farmer Jeff Baldock, who owns the land where the site is proposed, said he was not aware the site could be expanded.
“The site is the site. And if there’s any minor adjustments to the site it’s still going to be on that same block of freehold land that we own,” he said.
“I think everybody that lives or owns land and pays rates in our community was given the right to vote, and 90 per cent of them used that right.”
He said he wished Barngarla people had been receptive to attempts to discuss the site with him.
“We offered to have a chat with them and come down and have a look at the site, and we’ve never been able to sit down and talk about it.”
It is unclear whether the legislation will pass Parliament in its current form, given key crossbenchers have yet to indicate their voting intentions.
Traditional owners will travel to Canberra in the coming days to lobby against the bill.
A radioactive sign on a waste bin at the ANSTO in Lucas Heights.
Some of the radioactive waste will come from the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney.(ABC News: Marty McCarthy)
Resources Minister Keith Pitt said the Government acknowledged “that Aboriginal heritage, either tangible or intangible, may still be present” on the site.
“We are committed to engaging with traditional owners to develop an Aboriginal cultural heritage management plan to ensure ongoing protection and promotion of cultural heritage in and around the site,” he said.
Steve Georganas, a Labor member of the joint committee, said he was committed to making sure anything that came out of the current court cases would affect government decisions.
“We were concerned that the particular project does not spread out to [current native title] areas,” he said.
Liberal senator Andrew McLachlan, who is also on the committee, said the group was “seeking further information from the Minister to assist with its deliberations following receipt of legal advice regarding the cultural significance for First Nations people of the site”.
Kimba Mayor Dean Johnson declined to comment given the matter was still before the courts.