House debates

Thursday, 11 June 2020


National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:02 am

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the following amendment:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) affirms the need to determine a site for the storage of radioactive waste, particularly in light of Australia's international treaty obligations;

(2) acknowledges that nuclear medicine is fundamental to our world-class health care system; and

(3) supports a parliamentary committee inquiry into relevant matters, such as:

(a) concerns raised by and the involvement of interested parties, including traditional owners;

(b) costs, funding arrangements, and employment levels associated with the facility;

(c) potential impacts on affected communities; and

(d) the adequacy of the Community Investment Fund and related compensation".

The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 specifies the need and location for a storage facility for radioactive waste. It is a fact of contemporary life and our modern healthcare system that nuclear medicine is used, often crucially, to help many, many of our fellow Australians. Australians depend upon nuclear technology for their medicines. It is used in the diagnosis of heart disease, skeletal injuries and a range of cancers. On average, two in three Australians will benefit from nuclear medicine in their lifetime. In fact, ANSTO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, can deliver over 10,000 patient doses of nuclear medicines each an every week.

But, of course, with these benefits comes the responsibility to manage our waste. There are two types of waste that would be stored at the proposed facility. One is low-level waste that consists mainly of disused surgical gloves, masks and gowns. The other type of waste that will be stored is intermediate-level waste, typically by-products of nuclear medicine production as well as spent fuel rods from the ANSTO OPAL reactor.

Australia's radioactive waste is currently stored in more than 100 sites across the country, including hospitals and warehouses and, of course, the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights. Whilst I think there is diligence and attention to that storage, it's not the case that that storage could be classified as secure or purpose-built. Radioactive waste is predominantly the by-product of nuclear medicine, and if we are to continue to support nuclear medicine then we must have a dedicated storage facility. There are also international conventions that we are bound by that state that countries which produce nuclear waste also have an obligation to store it. As one of the top three producers of uranium in the world, we also have a moral obligation to store our own locally produced waste.

Professor Andrew Stuchbery, head of the Department of Nuclear Physics at the Australian National University, has expressed support for nuclear medicine and a storage facility. He said: 'Radioisotopes are widely used in nuclear medicine procedures for imaging and diagnosis. This waste is sent offshore for processing, but the residual smaller volume of intermediate-level waste must come back to Australia under international obligations and agreements. Thus, Australia must find a long-term solution for storing this nuclear waste. My considered opinion is that the benefits of nuclear medicine greatly outweigh the costs of the waste management, for which safe technologies do exist.' That's the end of that important contribution by Professor Stuchbery.

It is completely understandable that there is apprehension around the ultimate site of a nuclear waste storage facility, particularly in any nominated community. However, that is why information, detailed questioning and a clear consultation are so very important in making this significant decision. It is worth understanding the international precedents for the storage of nuclear waste. Comparable countries—France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States—all have centralised purpose-built waste facilities. Farming regions like Champagne in France, the Lakes District in the United Kingdom and El Cabril in Spain, and areas in the United States like Utah and Washington state, also have such facilities.

In Australia, the main repository is, of course, at Lucas Heights. The Lucas Heights facility has limited storage capacity and is licensed by the independent nuclear safety regulator, ARPANSA, to store waste only on a temporary basis. That is on the condition that a plan is developed by 30 June this year for a permanent disposal solution. Lucas Heights produces about 85 per cent of our nuclear waste, and the department has said:

The matter is pressing. Our current store facilities will be full sometime in the next decade, maybe a bit sooner

That was said last year. It's important to note that ARPANSA, the regulator, said in their submission to the Senate inquiry that the requirement for ANSTO to provide future plans for storage and disposal as part of their licence conditions is not necessarily a requirement to relocate waste currently held at Lucas Heights. We do need, I think, clarity on those somewhat contrary contributions by the department and by ARPANSA.

Australia has been looking for a place to store this waste for more than 20 years, and it's time Australia had a single purpose-built facility. But, if we are to establish a national waste facility for radioactive waste, we should make sure we do it once and we do it right. While it's proposed that low-level waste will be disposed of at the new facility, what will happen to the intermediate-level waste is less clear. The proposal from the government is that intermediate-level waste will be moved from Lucas Heights and stored temporarily at the Kimba site until another site is established to permanently dispose of this waste. This will mean double handling of this waste at some stage further down the track. It won't be a problem for anyone in this place today, perhaps, but it will be for those who follow in our footsteps.

We all know this has been a vexed issue for this nation for many years. Much work has been done on progressing the establishment of a radioactive waste facility at different sites across the country, only to be scrapped for various reasons. If we are to finally settle the matter, we need to ensure that this site is the site that satisfies the criteria better than anywhere else.

The government claims that the site, Napandee, near Kimba, was chosen due to geological and environmental suitability as well as stronger community support than the alternative site, namely Hawker. Napandee, a property 20 kilometres west of Kimba, was nominated voluntarily, and a community ballot was held based on the municipal boundaries. As part of the ballot process, it was established that native title holders were not residents in the local government area and therefore not eligible to cast a vote in that particular ballot. It's worth noting also that 36 nonresidents were able to vote as they have property interests that are rateable in the Kimba local government area.

