Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Maralinga Nuclear Test Site Reclaimed After Half A Century

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Martin Ferguson MP, Minister for Resources and Energy

The Australian Government has formally handed Maralinga back to its traditional Aboriginal owners, 58 years after the British Nuclear Tests Program made parts of it uninhabitable.

Today’s handback ceremony in Maralinga Village in South Australia was attended by the Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson AM, and the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin.

Mr Ferguson paid tribute to all those who contributed to the clean-up.

‘Due to the scale of the task, nine of my predecessors have been involved in dealing with the legacy of nuclear testing at Maralinga,’ he said. ‘On behalf of all those who brought us closer to this day, it’s a great pleasure to finally hand these lands back to the Maralinga Tjarutja community.

‘Today is about closing the most recent, and least welcome, chapter of Maralinga’s history. Although the story of Maralinga as a test site goes back to the 1950s, it covers just a tiny part of the long association between this land and its people.

‘Unity of purpose has characterised the clean-up and handback of these lands – across political divides, between levels of government and within the community. As the attitudes of political leaders changed over the years, so has our understanding of the importance of the land to indigenous people.’

The Government will continue to monitor the site to assess the ongoing effectiveness of the rehabilitation work and, if necessary, taking remedial action.

Under the Maralinga Maintenance Deed, the Government is providing $6 million to MT for improvement and maintenance of infrastructure at Maralinga Village to help bring about its use for community purposes.

Ms Macklin said the final handback of the Maralinga lands was a time to reflect on past decisions and policies which had all but destroyed the traditional ways of life and the loss and the grief that this had brought.

‘But it also celebrates the strength and determination of the Maralinga Tjarutja people to reclaim their land and their strong links to country, and to build a future where their children can thrive and prosper, through improved education, health and employment opportunities,’ Ms Macklin said.

In response to the recommendations of the 1985 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, the Hawke Government agreed to clean up the land for return to its traditional owners. The Maralinga Rehabilitation Project was successfully undertaken between 1995 and 2000.

Most of the 3,100 square kilometre site is now suitable for unrestricted access by traditional owners. The remaining 412 square kilometres are deemed safe for casual access such as hunting.