Patrick has Kimba nuclear question

NUCLEAR QUESTION: Independent Senator Rex Patrick says the state government should make its position known relating to the Kimba nuclear waste site. Photo: Supplied
NUCLEAR QUESTION: Independent Senator Rex Patrick says the state government should make its position known relating to the Kimba nuclear waste site. Photo: Supplied

The state government has remained silent on its stance relating to the planned Kimba nuclear waste site and South Australian Independent Senator Rex Patrick has called on the government to make known its position on the proposal.

The federal government has talked with the Kimba community about creating the site near the town with a majority of residents favouring the facility.

Senator Patrick said he had lodged a freedom-of-information (FOI) request seeking access to correspondence from the time of the last state election in 2018 to today and was "surprised" there had been only a few pieces of correspondence between Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan and the federal government.

"I was very interested as there was a lot taking place between the federal government and the community in Kimba, and I was interested in what the state government has been doing through the process," he said.

"The Liberal Party had a position before going into government and I wanted to see what they had to say. I found there has been almost no traffic.

"The state has a role to play ... and I was surprised there was only one letter to the Premier and a letter from former federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan and response. That is all we have seen. That is the only part the state government has had to play."

While acknowledging it was a federal facility and issue, Senator Patrick said the state government should be involved by way of communication with federal leaders and community engagement.

"While I respect it is a national facility, there is no question the state government has skin in the game and I question why there is silence publicly," he said.

"They should come out and support or oppose it so their position is known.

"They do need to be engaging the community as well to make sure all state-related issues that will flow from the facility are addressed."

He said parts of the correspondence included redactions relating to the proposed site.

In a letter from Mr van Holst Pellekaan to Senator Patrick, which has been obtained by the Whyalla News, Mr van Holst Pellekaan said "the FOI Act provides that an agency may refuse access to a document if it is an exempt document" and that there was cause to provide "partial access" to three documents.

The letter outlines why parts should be redacted, including that a document can be exempt if "it contains information from an intergovernmental communication to the Government of South Australia", while he also pointed to how the Act notes a document could be exempt if it "would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to relations between the Commonwealth and a State".

Senator Patrick said Mr van Holst Pellekaan made a "fundamental error" in thinking the correspondence was exempt under federal law as he was "not entitled to make that decision".

He said he would take the matter to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) to "uncover what is underneath this".

"There should be transparency about what has been communicated between the government of South Australia and the federal government," he said.

"The Minister has made a decision. He relies on the fact he thinks it would be exempt under federal law and he is not entitled to make that decision. You can't say 'I think it is exempt', you have to say 'I think it is exempt because it would harm release in a particular way...'."

Mr Patrick said the state FOI Act granted people and parliamentarians a positive right to documents and was only subject to restrictions consistent with the public interest and preservation of personal privacy.

He said the Act burdened the agency with establishing their case if they wanted to restrict access.

"Both Commonwealth and state constitutions establish a democracy underpinned by a responsible system of government. Democracy and responsible government both require participation by people and, just because this is communication between the state and federal government, it doesn't mean it automatically gets to be confidential. The Minister does not meet his burden by simply stating that the communications are confidential," he said.

"This is now a fight between myself and Mr van Holst Pellekaan. This is Senator against Minister in SACAT. The Minister needs to be transparent with me, but more important with the people of SA.

"Governments work for the people, everything they do is paid for by the people. The people have a right to know what it is they are up to and how they are going about what they are up to."

Mr van Holst Pellekaan did not respond to questions for this article.