Topics: Nuclear waste; Matildas public holiday

0820 ACDT
Monday, 14 August 2023


David Penberthy:  Well, middle of last week we brought you the breaking at 8 about the fact that the Federal Government was going to step in and declare that Kimba was no longer the site for a nuclear waste storage facility, amid community concerns but more importantly in the backdraft of that Federal Court case. It begs the question; what happens now? But more broadly, at a time when as signatories to the AUKUS deal, we are legally obliged to find such a site to take the waste that’s going to be generated by the nuclear subs. It sends a bit of a weird signal about our preparedness to even tiptoe ever so cautiously down the nuclear path. Senator Simon Birmingham is the Federal Opposition Leader in the Senate and was all over this story last week. Senator, what messages do you think this sends?


Simon Birmingham: Morning guys, well I think it sends a very irresponsible one and says that Australia isn’t up to making the hard decisions at present. We’ve spent not just months or years talking about low-level radioactive waste and where to store it, we’ve spent decades doing it. And to now back out of a site that had broad community support – all the planning done – and was basically ready to be built and operational is just such a reckless thing to do when there was an easy option for the Government that would have meant they could have continued to push ahead with the Kimba site.


David Penberthy: But is it sort of, pea-heartedness on the part of this Government or rather, procedural incompetence I guess on the part of the former Morrison Government under the watch of the former Mining Minister who got a bit of a chip in the Federal Court for the way he handled this?


Simon Birmingham: There were many grounds that the Indigenous peoples, who I note don’t live in area, sought to appeal that decision on. Nearly all of them were knocked out, in fact all but one. My view is the Government should have appealed that one ground because I think it was a fairly flimsy one that sets a bad precedent for the future, the way the court determined it. But even if they didn’t want to appeal, the Government could have just legislated a remedy to it; put laws through the Parliament to say this is where it’s going. We did something quite similar just a couple of months back in relation to the lease of the Russian Embassy site in Canberra and where, again a court decision had favoured the Russians and the Government quite rightly said that’s unacceptable, we’re going to pass the law to fix that. The same could have occurred in relation to this Kimba site, given all the money that’s been spent, all the efforts that’s been made, all the plans that are in place and the need for Australia to actually manage this radioactive waste responsibly, we really should have just gone on with this site – passed the law to make it possible. Because you’re right in the opening comments, if we can’t manage to find a site, the gloves used in nuclear medicine and that have got low-level radioactive waste, how are people going to have confidence that we can manage the really hard decisions around the AUKUS nuclear submarines? Part of my fear is they made the decision last week because of the Labor conference coming up this week and it’s all about just trying to minimise the divisive debate between the factions at the Labor conference, rather than actually putting the national interest first on this occasion.


Will Goodings:  Given we’ve been through this prolonged process now, Senator, where we presumably we have other sites in mind, does it necessarily mean that the process needs to restart and it’s going to take another decade to work this out or are other places that are now effectively in the firing line and if so, where will it likely be?


Simon Birmingham:  Well Will, I hope you’re right, but I don’t have a lot of confidence. I asked fellow South Australian Senator, Don Farrell, who represents the Resources Minister in the Senate, a question last week, a very direct one; what’s the plan and what’s the timeline? And there was no answer. So, it really does worry me that we’re right back to square one on this when we shouldn’t be. And yes, there are other sites that were options that could be reconsidered. But this one was the one, after a very, very exhaustive process, found to be the best site – and to say they’re walking away from it, and one of the grounds they gave was that there was some opposition in the community and there was some division – well I hate to break it to the Labor Government, but you’re not going to find any site that everybody loves and supports because this is a difficult decision and difficult decisions mean there’ll always be some opposition and they’re going to have to harden up if they actually want to find ….


Will Goodings: ….well the Adelaide Football Club can’t find anywhere put a new headquarters because it divides communities, I don’t know. You said something really interesting, Senator, this is a key point that perhaps there’s a nuance that’s required in the reporting and discussion of this. So you’re talking about gloves – this is like when you go to Benson Radiology or one of those sorts of places or you go to a nuclear medicine place where they have to do a CT scan or something like that on you, it’s the equipment used in that – this is not green bars that you saw Homer Simpson walking around with?


Simon Birmingham: Precisely. This stuff we have basically all of us, every single one of us, come into contact with through just basic scans and medical treatments that people will have had. It’s stored all over the country in hospital basements and various other sites but storage that is becoming quite full and there are warnings from the regulators that it isn’t solved they may actually put some restrictions in terms of the way Australia’s nuclear medicine industry evolves. So, it’s important that we get this done. We might have spent decades as a country faffing about with it, but it’s actually reaching a crunch point for the way we manage that waste, the nuclear medicine, as well as the associated AUKUS agreement.


David Penberthy: Just quickly and finally Simon Birmingham, does the Federal Opposition support the PM’s suggestion of a national public holiday for the Matilda’s?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look I certainly don’t. I want to see the Matildas win. It’s gotten my household as caught on as it has millions of other households across the country. But the idea that if they make the finals on Sunday night, we then need to have a public holiday sometime after Sunday really doesn’t stack up. And it’s not like Mr Albanese is paying for this public holiday; it’ll be mum and dad small businesses across the country who have to pay for it; pay the wages but don’t get to open their doors. It’s not like he’s playing either, all this distractive debate about a public holiday can’t be helping our great Matildas athletes either. I think it’d be far better just to put it to bed; recognise it’s a silly thought-bubble on his part and simply get on with having a world-class tournament as we are – and go the Matildas.


Will Goodings: Senator Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys, my pleasure.