House debates

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Amendment Bill 2006

Second Reading

11:20 am

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) Share this | Hansard source

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Amendment Bill 2006 makes important changes to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act to allow ANSTO to fulfil one of its statutory functions—namely, the provision of services in connection with the conditioning and management of radioactive materials and radioactive waste. I thank the speakers for their contribution to this debate and I acknowledge the fact that the opposition is supporting this bill. However, I will take this opportunity to clarify some of the more misleading comments that have been made, as evidenced by the opportunistic and blatantly false assertions contained in the proposed amendments.

The Australian government has no intention of establishing a long-term storage facility at Lucas Heights for non-ANSTO waste. In July 2005, the government made clear its intentions in relation to radioactive waste management when three potential sites in the Northern Territory were nominated for the Commonwealth radioactive waste management facility. Any Australian government waste conditioned at Lucas Heights will be subsequently transferred to the facility in the Northern Territory.

Concerns were raised regarding the impact on the local community of managing additional waste at Lucas Heights. The volume of radioactive waste held by other Australian government agencies—excluding CSIRO soil currently at Woomera, which is unlikely to require conditioning at Lucas Heights—is less than 25 per cent of the ANSTO waste already held at Lucas Heights. Compared with the average activity levels of all radioactive materials managed at Lucas Heights, the activity of other government agencies’ waste is dwarfed of the order of 14,000 times. I can put it another way: the activity of other agencies’ waste is about seven-thousandths of one per cent of radioactive materials at the Lucas Heights site.

A point worth noting about transporting other agencies’ waste to Lucas Heights is that ANSTO safely and securely transports on a daily basis radioisotopes from Lucas Heights to hospitals and medical facilities. These daily shipments have the order of twice the total radioactivity of all other agencies’ existing waste inventory combined.

The government remains fully committed to establishing a radioactive waste management facility in the Northern Territory, as evidenced by the introduction and subsequent passage through this parliament of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005. Because of the very real concerns about politically motivated obstruction of the Commonwealth’s activities and the need to progress this important project, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 will not apply to the site investigation phase of the project. Let us be clear about this: the three sites in the Northern Territory are existing Commonwealth properties that have been owned for 20 or 30 years with no environmental or heritage issues previously being raised. Two of the sites already have extensive Defence infrastructure.

The claims of the opposition that the Australian government would seek to circumvent proper Commonwealth regulatory scrutiny are simply nonsense. The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act explicitly provides that the government must comply with processes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987.

This government’s definitive steps towards establishing radioactive waste management facilities stand in contrast to the opportunistic comments made by the Leader of the Opposition during his recent visit to the Northern Territory. In promising to repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, the Leader of the Opposition neglected to address a most important issue: what would a Labor government do with Australia’s radioactive waste? Where would it intend to store ANSTO’s spent fuel reprocessing waste if a facility were not established in a timely manner? This highlights Labor’s total hypocrisy on this issue. Of the opposition speakers who have sought by virtue of their support of this amendment to condemn the government for the legislation enabling the Commonwealth to use existing Commonwealth land for radioactive waste management, not one has offered any alternative proposal. But then the opposition turns around and calls for a consensus approach to siting waste facilities.

We have seen how shallow the opposition’s commitment to a consensus approach is. When the member for Solomon introduced amendments to the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Bill allowing nominations of volunteer sites, the member for Jagajaga stood up in this House and said:

... the member for Solomon’s amendment is, frankly, completely meaningless.

The member for Lingiari said:

It has no impact and is just a cute political stunt ...

The opposition says it wants a consensus approach but, when given the opportunity to support exactly such an approach, all it could do was seek to denigrate the member for Solomon. Quite frankly, Labor has offered nothing in this debate to suggest an alternative approach to the provisions of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act.

This bill will allow ANSTO to have some involvement in the Commonwealth radioactive waste management facility. ANSTO is the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. It has the practical, day-to-day experience in managing and handling radioactive materials and waste. It has both the infrastructure and the qualified personnel capable of managing radioactive waste. If ANSTO is not permitted to condition and package waste destined for the Commonwealth radioactive waste management facility, we will be required to duplicate at another location the existing waste management facilities at Lucas Heights.

These government amendments have another important purpose. The existing ANSTO Act unnecessarily restricts the functions of ANSTO by requiring a regulation to be made each and every time ANSTO is requested to provide waste management services. While I sincerely hope that a radiological incident never occurs in Australia, if it were to, I doubt that the responding emergency services would find it expedient to have to contact the Governor-General to find out if the Governor-General is willing to allow ANSTO to assist. Passage of this bill will allow ANSTO to provide its expertise to law enforcement and emergency service organisations in the unfortunate event that such assistance is ever required.

In conclusion, protection of the health and safety of people and the environment should be a higher priority for the opposition than scaremongering about the sensible, safe and rational approach taken by the government to the management of radioactive materials and waste in this country. I commend the bill to the House.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Ms Macklin’s amendment) stand part of the question.


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