Interview with Sonia Feldhoff, ABC Adelaide

Sonya Feldhoff
Nuclear waste facility in Kimba, meeting with the community, judicial review by traditional owners, cultural heritage management plan.

SONYA FELDHOFF: The site chosen for a national nuclear waste facility, so is anything brewing?  Let's find out right now, shall we? Madeleine King is the Federal Minister for Resources. Minister, welcome to South Australia.

MADELEINE KING:  Oh, it's great to be here, Sonya, my first time in Kimba, so it's very hot, but it's been a very welcoming place, so I'm very happy to be here and grateful to be here as well.

SONYA FELDHOFF: And what's the purpose today for your first visit to Kimba, to the region? 

MADELEINE KING: Well, it's my first visit as Minister, and I'm really keen to just speak, to speak to as many people as possible about their views on the proposed low‑level radioactive waste facility that we, that is suggested for this area, and which the majority of local residents that were able to vote did support, so that ‑ but I acknowledge that there are people that have differing views, and I really wanted to come here and make sure I got to speak to everyone, and hear all of their views, and that includes the Barngarla people, the Traditional Owners of the land here in Kimba and surrounds. So I'm really just doing, I guess, a community visit, and I want to thank the community of Kimba and the surrounding areas and the Barngarla people for their active engagement in discussion around this facility over what is many years now, and I appreciate their patience within which a very important process the government is undertaking.

SONYA FELDHOFF: Talking about that process, you say you're getting, I guess, sort of judging the temperature of the community at the moment, but for what purpose?  Is that a background for you, because can there be any changes; is there likely to be any changes in the process of the decision around the nuclear dump? 

MADELEINE KING: Well, the process has been ongoing for many, many years, and I appreciate the community has had to put up with a few changes in that process and some delays and other decisions that have happened over that period, and it's been, you know, we're a new government and we do support, and we did support in opposition the proposition that Australia does need a sustainable means and a facility to store its nuclear waste, because it is piling up on facilities right around the country. So what I'm here to do is to be on the ground, obviously in opposition, and since the six months I've become Minister, I've read a lot of things about this process and about the project, I've also met with a lot of people in Canberra, but I thought it was really very important to get out here to Kimba on the grounds to meet with the local community in their space, and in their home to get their views, and the views are very ‑ they're very different from different groups, and I really do appreciate people's time in explaining to me their differing opinions on this facility.

SONYA FELDHOFF: So what have you been hearing today as you talk to these community members? 

MADELEINE KING: Yeah, well, again, a lot of different views; like there are many people that support the facility being here, because it brings a lot of activity to the region in a region that is seeking to diversify some of its economy, but, you know, I do want to acknowledge the grain farmers out here in Kimba and surrounds that have had a very successful year, but a successful year after many difficult years as well. So the local leaders, you know, have supported this facility as a means to diversify, but not everyone supports that, and I understand that, but nevertheless there is a question of how Australia does progress the need to have a safe and sustainable and long‑lasting storage site for radioactive waste that we use basically every day, and particularly in nuclear medicine.

SONYA FELDHOFF: You're listening to ABC Radio Adelaide, South Australia and Broken Hill. My guest is the Federal Minister for Resources, Madeleine King, who is here in South Australia today on her first visit to Kimba, the site of ‑ very near where they've chosen to build a national nuclear waste facility. My understanding is a judicial review is underway into that decision. If that's correct, where are we at on that process, Minister? 

MADELEINE KING: Yes, so there is a judicial review that has been brought about by the Barngarla people, and I support them in their judicial review, and in fact when we were in opposition we made sure that that was an option available to the Traditional Owners of the land, and we didn't want to cut off their opportunity to have their voice heard in court, and they've put up a number of arguments about the process that has been undertaken over a number of years, and I think it's only fair and just that they get their opportunity to have their say in court and be heard in a really public forum like that, and a very important public forum. So that is ongoing. There will be a hearing in March on that, and so we won't be making any statements in regard to that case until after we get the decision on that.

SONYA FELDHOFF: And so there's been some pre‑work done. Could this review change the course of the nuclear dump at all at Kimba? 

MADELEINE KING:  Well, it's a nuclear waste facility. I think there's been a lot of pretty inflammatory language around it being called that, a "dump", it's not a dump at all; it's a world's best practice, highly scientifically backed, evidence‑based, safe facility, and the science proves that, we've got some experts from around the world building what will be a sustainable, or design what will be a sustainable facility to store radioactive waste for pretty much, for the most part, nuclear medicine, which helps save lives right around this country. So that's my first point I'd like to be very clear on. The court case, you know, every court case that is on in regard to any project has the capacity to change the trajectory of that project, and this one is absolutely no different from that, but we will wait to see the outcome of that case.

SONYA FELDHOFF: Okay. There has been some preparatory work done. What has been done at this point, and how might that be impacted, I guess, by any decision? 

MADELEINE KING: Yes, at the moment the Radioactive Waste Agency of Australia is undertaking characterisation activities on the site, which is a means of investigating more about the geology so it can really be understood, 'cause understanding the deeper geology of the site impacts the design, and all the work that's being done is being done under a very strict cultural heritage management plan that has very strict protocols, in fact I was briefed on that last night and went through my own induction, because when I go to the site and visit it tomorrow, everyone that visits, it's their responsibility to know where these cultural heritage sites are and to act appropriately, and that's all contractors, and that's me, the Minister, and my staff and the agency as well. So we take this very seriously, and that's why that work is entirely reversible should anything change in trajectory of this facility and its construction and its development. But, you know, there's also a lot of work that has to be done regardless ‑ well, as we proceed after the case, if that is indeed what happens, on the cultural heritage and the suitability of the land itself before any construction starts. So I want to be clear that any construction, regardless of the outcome of the case before the courts is many years away yet.

SONYA FELDHOFF: So, Minister King, it sounds like there's no formal announcements that you'll be making during your visit to South Australia, and Kimba specifically at this time around? 

MADELEINE KING: Absolutely not. No, no, there are no announcements, and that is because there is a judicial review underway, and I just regard it as very important to get out here and to come and see the community and meet them face‑to‑face, and in their space, in their home, not in an office in the Parliament in Canberra, which is also, you know, a very comfortable and nice place to meet, but I think in people's homes and to see, you know, the work they are doing for their community is important for me to see and to see the site, itself, so I can get some perspective on that. And this has been my first real opportunity since becoming Minister to do so, and we've taken that opportunity, and I really want to thank all the members of the community, those that live in Kimba, those that live nearby, and also the Barngarla people that made a special trip out to Kimba to meet me on their land today.

SONYA FELDHOFF: That's the Federal Minister for Resources, Madeleine King.