Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (12:21): I rise to speak on the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition)(Public Money) Amendment Bill 2017. I am the lead speaker for the opposition, but I will not be keeping the house too long. I think this will go fairly smoothly, but I would like to put a few things on the record. This is a bill that came first to the other place. It was brought forward by the Hon. Mark Parnell, and it is essentially in response to a bill which went through both houses many months ago—I do not remember exactly, but certainly more than a year—which had a direct effect upon the state government’s desire to import high-level radioactive waste from overseas.
The way the law was set out was that not only at that point in time (and still is I should say) was it illegal in South Australia to develop a nuclear waste storage facility of any type but it was also illegal to spend any public money on developing one. So the government, which was already deep into consultation—it had already funded a royal commission to look into this and already had public servants working on it—realised that they had probably better try to catch up, close the loop and get the law changed so that they were entitled to spend public money on that sort of work.
The opposition supported that change because we believed that to have a frank, thorough and open look at that issue it would be necessary to spend some public money on it, so we certainly supported that. That then enabled all that to be done and, of course, we are at where we are at now, with the reality that that effort is not going to be pursued any longer. The state Labor government was and probably still is extremely keen on importing toxic radioactive high-level waste from overseas and bringing it into South Australia for permanent storage.
The opposition opposed that position, and we opposed that position for several reasons. One was that the citizens’ jury, which was established by the government to gauge public opinion, and which the government fully expected would support the proposal, actually opposed the proposal. Putting aside for a second the merits of how that citizens’ jury was run, the reality is that it had very close to a two-thirds opposition to the process.
Through the parliamentary select committee, which looked into this issue, we discovered from evidence given to us that it would require approximately $600 million of taxpayers’ money just to get to the decision stage. That was not to build anything, to do anything or to take any affirmative action if it was the case that affirmative action was recommended. It was $600 million just to get to the point of making a decision on whether or not to proceed.
If the state got to that stage, then there was going to be a massive investment required—in the billions of dollars—to start the process of storing nuclear waste: importing, storing temporarily, going through different phases through to permanent storage. The state did not have that money, so it would have been necessary for the state to import the waste and take up-front payment before the final storage solution was developed. That was the only way that the state could have afforded to do it.
The other option was to spend the money to develop the final storage solution, then take the waste and the payment for the storage later on, but of course the state could not afford to do that. We then got to the stage where the Premier said, ‘If it gets the nod and it looks like we want to do it, I will run a referendum on whether or not we should proceed.’ Most referendums fail. The Premier then said, ‘If the referendum happens to get up, then Aboriginal people will have a right of veto.’
So the citizens’ jury said, no, that the state does not have $600 million just to get to the decision-making point, that the state does not have the billions of dollars required to fully develop the final storage solution before receiving an income, and I do not believe anybody in the public would have been comfortable with the idea of taking the waste onto our shores and the up-front payment before having the final storage solution clearly planned, clearly articulated and clearly implemented. I think it was very unlikely that a referendum would have got up and I think it was very unlikely that Aboriginal people would not have used that right of veto.
On that last point, there is a range of opinions within the Aboriginal community on this topic. I think it is fair to say that most Aboriginal people oppose this, but not everybody. As I say regularly, Aboriginal people are just as entitled to have a range of opinions within their community as non-Aboriginal people are, of course. It is important to recognise that Aboriginal people have a range of views on this, but I think it is also true to say that most Aboriginal people—at least most Aboriginal people who have spoken out—are in opposition to this.
If you go through all those steps—$600 million, citizens’ jury, Aboriginal veto, a referendum, trying to find the money to build a solution and so on—it actually was just not going to happen anytime soon, so the Liberal Party said, ‘We do not support continuing the process when we know it will not happen anytime soon.’ The Premier then said, ‘Okay, it’s a dead duck for now.’
Let me also say that nothing I have said so far and nothing I believe has anything to do with a concern about our capacity to actually store the waste responsibly. I believe that South Australia, given the appropriate funding and given the appropriate time, could access the right scientific and engineering information, knowledge and skills that would be required to do this job properly. I am not saying that the job could not be done. I am saying that the job was never actually going to get done anytime soon. It was just impossible to do it.
I would also like to put on the record my appreciation for the work former governor Kevin Scarce did in leading the royal commission. I know that he would have been very disappointed with where this topic ended up, but I also know that he put in an enormous amount of work, which he did in a very open-minded and objective way. He kept his personal opinions in the background, whatever they may have been, but he went about this work in an extremely professional way. The fact that, in the end, both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party decided not to proceed is no reflection whatsoever on the work that he did.
When all that was all wrapped up, the Hon. Mark Parnell in the other place quite understandably brought forward a bill to say, ‘Right, let’s undo what was done previously by the parliament to allow public money to be spent on this effort.’ It is quite sensible, quite natural and quite understandable that the Hon. Mark Parnell, representing the Greens, would want that to happen. The reason that that is very relevant is not only because of the particular beliefs of the Hon. Mark Parnell but also because, at the moment, the federal government is undertaking an investigation into whether it is possible to have a low-level nuclear waste storage facility, with the potential for some medium-level waste as well, somewhere in Australia. They are currently short-listing and investigating three possible sites in South Australia: two near Kimba and one near Hawker.
I think this process should be allowed to continue. I think we should all just take a breath, sit back and let the local communities get their views well and truly sorted out. Let them participate in the federal process and let us see where they land before any of us make a decision on this issue. We certainly support the amended bill that has come back to this house from the other place.