The Kimba ballot was unsuccessfully challenged by the traditional owners, the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation. They argued that the council contravened the Racial Discrimination Act by excluding them from the ballot. This decision was challenged, and the appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court was, I'm advised, unsuccessful. A separate ballot of traditional owners was run by the Barngarla corporation through a private company to cover Barngarla nation. Of 209 eligible voters, 83 voted against the facility, and none voted in favour. While the vote was unanimous, 126 eligible voters did not return their ballot papers in that privately held ballot.

I want to be clear with these numbers because I have seen some fairly creative accounting gymnastics used to further the arguments of both proponents and opponents of this site. I think we also need to be clear that there is no native title over this site, because it has been put to me there is, and I have confirmed there is not. However, it is also true to say there are parcels of land with native title neighbouring the site. I am advised that, while there are no Barngarla people currently living within the Kimba township, the surrounding area is used for camping and hunting by Barngarla people who live in places such as Whyalla and Port Augusta.

While we support the need for a storage site—indeed, former Labor governments, as much as this one, have been very much focused on the need for that—we note significant concerns have been raised, including from the traditional owners, as to whether the decision excluded the traditional owners from a ballot process. I think that might come down to, in part, the electorate. What boundaries should be drafted? Who should be able to vote in this process? Of course, the government has asserted that the municipal boundaries were proper and appropriate, and there's an argument for that, and, of course, there are competing arguments that First Nations people, beyond the municipal boundaries, should have had a greater say.

Some questions still need to be asked and answered, and that is why we recommended a Senate committee inquiry be established to inquire into a number of issues, including, first and foremost, the threshold issue: why is this legislation needed? The minister currently has the power to nominate a site. In fact, the previous, Labor government enacted legislation to empower the minister to nominate a site. It is therefore incumbent on the government to explain why they want to legislate the precise location rather than use the provisions pursuant to sections 14 and 18 of the existing legislation. So the minister does have a power; the minister is choosing not to use that power but instead to have the parliament make a decision. That was not the approach that was being considered by the previous Labor government. That is why we legislated to empower the minister, and the government is choosing a different path. We really haven't been given an explanation as to the need for that to happen, given the minister's currently existing power. That would be something we could explore in the committee inquiry.

Further, why didn't the government put forward a plan to establish a radioactive waste one-stop shop—that is, disposal of low-level waste as well as a permanent facility for intermediate-level waste? What constitutes broad support of the community? I think we need to flesh that out and consider it through this inquiry. The previous minister, Senator Canavan, assured stakeholders that broad community support would be the key criterion for choosing a site, and I think the government would argue that they have completed that guarantee, but there are others who challenge the proposition, and I think it's worthy of examination. What is the cost of the proposed facility and how it will be paid for? The explanatory memorandum makes references to user fees for storage and the establishment of the site. However, the financial impact of the fees, even if revenue-neutral, is not detailed and will be explored by the Senate committee.

The committee will also need to examine the unknown cost of purchasing, leasing, the land on which the site will be located. As part of the bill, there is a community development package associated with this facility, worth up to $31 million. The sufficiency of the government investment fund and related compensation could also be further analysed by the committee. The package as it currently stands includes $20 million paid out of money appropriated by the parliament through another act, appropriations legislation, in long-term support for the region. There are $8 million in grants for four years to strengthen the economic and skills base within the region and $3 million to support delivery of an Aboriginal economic heritage participation plan. Those are very good propositions, certainly in terms of providing greater support for the region, and, if this site were to be determined, Labor supports that approach in principle. But the questions are: is it sufficient? Is there more that can be done? Has there been sufficient engagement with the Indigenous communities? Has there been sufficient engagement with the farming communities of this region? I think those sorts of propositions can be tested, but in principle we support, of course, extra resources going into this region under this process. Again, that can be examined.

How many jobs will be created, both in the construction phase and ongoing? We understand that the Kimba area has been facing economic challenges of late, with people selling up due to the drought and leaving the area to find work. The jobs created during the construction and ongoing running of the facility will provide some incentive for those people to stay in their community. It has been claimed that the facility would provide 45 jobs. We would like to explore this further, with a focus on training opportunities for local people and commitments to outcomes for local Aboriginal communities. So, even if we have problems with the threshold question as to whether we could support the legislation, these are the provisions that should also be examined by a Senate inquiry, and that's what we would be intending to see happen.

What other sites have been suggested and why were they not suitable? For many years, but also most recently, people have suggested the site could be located somewhere in the Woomera area. I understand that, when asked about Woomera, the government say that the 2016 Defence white paper has forecast investment and additional activity as a barrier for locating the facility there. Are there any other reasons why it couldn't be located in what is really non-productive land, rather than using the sparse, arable land there is in South Australia? It's fair to say we'd like to examine more fully why Woomera is not an ideal location. It is a very large area: 122,000 square kilometres. This is a very small parcel of land by comparison. What are the impediments? Invoking national security or national defence without really any explanation is not sufficient. It's not adequate. We need to have a greater understanding of the government's concerns there. They may well be entirely legitimate but they haven't been fully explained, and therefore they should be fully explained.

