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Dutton’s nuclear thuggery

By Jim Green - posted Monday, 24 June 2024

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull famously described Coalition leader Peter Dutton as a thug'. That description appears particularly apt in Dutton’s nuclear power plans.

The Coalition’s nuclear project is opposed by state Labor governments in each of the five states being targeted. Victoria, NSW and Queensland have lawsbanning nuclear power. The Labor governments in SA and WA may follow suit if they think state legislation will give them some legal protection, or political advantage, or both.

Could a Dutton Coalition government override state laws banning nuclear power? Anne Twomey, a Sydney University Professor Emerita with lengthy experience teaching and practising in constitutional law, arguesthat states probably could not prevent the Commonwealth establishing a nuclear power plant, nor could they prevent necessary associated operations such as transmission lines and nuclear waste transport.


Would a Dutton Coalition government attempt to override state opposition to nuclear power plants? Almost certainly it would. Nationals leader David Littleproud saidin March that “if the Australian people vote for us that’s a fair indication to premiers that they should get out of the way”.

Coalition and Labor federal governments have pursued attempts to impose a national nuclear waste dump in SA and the NT despite state/territory lawsbanning such facilities. Those attempts have all failed, largely due to community opposition led by affected Aboriginal Traditional Owners.

Legal challenges helped stopthree of the four proposed nuclear dump sites — Woomera (SA) under the Howard government, Muckaty (NT) under the Abbott government, and Kimba (SA) under the Morrison and Albanese governments. But the legal difficulties could have been overcome if the government of the day was ruthless enough and wasn’t suffering too much political pain because of its racist, undemocratic thuggery.

No doubt a Dutton Coalition government would ignore the wishes of Traditional Owners and Native Title holders opposedto the construction of a nuclear reactor on their country. They would be stripped of their land rights and heritage protections, as has been the case with nuclear waste dump proposals.

Compulsory acquisition

What about the companies who own the sites being targeted by the Coalition for nuclear power plants, and who have their own multi-billion dollar plans to develop their own clean energy industrial hubs based around renewables. According to energy minister Chris Bowen, six of the owners of the seven targeted sites have ruled out agreeing to nuclear power reactors on their land.


Dutton hasn’t bothered to consult these companies, but he has sought legal advice. This is what he said: “We will work with the companies, the owners of the sites. If we find a situation where we apply a national interest test and we require that site to be part of the national grid, then the legal advice that we have is that the Commonwealth has ample power to compulsorily acquire that with ample compensation.”

The Coalition also hasn’t bothered to consult communities around the sites targeted for nuclear reactors. And, like state governments and the owners of the targeted sites, opposition from local communities will be overridden.

Nationals deputy leader Perin Davey made the mistake of saying that the Coalition would not impose nuclear power plants on communities that were adamantly opposed.

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About the Author

Dr Jim Green is the editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter and the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

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