It has been a busy few weeks for the Barngarla people, native title holders of the land and seas around South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. Two months ago to the week they joined South Australian Premier Steven Marshall at the declaration of their native title interests on and around the Peninsula after a long struggle through the Federal Court.

Last week they were in court again—this time in the Supreme Court of South Australia—seeking an injunction against a community postal ballot organised by the District Council of Kimba about the Commonwealth government’s proposed nuclear waste dump in the Barngarla people’s backyard and from which they claimed to have been excluded.

The Court agreed with their submissions and granted a temporary injunction, ordering—in a surprise move—that the matter be expedited to be heard this morning before the Full Bench of the South Australian Supreme Court including Chief Justice Chris Kourakis.

At first instance, Dan O’Gorman SC for the Barngarla people argued that while his clients had no issue with the community postal vote proceeding they felt excluded by the process.

O’Gorman told the Court that:

… they just want to be included, they don’t want to be treated any differently because their rights are Aboriginal rights … There is no justification for excluding people on the basis of native title rights.

The Barngarla people’s temporary success delayed the conduct of a similar postal ballot further north in Adnyamathanha country in the Flinders Ranges, where, as I reported here in 2016, then Federal Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg and his department had fundamentally under-estimated the resolve of the Adnyamathanha traditional owners, who had been strongly opposed to the short-listing of a site on their ancestral lands near Hawker in the Flinders Ranges.

Senior traditional owner and Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association CEO Vince Coulthard said in a statement that:

This is in our sacred country with a very important spring just nearby. This is another example of cultural genocide. This cannot happen! … We believed they were going to meet with the board in an official capacity, prior to any announcement happening. But this certainly didn’t happen.

As I noted at the time, since the 2014 contentious settlement of litigation against the Northern Land Council’s nomination of a site at Muckaty Station in the NT for the nuclear waste dump, successive Federal Governments had lost the plot on dealing with low-level nuclear waste, most notably by the adoption by Tony Abbott’s Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane’s adoption of a nationwide tender process.

Macfarlane’s adoption of a nationwide tender for alternative sites smacked more of quick-fix and a withdrawal from the Federal government’s acceptance of its responsibility to resolve a long-standing problem. Frydenberg has done little more than adopt Macfarlane’s flawed policy and, if anything, appears even more reluctant to engage with this thorny issue. Both have overseen a flight of institutional memory and capacity from the relevant ministry and department. Neither has had the length and depth of engagement–or knowledge of and interest in–the field that previous Coalition and Labor ministers applied to this project. Ministers like Brendan Nelson, Julie Bishop, Martin Ferguson and Gary Gray knew the key players and were across the fine practical and policy details, while neither Macfarlane or Frydenberg have been.

While the current community postal ballots at Kimba and Hawker are being run by the respective local government authorities, ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the overall process must rest with Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan and his department, who do not appear to learnt anything from past stumbles.

Meanwhile, the cost of dealing with Australia’s nuclear waste only rises. Canavan is waving big money at anyone who’ll take our waste, with latest figures indicating total funding of $31 million for the project. The current shortlisted communities have received Federal Government development grants totalling $4 million.

Back in 2007, the Ngapa clans proposing Muckaty Station as a nuclear waste dump would have received a total of $12 million.

An unexpected bonus from the Bargarla’s injunction proceedings may be that local government decision-making processes will now have to take a more inclusive approach to the rights of local native title holders.

Watch this space.

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