Traditional owners will proceed with legal action to block construction of a nuclear waste dump in South Australia amid federal government plans to begin earthworks at the proposed site.
The action by the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation came before the Federal Court on Wednesday. Legal argument will be heard in July ahead of a substantive hearing, most likely before the end of this year.
The court was told that there were plans to begin earthworks at the Napandee site, near Kimba on SA’s Eyre Peninsula, before September.
If constructed, the site would be used to store low-level nuclear medical waste currently spread across more than 100 facilities including universities and hospital basements.
Justice Natalie Charlesworth asked that sufficient notice be provided to allow time for the court to hear applications to halt the works.
Justice Charlesworth said such notice would avoid the need for an urgent hearing.
“What I would like to avoid is what I might call a pyjama hearing where it’s called at midnight and we all come in here in our pyjamas and we have an unnecessarily urgent argument,” she said.
The Barngarla launched their action in December seeking to overturn the coalition government’s decision to develop the site by quashing the declaration of former resources minister Keith Pitt.
The corporation also recently wrote to new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urging him to scrap plans for the dump.
It said the previous federal government had tried to silence the traditional owners at every turn, denying their right to participate in a community ballot to gauge local support for the site.
The corporation said the coalition also refused access to the land to undertake a proper heritage survey and tried to remove its right to judicial review.
“Although we appreciate all that Labor have done in opposition, the Barngarla people unequivocally make it clear that we request that the new Labor minister revoke the declaration or consent to the orders quashing the declaration,” it wrote in its letter to the PM.
In Wednesday’s court action there was no indication that the Labor government would take a different view on the matter than the previous administration.
Ahead of the hearing, a spokesperson said the traditional owners were confident of winning their case should the action proceed.
“However, we again call upon the new Labor minister to quash the declaration,” the spokesperson said.
“We do not want to spend the next two years in court against the Labor government.”
In November last year, the previous government announced it had acquired 211 hectares at Napandee with the proposed facility subject to heritage, design and technical studies
The vast majority of nuclear waste produced in Australia is associated with the production of nuclear medicine.