Opinion

Barngarla People appeal to PM directly over nuclear waste site

The Barngarla People have called on the new Commonwealth Labor Minister to revoke the radioactive waste declaration.

The Barngarla People have written both to the new Minister (the Hon. Madeleine King MP) and the Prime Minister, immediately upon the swearing in of the new Labor Cabinet.

The current declaration issued by the former Minister, the Hon. Keith Pitt MP, is presently being challenged in the Federal Court of Australia. The next Court date is 15 June 2022.

The letter to the Prime Minister in full:

Dear Prime Minister

The Barngarla People and the NRWMF

We congratulate you on your recent election victory. We were very pleased to see you become Prime Minister of Australia and were cautiously optimistic by your victory speech and the reference to the vital work required on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

We are aware that you have today appointed your Cabinet and they have been sworn in this morning. We have sent an equivalent letter to the new Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, the Honourable Madeleine King MP, who we dealt with whilst Labor was in Opposition. We again compliment the Hon. Ms King’s work with us when she was the Shadow Minister.

As we have also indicated today to the new Minister for Resources, we appreciate Labor’s efforts, whilst in Opposition, to protect our right to Judicial Review. Because we want to communicate with you and Minister King with one voice, this letter repeats much of what we have also written to the Minister.

Read more: Nuclear waste – is Kimba the answer

As you may be aware the National Party shortlisted the site of Napandee at Kimba, and then conducted a community ballot to determine if the facility had appropriate support. As the First Peoples for the area, the Barngarla were excluded from this ballot. Following the removal of our right to vote, we were also excluded from a further survey, the Neighbourhood Survey. In the 21st Century we, as Indigenous People, were denied the right to vote on the most controversial development in Australia being placed on our Country.

Sadly, the former Government at every turn tried to silence us in this process, as the Government did not allow us access to the land to undertake a proper heritage survey, tried to remove our right to judicial review, sought to legislate the location directly, abandoned their commitment to ensure that the facility had broad community support, altered the proposal to include military waste inconsistently with the treaty and tried, through various affiliated organisations, to interfere with our ability to bring judicial review including having parties costs orders against us as a means to blocking the Barngarla people from going to Court.

Despite this, we stood tall, and we have brought these legal proceedings. They were brought against Minister Pitt, but because you have won the election, the matter now becomes your Governments to deal with.

Although we appreciate the right to bring these proceedings and all that Labor have done in Opposition, the Barngarla people unequivocally make it clear that we request that the new Labor Minister revoke the declaration or consent to the orders quashing the declaration. We call for this to occur at the earliest opportunity possible in the new Labor Government, because we do not want to fight against your Government in Court which would not only take a number of years, but result in spending our vulnerable community’s resources protecting our people against the contemptuous behaviour of the last Government; nor do we want your Government to be tarnished by these horrible failures of the former Government. 2

We are committed to progressing this matter and believe we will win in these proceedings if we have to fight them, but we do not think we should have to fight your Government on these issues.

Nothing in this letter undoes Labor’s previous effort to block legislation removing our right to Judicial Review. Nor is what we are now asking inconsistent with what we asked of your party in Opposition. It has always been our clear position that our treatment by the former Government was horrible to our people, and no declaration to place a nuclear facility on our traditional Country should be made. When the party that you lead was in Opposition, all we could ask of you was to step in and protect our right to Judicial Review, as whilst in Opposition you had no power to undo any declaration. We continue to be grateful for these efforts as they have allowed us to pursue judicial review. However, much like your Government has now inherited a Court case against you, the Labor Minister has also inherited the power to remove the declaration altogether. Accordingly, we now write to you in your new capacity of Prime Minister of Australia, and our request reflects that new capacity.

At its core, and as we have also outlined to Minister King, the Barngarla have had Minister Pitt place the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility on our traditional country, without us receiving the right to a vote in the community ballot. We were excluded, they said, because “our native title land wasn’t rateable.” But we all know that the previous Government gerrymandered the ballot to prevent us from voting, because, ultimately, they did not want us to vote.

As we said at the beginning of this letter, as the First Peoples of our Country, we were cautiously optimistic to see you as Australia’s new Prime Minister commit in your first speech to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Let’s look at this statement from our collective peoples. It calls for a “First Nations Voice”. It states that only “When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country”. It talks about “our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination”.

We ask ourselves how can we have any of the promise of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, when the most controversial Government project currently in Australia is being placed on our Country, in the area of our native title Determination and less than a few minutes walk from our immediately adjacent native title lands, where we can live, hunt, and preserve our traditions, and yet where we were given, no vote, no say, and no self-determination.

Further we ask how can any Australian feel reconciled with a Government, when a Government can abandon the commitment to “broad community support” and walk away from that without any consequence. It remains a sad stain on the integrity and honesty of the former Government, that they would spend years promising to not place this facility on an unwilling community, and then at the last minute, Minister Pitt would conclude that he was not bound by this and decided to declare Napandee even without being satisfied that the community at Napandee wanted the facility.

We asked for the vote, but we were denied this by Minister Canavan, Minister Pitt and those working for them or with them. The Uluru Statement from the Heart ends with the words: “in 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard”. No truer words have been spoken for us. In 2017 and 2018 we sought to be heard in the specific sense of asking to be part of the vote. We asked to be in the Kimba Community ballot to have a vote on the nuclear facility, but were told by the Government we were not allowed to vote. We were not heard; the former Government tried to take away our voice, but they could not silence us.

Labor knows this because of what happened next. Realising that they had failed to provide even an ounce of respect or fairness to our People, and the farming community of Kimba 3

who stand together with us, the Coalition Government then sort to remove our right to judicial review. Rather than trying to fix their mistakes, they sort to remove our rights altogether.

Not only was this an attack on us as First Nations People, it was also a deliberate abandonment of Government and Executive accountability. Australians deserve accountability, and clearly voted for this at the last election.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart makes clear that our “sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown”. Again, as we said to the new Minister, our spiritual sovereignty has been violated by the former Government, and we hope and believe in your Government that you will not violate it further.

We understand that any Government in Australia would like to have a solution on where to locate this controversial facility, and so we understand the fatigue and concern which will raise the voices to ignore our plight. However, we cannot avoid the plight of the vulnerable. This was the Australia we were becoming under Prime Minister Morrison, but it must not be our future under you as Prime Minister and we believe your intention is to not let this happen.

At its core, as much as we were proud to see you speak so strongly about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, we cannot see how a Labor Government can implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the long overdue reform on Government accountability, whilst maintaining Court proceedings against us as the First Peoples for this area, where all we ever tried to do was have a vote and a say on our Country. There is too deep a logical inconsistency in promoting “First Nations Voice” whilst fighting us in our Court case which only came about because the former Government denied our voice existed.

Nor can we see how work on Government integrity can be progressed, in circumstances where your Government would be fighting to preserve the horrible failures of its predecessors. In particular, a declaration where the Government abandoned the test of broad community support.

This is clear if we reflect on this one point: if this facility is built where it is presently proposed, it will forever be built on a location where the First Peoples for the area did not get the right to vote.

For these reasons we think that the Government and country that you now lead needs to withdraw the declaration or consent to it being quashed. We see no other way.

These are clearly not your failings, or the failings of your Government. You inherited them, like we did. In that way, we are all victims of the bad behaviour of the National Party who came before you as Prime Minister and Minister King. But we will not be victims because we will fight for our Australia and to make our country better. We will be what our shared Nation needs; good people, local heroes, people with the values to stand up and make a difference. We hope to make that difference with you and all of your Government, together.

Sincerely,

The Barngarla People

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