I firmly believe, and the government firmly believes, that we need to find a long-term solution to store our nuclear waste, primarily produced by the world-class facility at Lucas Heights, which produces nuclear medicines that will help to improve the health of, on average, one out of every two Australians during their lifetime.
Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:30):
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. On 28 August, in the wake of the leadership spill, I passed by a television and saw you talking on SkyNews. During that interview, you talked about the sad state of government—
Government senators interjecting—
Order! Stop, Senator Patrick. On my right! I have asked for silence during questions. Senator Patrick, please recommence after 'SkyNews'.
During that interview, you talked about the sad state of government, saying: 'We've got to be up-front with the Australian people. We need to be up-front in what we're trying to achieve and be open with them about the risks and issues and challenges we face.' Minister, in the spirit of being up-front, can you advise how the outcome of the radioactive waste management vote at Kimba and Hawker will be factored into your decision on that proposed facility? Specifically, are you standing by the 65 per cent figure that you told this chamber last year was the test for broad community support for this project?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:31):
I will come to your question, Senator Patrick, but I will start by saying that I'm happy to repeat what I've also said at community forums that I attended in Kimba and Hawker over the last month around how we will now proceed with the consultation on the radioactive waste facility. In particular, the ballot we hope to conduct soon will be one factor we take into account in our decision-making but not the only factor, and that has always been my position and the government's position. I do not accept the characterisation you painted around the comments I made in this place last year. We have always been seeking broad community support. We certainly achieved that in the survey that was conducted in Hawker around the Wallerberdina Station last year, when support of that level was achieved. But the government is also of the view that a level of support around the 57 per cent level, which was achieved in Kimba early last year, is also indicative of quite broad community support, particularly on an issue that has been very fraught and fractious for our nation for four decades now.
I firmly believe, and the government firmly believes, that we need to find a long-term solution to store our nuclear waste, primarily produced by the world-class facility at Lucas Heights, which produces nuclear medicines that will help to improve the health of, on average, one out of every two Australians during their lifetime. We do need to find a long-term store for that. We're committed to doing that. However, we're also committed to making sure that running a grassroots program that ensures that any decision to place such a facility in a local community is a decision for that community. We will listen to their views through that process. We've been consulting extensively with those communities. The process for a ballot that we've put in place is one aspect of that consultation. We've had officials in Kimba and Hawker for the last year on a weekly basis. We have also conducted surveys with the neighbouring landowners. Obviously, their views are very important. Indigenous stakeholders are extremely important as well. All of these views will be factored into a government decision later this year. (Timeexpired)
Senator Patrick, a supplementary question?
Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:33):
Joseph Stalin once said, 'It's not the people who vote that count; it's the people who count the vote.' Comrade Minister, isn't it the case that by not telling the people of Kimba and Hawker up-front—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senators Watt and Abetz, I couldn't hear the question. Please continue after the after the word 'minister', Senator Patrick.
Isn't it the case that, by not telling the people of Kimba and Hawker up-front exactly how their vote will count in this decision, you're leaving it open to claim just about any vote outcome as support for a decision that in reality has already been taken? Isn't it the case that, consistent with the best Stalinist practice, you won't be up-front with the people of Hawker and Kimba— (Timeexpired)
Order, Senator Patrick. I provided some extra time for the question, given the interruption. Senator Canavan, I call you to answer the question in the way it was asked.
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:34):
Thank you, Mr President. I maintain that the government has been incredibly up-front and open through this process. As I explained in Kimba and Hawker when I was there around a month ago, any decision that I make as the minister under the National Radioactive Waste Management Act will result in legislative changes to that act. That will, of course, come back to this parliament, so that will be an additional step of accountability and review for that decision-making process. But the government and myself—one of many ministers who's had responsibility for this act—are simply conducting our responsibilities under the legislative authority that's been given to us by the National Radioactive Waste Management Act, passed, I think, in 2012.
So we'll continue to work with the communities on this. We're very committed to doing this consultation. It's been a great privilege to work with Kimba and Hawker on this, and I look forward to seeing the results of a ballot, hopefully, soon.
Senator Patrick, a final supplementary question.
Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:35):
Minister, if the Bungala people are successful in their proceedings on foot, their 200 or so negative votes will push the percentage of the yes vote down to the low 50s, possibly even the 40s, which is well short of what you said was credible from a community-support perspective. The Senate inquiry was very critical of the government's engagement in respect of Indigenous people. If you had your time again, would you do things differently or would your Stalinist approach make that totally nugatory?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland — Minister for Resources and Northern Australia ) ( 14:36 ):
I take this decision and this process extremely seriously. As I said, it does relate to the production of life-saving medicines for our country. Obviously, the management of the waste associated with that production is incredibly important. We do a very good job at doing that today but, clearly, we have to make decisions soon, given the capacity constraints at Lucas Heights, about future waste production.
The Bungala people, who Senator Patrick referred to, have initiated action in the Supreme Court of South Australia in relation to the process. I'm not going to comment in detail about something that's before a court, but, suffice to say that I and my department are working constructively with the Bungala people through a conciliation process at the moment. I would hope that we can reach an agreement on a future consultation process, because I'm very committed to working with these local communities to get the best decision for them and for our national interest as well.