On the road with anti-nuclear activism – the Radioactive Exposure Tour

This June the Radioactive Exposure Tour will travel almost 5000 kilometres through three states exposing people to the reality of radioactive racism, the impacts of uranium mining, radioactive waste and nuclear expansion. Jemila Rushton reports on her first Rad Tour in 2014 and what's coming up this year.

The Radioactive Exposure (Rad) Tour sure is a wild ride. It bundles activists, campaigners and basically anyone with an interest in learning about the nuclear industry into buses powered by recycled vegetable oil to travel dusty desert roads and long highways on a journey through Australia’s nuclear landscape.

Organised by Friends of the Earth's Anti Uranium and Clean Energy (ACE) Collective, the Tour is not just about bush camping, fireside yarns and spectacular country (although you do get all that!). Its true purpose is to provide a vital opportunity to build community and develop creative campaign strategies for the most pressing nuclear issues.

We gather campaigners from across the country, meet with Elders and Traditional Owners who have for too long experienced radioactive racism on their lands, and connect with communities set to be most affected by nuclear activities. We listen, we learn, we collaborate.

The Rad Tour is always changing; each year we design the tour in line with current environmental and political concerns. Last year the Tour travelled from Melbourne to Muckaty in the Northern Territory to meet with Traditional Owners campaigning to stop a waste dump being built on their land. After discovering a sordid and racist history of nuclear testing and mining crossing South Australia we headed north to Tennant Creek where we met with Warlmanpa Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes and many other Elders who had been fighting the Federal Government's plans to build a nuclear waste dump on their land for almost a decade.

2014 was an inspiring journey, after which many of the crew from the Tour went on to organise fundraisers, parties and public events in Sydney and Melbourne to increase awareness and raise badly needed funds to support Beyond Nuclear Initiative campaigners and Traditional Owners in the lead up to their Federal Court case.

This year, following the historic win at Muckaty (the community defeated the dump proposal in June 2014), the focus of the Rad Tour has shifted to new horizons. The recent exploration of sites in Western New South Wales for rare earths and uranium mining, and the potential of nuclear expansion in South Australia under the recently announced Royal Commission, has put nuclear power and nuclear waste back on the political agenda. Plans are being made to ensure this Rad Tour has an even bigger impact than last year.

Starting in Melbourne we will journey up the east coast to New South Wales and visit the abandoned nuclear reactor project at Jervis Bay before visiting Australia’s controversial and only reactor at Lucas Heights. Then we'll head west to meet with communities in Dubbo and Broken Hill and hear about what they are doing to combat the development of new mines in their communities. We will then explore some more nuclear history at the disused uranium mine at Radium Hill before witnessing the contentious method of in-situ leach mining at the Beverly 4 uranium mine in South Australia.

The Tour will visit BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam uranium mine at Roxby Downs, the largest uranium deposit in the world. The mine is a long standing environmental and social disaster and BHP plans to trial the contentious acid heap leach mining method this year. Continuing south to Woomera we'll hear first-hand accounts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu Field from nuclear veteran and whistle-blower Avon Hudson. We'll stop by Nurrungar, the desert surveillance base that closed in 1999, before arriving in Adelaide right in time for the Students of Sustainability Conference, and onwards back to Melbourne. 

If you’re considering coming on the Rad Tour as a first timer, or want to get back into nuclear-free campaigning, this is the year to get on board. It’s going to be a trip of action, with skillshares, protests, marches, strategy meetings and a lot of collaboration cross-country. We are already making plans to cause a stir in each community we visit to make sure that politicians in the cities know that Australians do not support a nuclear future.

Before my experience on the Rad Tour last year, I had little knowledge of the nuclear industry in Australia and came with little campaign experience. I found it an amazing way to learn about a dark and often undiscussed part of Australian history, experience the power of issue-based campaigning, and become part of a passionate and powerful movement.

If you’re looking for a great way to travel to the Students of Sustainability (SoS) Conference in Adelaide from any of the northern states, come with us! You'll get an amazing insight into issues that are unfolding right now, and knowledge that you can share with many others at the conference. The ACE Collective are planning to get together a small crew to make noise, make art and bring public attention to what’s happening in the nuclear industry while we're in Adelaide too. So if you’re coming to SoS we want you on the Radioactive Exposure Tour too!

  • The Rad Tour 2015 runs from Saturday 27 June to Wednesday 8 July. The costs are: concession $550, waged $750, solidarity $950. For more info visit www.radioactivetour.com or contact Jemila on 0426962506 or at radexposuretour@gmail.com or sign up here.
  • The ACE Collective meets every second Monday at 6pm at Friends of the Earth, 312 Smith Street, Collingwood. The next meetings are 27 Apr and 11 May. Come along to get involved.
  • Check out groups campaigning against mining and uranium across the country.

