MUA Workers Stand By Muckaty Traditional Owners

MUA branches and members have joined with Muckaty traditional owners to campaign to stop radioactive waste being transported and dumped in Australia.

Since 2005 Aboriginal communities have been resisting moves to have a radioactive waste dump on their traditional lands. MUA members are often required to move this radioactive waste - and have joined the communities in their campaign to stop the Muckaty dump.

Three potential sites were named by the Howard government without any consultation with affected communities or the NT Government. In 2007, despite opposition from many Traditional Owners, a fourth site in the Muckaty Land Trust (near Tennant Creek) was proposed by the Northern Land Council.

Legislation tabled by the Federal Resources Minister repeals the current Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and the three nominated sites, but specifically target Muckaty as the only site to be further assessed. The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 passed the House of Representatives and is due for debate in the Senate, despite ongoing NT government and community opposition.

The worst of the radioactive waste planned for the dump is spent fuel rods from the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney, due back from overseas processing from mid 2015. It is expected this would come through the Port of Darwin for road or rail transport to the proposed Muckaty site.

There is little benefit for Aboriginal communities in hosting a radioactive waste facility given the high environmental risk and limited job opportunities, with the government promising only 30 jobs in short term construction and 6 security guard positions.

The $12 million compensation offered to the Muckaty community is a package to fund roads, housing and education scholarships, things other Australians expect and receive as citizenship entitlements.

A series of truck and rail accidents over the last few years has increased concern about the risks of transporting radioactive materials thousands of kilometres to a remote area. Incidents include a Greyhound bus overturning and a major cyanide spill, which closed the Stuart Highway for a week just outside of Muckaty Station.

Traditional Owners from Muckaty have travelled widely to raise awareness of their opposition and trade union support has been growing nationally.

In April 2009 Muckaty Traditional Owners spoke in Wollongong just after a shipment of spent nuclear fuel rods had left Port Kembla, despite opposition from the local MUA branch.

MUA Southern NSW Branch Secretary Garry Keane noted, "It's really a frightening situation that people aren't going to have a say about what's stuck there, buried in their own lands.

"We are not prepared to be the people who transport this to bury it in an area where the communities have no say, the Traditional Owners have no say whatsoever about this going in the ground. We need to say this is just not acceptable."

In June the ACTU National Congress unanimously agreed to support Traditional Owners and communities opposing the waste dump. The motion, put forward by Unions NT Secretary Matthew Gardiner, also pledged support for trade unionists refusing to cooperate with the dump plan.

Unions NT expressed support to the targeted communities at its February 2010 Full Council meeting, adopting a position of non- cooperation with the policy and calling for solidarity from national trade unions and union councils.

The active support of trade unionists across the country is essential for holding the government to its commitments and avoiding a major environment and human rights abuse. We must demand repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and oppose any proposed legislation that would force a radioactive waste dump on unwilling communities.

Muckaty Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes has said clearly "All along we have said we don't want this dump on our land but we have been ignored...We won't be letting that dump go ahead on our land because our duty is to look after that special place for future generations and that's exactly what we plan to do". 

Article originally written by Natalie Wasley | natwasley@alec.org.au