A strong community campaign involving Traditional Owners, health organisations, environment groups and the Central Land Council has called for immediate repeal of Howard-era legislation forcing a nuclear dump on the Northern Territory.

Over 100 people rallied in Alice Springs on November 17 outside the opening of Senate Inquiry hearings into the future of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CWRMA), passed by the Howard government in 2005. The CWRMA overrides public health, land rights and environmental protection legislation along with NT law and the right to administrative appeal.

The Inquiry has been underway since September, when Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam proposed a bill to repeal the CRWMA.

Over 100 people and organisations commented on the Bill. The overwhelming majority called for the heavy-handed laws to be overturned.

The two days of public hearings in Alice Springs were well attended and heard evidence from affected community members and stakeholders.

Traditional Owners from Muckaty, Mt Everard and Harts Range put forward strong cases for repeal, referring to the absence of consultation, lack of communication from government and extreme frustration and disempowerment throughout the process. In a video submission to the Inquiry, Muckaty Traditional Owner Marlene Bennett said “most of our mob, we all found out when we read it in the paper. What sort of consultative approach by the government is that?

Strong community opposition has held the NT government to a position against the nuclear dump.

NT government representative Dr Diana Leeder told the Inquiry the laws are “an erosion of rights”, adding; “The Northern Territory Government maintains its strong objection to the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act’s capacity to override Northern Territory laws.”

The ALP committed to repealing the Howard-era laws before the election, but has failed to do so.

ALP Politicians labeled the dump laws “draconian”, “extreme”, “arrogant” and “sordid” when first announced by the Howard Government. The 2007 national ALP conference voted to repeal them if elected. Earlier this year the Northern Territory ALP called for the federal government to honour this promise and scrap all site nominations.

ALP Senator Louise Pratt, part of the Inquiry committee, told the Alice Springs protest, “I don’t know why we haven’t repealed these laws yet”. The delay stems from pro-nuclear resources minister Martin Ferguson being granted responsibility for the dump in the new Rudd government.

Communities will continue to mobilise and organise in the NT but national support is needed to build the campaign and increase pressure on the government to follow through with its election commitment.

By Natalie Wasley

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