SPEECH: Anti-nuclear campaign

Mark today gave a speech about the campaign against a high level international nuclear waste dump in South Australia.


I want to speak today about a small book that was launched on the weekend, entitled Standing Strong—How South Australians won the Campaign Against an International High Level Nuclear Waste Dump. The book was launched at the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel by Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, a well known antinuclear campaigner and Arabunna elder The dedication at the front of the book was to another prominent nuclear-free advocate, Yankunytjatjara elder, Yami Lester. Yami was blinded by the British atomic tests in South Australia in the early 1950s. Yami was a key player in the 1983 royal commission into the British atomic bomb tests, and he was made an ambassador for the No Dump Alliance in 2016. He was an active campaigner for his people and the wider community until his death last year.

The book launched on the weekend focuses particularly on the efforts and the impact of South Australia's first peoples on the campaign. As the book states:

This plan threatened no-one more than Aboriginal people. The voices of Aboriginal communities were loud and clear in opposition to the waste dump. The efforts were unwavering and, for many, deeply personal. Acknowledgement must be given to those people and communities who stood up strong.

As well as the late Yami Lester and Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, the role of other Aboriginal leaders is acknowledged: Yami's daughters, Karina and Rose Lester; Narungga man Tauto Sansbury, chair of the SA Aboriginal Congress; Aunty Enice Marsh; the Coulthard sisters, Donna, Deirdre and Lesley; the McKenzie sisters, Vivianne and Regina; plus many more.

The impact of these Aboriginal women and men is that they were instrumental in winning over the hearts and minds of the community, including the 350 members of the community who participated in the citizens' jury, because one of the most significant findings of that process was in direct response to Aboriginal advocacy. The citizens' jury said:

There is a lack of aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions. The aboriginal people of South Australia (and Australia) continue to be neglected and ignored by all levels of government instead of respected and treated as equals.

To paraphrase the Roman writer Tacitus 2,000 years ago, 'Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan', and this campaign was no different. There are so many people who deserve to share in the credit for a successful campaign that it is impossible to name them all. The book itself acknowledges that it only scratches the surface of the efforts made by everyone involved. For my part, I think that the role the Greens played was crucial both in the community and in parliament.

In April 2015, shortly after the announcement of the royal commission, we organised the first public forum at the Mercury Cinema, entitled 'South Australia: the "nuclear state"? Why it makes no sense'.

We organised a stakeholders roundtable here in Parliament House in May 2015, which helped the campaign to get better organised. In June 2016, we held another public forum, with 400 people attending at the German Club. We produced materials, T-shirts, corflutes and stickers.

We participated in the citizens' jury and the parliamentary process. However, the Royal Commission rejected our submission, which was symptomatic of their flawed process, which included refusing to hear from major conservation groups while giving undue attention and even paid consultancies to supporters of the project.

The book touches on some of the legislative action we saw over several years in relation to amendments to the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, including the Greens' amendments to reinstate the Act once the citizens' jury process was complete. The book also touches on the joint select committee that recommended that the South Australian Government should not commit any further public funds to pursuing the proposal to establish a repository for the storage of nuclear waste in SA.

History will ultimately record how events played out and historians will argue over what were the defining factors. I expect that over time the role of Aboriginal campaigners and those who worked with them will be recognised, but so too will the role of economists. When the politics of this issue played out, the role of economists was critical. After all, when the only justification for the project was that it would make us fabulously wealthy, the robustness of the economic modelling was always going to be critical. As it turns out, the figures did not stack up. The risk was immense; the profits were either overstated at best or a complete load of rubbish and a work of fiction at worst.

The idea that building the world's first and biggest international high-level nuclear waste dump that was 20 times the size of the Finnish facility that was 30 years in the making, and that we would make $100 billion profit was fanciful in the extreme, and I think most people realised that by the end.

Finally, I wish to thank the four organisations that have put their name to this important record of a sad but important part of our state's history: the No Dump Alliance, the Conservation Council of South Australia, Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation.