Traditional owners fear they’ll miss out on nuclear waste vote

Two Aboriginal communities are hoping a postponed vote on the national nuclear waste storage site will allow more people in their communities to have their say on the issue.

For two and a half years, residents of the remote South Australian towns of Hawker and Kimba  have been debating whether they want the nation’s nuclear waste in their vicinity.

A community postal ballot is expected to be the last opportunity for residents to make their wishes clear.

But Vince Coulthard, chief executive of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association, fears many traditional owners will be excluded from the ballot because they don’t officially reside in the towns nearest to the proposed sites. 

“They may not live in those areas but they have a close affiliation with the country, they come back on a regular basis,” he said.

“Therefore they should be in a position to vote, have their say in the voting process. [It’s] going to affect their country for thousands of years to come.”

Adnyamathanha man Vince Coulthard says traditional owners should be able to participate in the postal ballot.
Source: SBS News

The postal ballot was set to begin today, but has been postponed after Barngarla traditional owners were granted an injunction by the South Australian Supreme Court last week.

They're also seeking to have traditional owners included in the vote.

The postal ballot was to be open only to those within a 50-kilometre radius of the proposed waste sites.

In both Hawker and Kimba, views are mixed, with those who fear environmental or safety risks at odds with supporters.   

John Hennessy, owner of Hawker Caravan Park, said the economic impact of the project on the town, which will be accompanied by a $20 million community fund, is hard to ignore.

“The economic benefit will be enormous,” he said.

“We’ve got $200 million of building investment coming to town and the benefit of that, in a little town like Hawker, is really quite phenomenal."

Hawker resident Denise Carpenter agreed.

“I can see the benefits of it being in Hawker, I can see how great it will be for the town,” she said.

According to Vince Coulthard, the site near Hawker is close to an important cultural site for Adnyamathanya women.

He’s not yet sure if he’ll be allowed to vote, but said he’d vote no, if he had the choice.  

“I don’t believe that we, we, the people of today, have got a right to deny our generations to come, the right to enjoy this country.”

A spokesperson for the department of Industry, Innovation and Science said in a statement a decision on the nominated sites will happen this year.

“The department will continue to work to ensure the views of the community, including traditional owners, are heard, and a decision on the nominated sites is made this year,” they said.

The matter will return to the Supreme Court of South Australia later this week.

Meanwhile, Flinders Ranges Council Mayor Peter Slattery says despite many discussions on the issue over the past two and a half years, he’s unsure how the numbers will play out.

“We’ve got a fairly clear idea of what the community attitudes are, but exactly where the percentages are, there’s a lot of people who are holding their cards pretty close to their chest because it’s a fairly vitriolic and emotive issue to be discussing in the community,” he said.  

Published 20 August 2018 at 8:00pm
By Rhiannon Elston