By Robyn Rayner.
Farmers contend regularly with fire, flood and drought, but fine wool producer Robyn Rayner never expected to be fighting off plans for a radioactive waste dump across the road from her property.
March 11, 2016
How would you feel if you woke up one morning and was told via a media report that you could be living next door to a nuclear waste dump?
On November 13 last year the Federal Government announced a shortlist of six sites, from twenty eight volunteered properties around Australia, for a proposed national radioactive waste dump. A property at Hill End was named. Since then our lives have been turned upside down. My husband Geoff and I, along with our family, own and run Pomanara Merino Stud directly across the road from the proposed site. It is just 1.5km from our family home. We are second-generation woolgrowers and our son James would like to be the third. This may not be important to Government Departments, but it is to us. This nuclear waste will also be around for generations to come, wherever they put it.
We have worked long and hard to achieve the clean, green and sustainable label that we have today. Our region is renown for growing the best superfine wool in the world and we have won many major awards for the sheep we breed. At no time did the landowner who nominated his property consult with neighbours, nor did he take into consideration the environment or the village of Hill End, located nine kilometres away. Hill End is a historic precinct that host 5000 school children a year and over 100 000 other visitors. The nominated property backs onto the Turon River, a major waterway for the food bowl of Australia.
Stress and anxiety has left us not able to function properly in our day to day lives. Our farm work has suffered. When you own livestock, they have to be your number one priority. Instead we wake up every morning with a nuclear cloud over our head. We are trying to make sense of how the Government could sign off on a site without even visiting the area beforehand. Wherever this facility is located, it will remain there for many hundreds of years. We need to ensure that future generations are well informed as well as protected from any harm that will come from this site.
The proposed site was first listed in the Government Gazette and official Department website as 3165 Hill End Road Sallys Flat NSW. This address does not actually exist. The owners of 3165 Hill End Road Hill End have not and do not wish to volunteer their property. The correct lot number is actually 2641- the coordinates initially published were in fact for the proposed Queensland site. How does a Government department, with resources at its fingertips, get it so wrong? How can we trust these people with nuclear waste when they cannot get a simple address correct?
We have so many unanswered questions. A Department Official told the Hill End meeting on November 26 that no reports will be done until the next phase of the project. Yet Minister Josh Frydenberg said in an interview with Ray Hadley (21 January 2016) that extensive weather, seismology and infrastructure reports have been completed.
The Minister also stated that some neighbours were in favour of this proposal, yet all direct neighbours have twice stated their objections at meetings with Government representatives present.
In the same radio interview the Minister stated that Bathurst Regional Council was in favour, when in fact it had not yet voted on the issue. On February 3 the Council voted against the waste facility being built in the region. Mid-Western Regional Council Mudgee, Lithgow City Council and the Bathurst and Mudgee Chambers of Commerce have also raised objections. The Rural Fire Service has stated that they would not attend any call outs. The Peel Residents Association and the Wattle Flat Progress Association passed motions against the dump. The mid-state sub branch of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia has also stated opposition.
The Government representatives only wanted one on one meetings with directly affected neighbours, but we insisted on public meetings. The community and the neighbours are all, and will remain, completely against this proposal. This has actually brought our community closer together. We stand united and we will fight to the end.
The time and effort that it is taking to fight this battle is financially and emotionally draining. The stigma of living next to a nuclear waste dump will have an ongoing and lasting impact on our land values and business. Farmers choose to live and work the land, most for little financial gain, but more for the rewards and satisfaction. This is very special to us, something for us to pass onto our children and for them to remember us by.
My husband Geoff, Jodie Carter and I have just been to Canberra, together with representatives from the other five proposed sites. We come from all walks of life, from all parts of Australia, but we were all there for the same reason. We are united in our opposition to a nuclear waste dump being forced on our communities.
Minister Josh Frydenberg refused to meet with us even though some site representatives had travelled for two days. Instead we had a very heated and lively meeting with two senior advisors and a Department representative. It was distressing listening to the other community members and their worries. We heard of more bungles in the process. For example, the post office box advertised for submissions was incorrect for months. This was only noticed when submissions started returning to people who had thankfully put their address on the back. How many had been sent in without return addresses before the Government corrected the problem? Good question.
Even this week, the online ‘consultation hub’ for making submissions says the Minister is seeking views from people where the seven (not six) nominations are located. Is there somewhere else we are unaware of? Or is this yet another simple error that should have been avoided?
We all make mistakes, but it is how we accept and act to correct those mistakes that people will judge us on. The Government should scrap these sites, admit they got it wrong, and then apologise to the people this has affected. They should then start a responsible and correct process to decide what to do with the waste- not just pushing it on regional and rural communities with promises of financial gain. They need to find out a way to stop making more nuclear waste and research what we can do or use instead.
Our community does not want a radioactive waste facility at Hill End. We have supported hundreds of locals to make submissions to the public comment period that closes today (March 11). The people of Muckaty in the NT fought for eight years to stop a waste dump there and we are willing to do the same if necessary. We want to hold the Government accountable, to get all six sites off the list and get this process right.
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