Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has prided himself on his commitment to keep promises made before the 2007 federal election. For this to ring true, he will need to rein in Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who is stalling on the implemention of commitments regarding nuclear waste management.

Labor’s national conference in April 2007 committed to repealing the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA) if elected. Labor promised a method of addressing radioactive waste management issues which is “scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms.”

However, in answers to written Senate questions, Ferguson said repeal of the draconian CRWMA is now simply “under consideration.” Logically, another matter under consideration must be the option of maintaining it.

Despite repeated promises from Labor to handle the controversial issue of nuclear waste management in a more transparent and democratic manner, Ferguson has been every bit as secretive as his Coalition predecessors on this issue.

Unequivocal promises from Howard not to impose a dump in the Northern Territory, made before the 2004 election, were breached with the July 2005 announcement that three sites had been short-listed. There was no consultation with the NT Government or affected traditional owners and communities.

The CRWMA 2005 was then pushed through Parliament, overriding NT laws prohibiting transport and storage of nuclear waste. A raft of environmental, cultural protection, public health and safety laws also went out the window.

Amendments passed the following year overrode Aboriginal Land Rights Act procedures requiring informed consent from all affected people and groups.

Under the amended process, Muckaty, 120km north of Tennant Creek, was nominated by the Northern Land Council. This ignored strong, public opposition from a number of traditional owners for the 18 months from rumour to reality of the nomination.

After a decade of the Coalition Government’s haphazard and bullying approach, there was a cautious sigh of relief when Labor committed last year to a different approach.

When, how and what this means is now under close scrutiny, as affected communities and stakeholder groups battle to get a clear answer from the Rudd Government.

It is time for Rudd to haul his maverick Minister into line and to ensure that pre-election promises are not broken. There is no more time to waste.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey