In August 2023, a David and Goliath struggle came to an end when federal Resources Minister Madeleine King announced that the federal government would not be advancing a plan inherited from the former Coalition government to locate a national radioactive waste facility near Kimba on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
The decision marked the successful end of a seven-year effort by the Barngarla Traditional Owners to protect their country and song and storylines from the long-term threat posed by radioactive waste.
The federal waste plan was deeply flawed and not consistent with international best practice.
The Barngarla were consistently excluded from key community consultation and decision making forums and their unequivocal opposition was not counted in a highly curated community ballot.
The Barngarla always opposed radioactive waste on their country and repeated calls for Morrison government Ministers Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt to scrap the plan were ignored.
For seven years, against sustained pressure and propaganda, they said No.
In July 2023, the Federal Court found that Minister Pitt's decision to declare the Kimba site was not valid as it was biased, rather than based on an independent and thorough process.
Federal Labor’s subsequent decision to accept the Court’s judgement was a prudent and a proper call and offers us an important chance to change the way we approach this complex issue.
It was an important win for good process, for First Nation rights and for radioactive responsibility.
It was also a win that sends a wider and welcome message that sometimes, against the run of play - the little people can win.
And sometimes, despite their connections and access to the full powers of the State - the big people can lose.
All who work for justice and a sustainable world need to be reminded of this, especially today.
ACF was proud to join other environment, union, faith and civil society groups in standing alongside the Barngarla to help ensure that Australia’s approach to the management of inter-generational human and environmental risks is based on respect and responsibility, not political expedience.
And we thank and acknowledge the sustained and successful efforts of a proud community to honour their past and protect their future. All of us are richer as a result.
Established in 1992, the Rawlinson Award is given annually in memory of ACF Councillor Peter Rawlinson — a zoologist, lecturer in biological science and environmental campaigner. The Award celebrates individuals and groups who have made an outstanding voluntary contribution to protecting the environment in Australia.