An open response to questions

14 March 2017

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science crest

An open response to questions raised by Ms Ashton at a meeting in Quorn on 10 February 2017

Claim 1 - The department did not inform the community about the amounts and types of waste that will be held at the facility, and specifically there was no mention of the interim storage of intermediate level waste prior to the community survey undertaken at the end of the 120 day consultation process.

This claim is demonstrably untrue.

From the outset of this process the department has been abundantly clear that, while a final decision has yet to be taken, it is the government’s preferred solution to co locate intermediate level waste at the future facility.

Two ‘town hall’ style meetings held in Quorn and Hawker in mid-February 2016 displayed a dedicated slide entitled ‘Design and Operation’. This slide stated that the purpose of the facility was for the permanent disposal of low level waste and interim storage of intermediate level waste.

Further, an information pack was provided to the community during these events which clearly stated that the government ‘is currently seeking a willing community to host… low and intermediate radioactive waste’. This pack, which is available on our website (wwww.radioactivewaste.gov.au, direct page link: http://bit.ly/2mcIVVK) also explains the current volumes in our low and intermediate level waste inventory, and expected production of both low and intermediate level waste in Australia into the future, and why a facility is needed.

Minister Frydenberg also sent correspondence to all residences in the community in February 2016 which stated ‘the Australian Government is seeking to establish [a facility] to hold and safely manage Australia’s low and intermediate waste holdings’. We have enclosed the Minister’s cover letter for your information. I also note that during a discussion in the second half of 2016 with you, Mr Greg Bannon (a member of the Flinders Local Action Group) and others, Mr Bannon confirmed that the community was told about the proposed interim storage of intermediate level waste.

Claim 2 - No information was provided to the general community prior to the survey conducted by ORIMA Research in early 2016.

This claim is also demonstrably untrue.

Between 13 November 2015 and 11 March 2016 the department conducted a 120 day community consultation period, 60 days longer than the minimum period required under the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012. During the consultation period the department held over twenty stakeholder meetings with groups including neighbours, the Indigenous community, the Flinders Ranges Council and the Outback Communities Authority and residents of Hawker and Quorn. In December 2015, the Department hosted drop-in information centres in both towns and held two town meetings in February 2016 with around 80 attendees in Hawker and 120 attendees in Quorn. Subject matter experts were also made available to residents.

As noted in my response to the previous claim, in February 2016 the department sent the information pack and a covering letter from Minister Frydenberg to all households in the Hawker and Quorn communities. Again, all of this information was available on our website throughout the consultation period.

The ORIMA Research Community Sentiment Survey was conducted towards the end of the 120 day period in order to ensure the surveyed population had knowledge of the project. The Department understands you have previously received a copy of the complete survey results. The initial pilot survey for all communities found that only 5 per cent of respondents considered it was difficult to answer the survey ‘given their knowledge levels about the issues’. In the main survey, 1,748 respondents across all communities refused to participate for various reasons. Only 1.5 per cent of these respondents gave ‘don’t know about topic/don’t understand it’ as a reason for their refusal.
 

Claim 3 - The department agrees with your assertion that the ORIMA survey was flawed.

The department stands by the results of the survey and the methodology on which it was based.

The survey was conducted at arm’s length from the department by an independent and well respected professional research specialist (ORIMA Research Pty Ltd) with demonstrated expertise in the field of community surveys. The survey methodology and questionnaire was also reviewed by the department’s expert Independent Advisory Panel. While we agree that the survey, like all surveys, had inherent limitations, we believe that in the circumstances, the survey methodology was an appropriate, efficient and economic means to gauge the general community willingness to proceed in the process at the time.

The government has stated that another measure of community sentiment will be conducted at the conclusion of the current phase of activity. We will engage with the community, including the Barndioota Consultative Committee (BCC) to seek input into this additional enquiry.

Claim 4 - The decision of the government to organise for the French delegation to visit the community in February 2017 was ‘a huge waste of money’.

The department does not consider that the visit of this delegation was a waste of money. The French experience is particularly credible due to the number of years for which they have managed radioactive waste facilities, the multiple facilities managed and the fact that they are established in a nationally and internationally significant region of France with adjacent industries including primary produce and tourism.

The visit was requested by members of the Hawker/Quorn community and raised at the first meeting of the BCC where there were no objections to the proposal. The delegation was well received by most residents to whom we have spoken.

The visit provided community members an opportunity to learn about a community that has undergone a similar process as that proposed for your community. Many of the concerns raised during the department’s consultation (such as impact on property prices and tourism reputation) were specifically addressed by the delegation. Of course community members are under no obligation to take the delegation’s views on board, however the Department believes the parallels between the two communities made the trip extremely worthwhile.