About the author

Jemila has been campaigning with the ACE Collective since May 2014 after joining the Radioactive Exposure Tour from Melbourne to Muckaty. In 2015 she is due to finish up her studies in community development and complete a study in relation to policy and public opinion throughout the Muckaty campaign.

Radioactive racism in the Wild West – WA takes aim at remote communities

Radioactive racism article - stand up for Aboriginal remote communities on 1 May and join in protests across the country

Pushing Aboriginal people off their land for mining interests is nothing new in Western Australia, but Premier Barnett's plans to close 150 communities and gut the Aboriginal Heritage Act takes it to a new level, reports Mia Pepper

You’d be forgiven for thinking West Australia was the Wild West. The announcement from the WA Government to close 150 Aboriginal remote communities comes hot on the heels of plans to gut the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

The changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act have two main objectives: one is to make it easier for Aboriginal Heritage Sites on the Aboriginal Heritage Register to be de-listed; the other is to make it harder to get Aboriginal Heritage Sites to be listed in the first place. One of the key factors in a site getting and staying on the register is proving an ongoing connection to the site – a logistical factor made much harder if people are being forcibly removed from remote communities.

Pastor Geoffrey Stokes, a Wongutha man from Kalgoorlie, was out hunting one day near Mt Margaret when he encountered a mining company, Darlex, literally about to dig into a cave – an Aboriginal Heritage Site. This particular site had been lodged with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs by the Goldfields Land and Sea Council 23 years earlier – but still had not been officially registered and thus the company was about to destroy the site without having gained permission or consulting with the Aboriginal custodians.

On inquiries made to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) about this site, it was revealed that something like 10,000 sites have been lodged but never registered.

This is how the system works. Traditional Owners can lodge a site with the DAA and the Department may or may not register it – depending how busy they are over a period of about two decades. Once it is registered a mining company can then apply to destroy it anyway, but rest assured if it’s registered you’ll be consulted about the sites impending doom. However if you don’t visit the site regularly, under a changed Aboriginal Heritage Act it’s likely to be deregistered.

I’m reminded of being at a mining conference in WA where the then Minister for Mines and Petroleum gave a keynote presentation. He ended by inviting everyone to stay around for a raffle – “the prize is a free Aboriginal Heritage clearance.” The miners roared with laughter. The Minister re-used the joke at the time of the raffle – allowing us to record this sick joke about the religion and culture of Australia’s first people. When played back to him in Parliament, he scoffed and said it was taken out of context.

Just around the corner from Mt Margaret is Mulga Rocks – the site of the latest uranium mine proposal by a company which has recently changed its name to Vimy Resources. Vimy is like an all-star cast with a former Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) executive as Director, a former Liberal MP on the Board of Directors and generously funded by Twiggy Forrest. Vimy recently submitted a scoping study for Mulga Rocks, which is near Kalgoorlie and adjacent to the Queen Victoria Springs an A Class Nature Reserve.

In submissions made to the scoping study, the DAA provided comment in response to the proposal saying the company should minimise impact to Aboriginal Heritage, should consult with the DAA and the Central Desert Native Title Service, and suggesting that some sites may still be under the protection of the not- yet gutted Aboriginal Heritage Act. The company responded: “No Native Title Groups claim the areas and no traditional owners undertake any traditional activities in the area.”

That comment was based on a 1982 'study' by an American anthropologist – using a dubious methodology for the study. The Anthropologist just kind of asked around in the nearest town (150km away), a process that identified at least one family who use to go out, no further inquiries were made about that family. The family survived and live in the area but are yet to be consulted. Neighbouring communities and interested communities are yet to be consulted and the company refuses to consult, stating the project won’t impact anyone so there’s no need.

The closest community to the proposed Mulga Rocks mine is called Coonana and has been on the Government's hit- list of communities to close down for many year. Slowly but surely the WA Government has cut all funding to the community and it is now virtually a ghost town. Coonana is a refugee community, people that have been moved from community to community over generations. Known as the Spinifex people, they came across the border from South Australia following the nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950s.

The Government used to kick Aboriginal people hitching a free ride west off the train but then had a bright idea: give Aboriginal people a free ride west and get them off the atomic bomb testing sites permanently. The dislocation that began during the bomb tests is very much alive today.

The starvation of services to Coonana should send alarm bells in light of the proposal to close 150 remote communities. At Oombulgurri in the Kimberley, the strategy was to demolish houses ... no resettlement, no alternative housing, nothing. As the country tries to heal from centuries of displacement and bad Government policy, this Government is creating another generation of displaced people.

The changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act are due to be debated in the WA Parliament in the first quarter of 2015. The plans to shut 150 remote Aboriginal communities are much more secretive − the Premier Colin Barnett has promised consultation but has refused an invitation from the Kimberley Land Council to join a joint Land Councils meeting about the closures.

