Topics: Nuclear waste; Israel   

04:10PM AEST
Thursday, 10 August 2023


Tom Connell: Well, the Government has scrapped plans for a radioactive waste site in Kimba in South Australia. It was after a court ruling. Questions now as to where radioactive waste will be stored in Australia in the future, once Lucas Heights has reached capacity. Joining me now, Senator Simon Birmingham, I guess you’ve got your Senatorial cap on now as a South Australian. The Government did scrap these plans, but it was backed into a bit of a corner – Federal Court found then Coalition Minister, Keith Pitt, had apprehended bias in making a decision to go ahead with Kimba.


Simon Birmingham: Well Tom, it’s actually quite a gutless and an irresponsible decision of the Government to not either appeal this decision, frankly the decision should be appealed because the precedent set by it should not be left standing and it was a narrow decision only upholding one ground in relation to the claims that had been made. And so, I think the Government should have been looking far more carefully at appealing it…


Tom Connell: But a precedent ‘cause (unclear) future decisions basically…


Simon Birmingham:. ..precedent in terms of how Ministers conduct, as a politician, in defence of things being considered and undertaken by a government can be used to then create an argument in relation to the bias of a Minister in making a decision and I think there are grounds there that the Government should have looked more carefully at in terms of appealing. But even if they didn’t want to appeal, they should have used the precedent the Parliament set just a couple of months ago in relation to the Russian Embassy land in Canberra. The Government could have legislated a remedy to this and said, we think that there have been decades of debate on this issue, years of consultation on this specific site, polls taken in the Kimba community endorsing the willingness to host it. The land offered up voluntarily by freehold land holders, and they should’ve gone ahead…


Tom Connell:  …(unclear) landholders…


Simon Birmingham:  ..but whatever they wanted, they were willing to have the site on their property. They were willing to have it in their community according to the polls that were undertaken. And you actually had a circumstance where an issue that has been running for decades in this country could have been resolved and the Government could have had the guts to bring to this Parliament legislation to say we’re proceeding on that site and giving certainty – rather than what is now a situation going all the way back to square one.


Tom Connell: Excluded from the poll was the Indigenous group with landholder rights, Barngala people, they were vehemently opposed, so the Government should’ve ignored them. Is that your argument?


Simon Birmingham: Well they don’t live in the community, so the poll was of people who live in that Kimba community – those surrounding the particular site Napandee in question. So, in that sense the poll was also a very significant majority of those who live in community. I think that we can say that there was strong support in the community for it to happen, that it was freehold land where the site was being built, not land under Native Title, those claims had all been extinguished and dealt with over the years. So really, there’s never going to be a location in Australia, where you will get everybody saying, this is great. Because every time a site has been identified over the decades of debate there’s always been a group, a green group and Indigenous group, somebody else has come out and said, no, we don’t like this site. Well, the nation’s got to solve this problem. We’ve got low-level radioactive waste in city sites right around the country. We’ve spent decades trying to – those sites are actually getting full – there’s doubts now about how nuclear medicine will be applied in the future – and of course we also have taken on responsibilities to solve a far bigger problem down the track, which is as part of the AUKUS nuclear submarine program. If we can’t work out where we’re going to store gloves from nuclear medicine, how can people have confidence in the Government to work out the handling of the very sensitive nuclear-powered submarines?


Tom Connell: Want to talk about Israel. Labor officially calling the West Bank settlements illegal and occupied. They say it’s in keeping with international law. That’s accurate, isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: Well Tom, Australia has for some time, along with many other partners used the words ‘disputed territory’, recognising that it is ‘disputed territory’ in that regard – that to achieve a lasting two-state solution there need to be negotiations. But for the Government to adopt the terms now in terms of describing it specifically as ‘occupied Palestinian territories’, begs the question as to does the Government have a firm view about which bits of land are ‘occupied Palestinian territories’;  have they resolved the disputes? No, they haven’t. And so that’s where we think this is clearly a political step. There’s nothing this week or in the last month that has prompted the Government to make this change. It’s clearly all about Labor’s National Conference next week.


Tom Connell:  What about what about the recent decision from the Israeli Government to strip the Supreme Court of powers to review government decisions, whether they were reasonable or not? Was that a troubling development in your view?


Simon Birmingham: These are domestic matters for Israel in terms of laws passed through their Parliament relating to how their judiciary operates and there are some quite technical matters in terms of the issue there when you actually drill down into it. The piece of legislation passed by the Knesset relates to whether or not the court can determine reasonableness around Government decisions. Now, that’s not necessarily a power the Courts in Australia have in the same way it was defined in the Israeli system, so I think we have to be careful about judging…I know there is much dissent about the overall package of judicial reforms which are, as I say, domestic matters for Israel. The issue here – and there’s a link between the two we’ve discussed – is Labor’s national conference next week and there’s clearly a lot of appeasement going on of the left-wing factions in the Labor Party by changing policy on Israel-Palestine, by kyboshing low-level radioactive waste facility there, all of these issues are clearly about trying to steer off difficult debates at Labor’s National Conference.


Tom Connell: I’m sure you’ll be a keen observer, as we all will be. Gotta leave it there, Simon Birmingham thanks for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Tom, my pleasure.