Proposals to use royalties money from the mining industry to meet the funding shortfall have been squashed by the Premier. As the mining boom crashes and the Government's focus is on supporting industry rather than communities, we are expecting further attacks on communities and culture to make it easier and cheaper for mining companies to get projects off the ground.

  • Join in protests across the country (and internationally) on the national day of action to support remote communities on Friday 1 May. Here's a list of protests already organised and the Facebook page.
  • Stand with the Parnngurr and take action online to stop the proposed uranium mine on Aboriginal land at Kintyre, WA's biggest National Park.
  • Check out the active groups campaigning for Indigenous justice across Australia.

About the author

Mia Pepper is a long time anti-uranium campaigner with a strong focus on Indigenous rights. She's worked with Friends of the Earth on the campaign to shut down Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia and is currently the Nuclear Free Campaigner at the Conservation Council of Western Australia and Deputy Chair Mineral Policy Institute.

Reclaiming democracy – how an industry has captured the democratic process

What lies behind the visceral battle between Australian rural communities and the collective force of the mining and petroleum industry is a battle to reclaim democracy itself. Long time forest and CSG activist Aidan Ricketts discusses the deep corruption behind the deals.

The Lock the Gate movement, by taking on the mission of restoring accountability to the way that governments deal with the mining industry has necessarily positioned itself at the cutting edge of an emerging national pro-democracy and anti-corruption movement.

Democracy was hard won over many centuries and can never be assumed to thrive merely because of the presence of a particular set of constitutional arrangements. Most nations these days have democratic constitutions on paper, including notables such as Zimbabwe, Fiji, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Democratic constitutions are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the effective practice of democracy, and by far the greater part of a healthy functioning democracy is derived from the quality of the political culture in a country. Across the globe, corruption and embedded economic power are the eternal enemies of true democracy.

There are many forces that potentially undermine democracy for Australia, including concentrations of media ownership, compulsory (not free) trade agreements and more specifically the way in which the mining industry has embedded itself deeply within our political culture.

This story begins with a very arrogant and self-entitled industry with a track record of corruption and human rights abuses across the globe. In many developing countries politicians and government can be easily bought, and repressive state mechanisms easily turned against local populations who resist. We need only to cast our eyes northward to the Porgera and Ok Tedi mines in PNG, and Freeport in West Papua to see this kind of corruption and oppression in action.

In Australia the industry’s approach has been more nuanced. It has been to ‘capture’ the democratic process rather than openly oppose it. For at least 60 years the mining industry has been building its connections with the major political parties so much so that mining and political jobs are part of an ongoing revolving door. The examples could fill pages but let us name just one quickly from each major political party.

Martin Ferguson, a former federal Labor resources minister now chairs an advisory board for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association; Mark Vaille, former federal leader of the National Party is now on the board of Whitehaven coal; Stephen Galilee, the current chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council, the state’s coalmining industry lobby group was until 2011 the chief of staff of newly appointed NSW Premier Mr, Mike Baird. Have you heard enough? Well the list goes on endlessly.

The unravelling stories in ICAC in NSW are the tip of an ice berg that consists of both unlawful corruption and less than unlawful corruption. Unlawful corruption is where there is real money changing hands for influence, the classic form of ‘brown paper bag’ corruption, but the insidious and less visible form of corruption is the ‘business as usual model’ in which the mining industry is embedded in political parties and governments and influence is simply assumed. In the recent federal budget for example the mining industry was a major beneficiary of an otherwise austere budget.

And let’s quickly turn to the issue of oppression. Recently it was revealed that mining companies involved in Leard’s state forest conflict used undercover military spies against community groups. Former minister Martin Ferguson openly surled ASIO onto anti-coal activists when he was Resources Minister labelling them a threat to ‘energy security’. Such unwarranted surveillance is a symptom of industry self-entitlement and paranoia.

The truth is that the fossil fuel industry is facing its own historic end and the massive attempts at dissembling of climate change science by the industry is yet another example of how the industry meddles in public opinion on a grand scale.

Rudd’s mining tax was attacked by the mining industry as ‘sovereign risk’. That is the mining industry word for democracy. Unsurprisingly, that prime minister was quickly removed and replaced with one that watered down the legislation and now it is being removed entirely along with the carbon tax.

We are living in a time of crisis in our democracy, it is the duty of Australians who care about our land, our water and our future to stand up and boldly and proudly declare ourselves as the sovereign risk the industry fears, in other words, the people united. It is a very big and uneven battleground.


About the author

Aidan's campaign work began with the Wet Tropics campaign in 1984 and continued through his role as a coordinator of the North East Forest Alliance from 1991 to 2003. He is currently involved in the campaign against CSG mining in Northern NSW, lectures at Southern Cross University and runs activist training workshops. Aidan is the author of The Activists Handbook: A Step By Step Guide to Participatory Democracy.

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
e-mail icon
Subscribe to mining