What assurances can be given to the workers that will transport current and future waste, to people who live along the route where the waste will travel and to Kimba residents that this waste does not pose a risk to them? We understand that there are already existing risks; I think this is really important to note. I've said that back to stakeholders. For example—I think we need to be very upfront here—as I'm advised, there are roughly two million people living within a 20-kilometre radius of the Lucas Heights facility in Sydney compared with 100 people living within a 20-kilometre radius of the Kimba site. I think that's a significant issue.

Obviously there are transport and logistical issues right now. I accept that we should examine what would be the transport and logistical issues and challenges that might be faced by government and government agencies in dealing with this site, but we need to have that in the context of a comparison with existing risks, however low they may be. I think that's only reasonable. It's something that we should flesh out. It's not like doing nothing means there is no risk. In fact, we've already heard that we need to, at some point, find a permanent site. We don't have a permanent, purpose-built facility. It's not ideal to have it, I would think, in the largest city, the most populous city, in Australia—at least for a while. I think Melbourne is about to eclipse Sydney in a few years, but that's another story.

To put things into context is therefore really important. While the transport of low-level waste is very low risk, those risks increase when transporting intermediate-level waste. The community must be assured that nuclear substances and waste are handled safely and with care, and that's something we can examine. I'm sure the government, the department and others have been thinking about that.

How will this affect the broader Eyre Peninsula community, particularly primary producers? There are concerns. There have been concerns raised from primary producers across the Eyre Peninsula that their reputation for providing clean, green crops may be impacted by having the waste facility on that peninsula. Because there's no domestic market and all grain is exported, the farmers have expressed concerns about international perceptions and brand damage as a result of producing grain in this vicinity.

As I said earlier in this contribution, I'm advised that there are similar facilities, and even purpose-built facilities, in regions of other countries which produce very important products—like champagne, for example. So it may well be that that question can be answered. But the farmers who did not support this—and, of course, over a third of the vote even in the municipality did not support the location of this site—have every right to have their concerns aired and have, hopefully, adequate answers to the concerns that they may have about any potential risks to their business, their brand or their products. I think that's something worthy of examination. And that's why we wanted to have this examination prior to bringing the bill on. We did advise the government that we would rather have that examination so we could be fully informed, as an opposition, to make an informed decision.

We need to seek clarity on the long-term plan for storage and disposal of nuclear waste, particularly intermediate-level waste, in this country. How long is intermediate-level waste going to be stored in what's called a temporary facility, and does the government intend to locate the permanent storage and disposal facility at Kimba or will we have to go through this process again?

That is an important question. The government may not have a complete answer to that. I'm not suggesting this proposal hasn't got merit, but we need to know the thinking beyond this given that this is not the end of this matter. It would be interesting to see if the government has any further plans beyond this proposition.

If we are to continue to support nuclear medicine we must have a dedicated storage facility. We all agree upon that; it would appear that most if not all of us agree on that. Equally, support for this facility does not extend to support for accepting international waste or for a local nuclear power industry. There are concerns among some. I am not saying these are concerns that have been substantiated through evidence, but people do raise concerns that there may be other intentions that are not declared about providing a facility for a local nuclear power industry. That is something the government can answer in a Senate committee process, which may allay concerns which have been raised in relation to this.

When we talk about nuclear matters, it can be somewhat concerning. We need to be as clear as we possibly can in terms of the intentions—what we're seeking to do and what we are not seeking to do—in relation to these matters. We know we need to store this waste; we just need to make sure it is in the most appropriate spot, because it will most likely be there for a very long time. There are many questions still to be answered. The Senate committee is best placed to ask these questions, so that's where we'd like to have those answers provided. As I said earlier, I advised the government that we will not be supporting this bill until these questions have been sufficiently dealt with. Therefore, as it stands, we will not be supporting this bill.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Gorton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

10:27 am

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The shadow minister's contribution today indicates why the Labor Party does not have the capacity, let alone the readiness, to govern in this country. This issue has been explored for many, many years through successive governments, including Labor governments. Yet today we do not know what Labor actually thinks. I could not understand the shadow minister's contribution. Are they for it or are they against it? It's one thing to stand in this chamber, as he did, and beat his chest claiming that a former Labor government empowered the minister to make a decision to move on. But Labor in opposition doesn't want a decision to be made. They want to kick the can down the road back into the long grass—again, their complete incapacity to make decisions.

I believe that many of us in this chamber will benefit from nuclear medicine at some point in our lives. Whether it's an X-ray, a health screening or a diagnostic test for ourselves or for our loved ones, we should all be truly grateful for the advances made in nuclear medicine. Nuclear medicine uses radiation to provide information about the functioning of a person's specific organs or to treat disease. In most cases the information is used by doctors to make a quick diagnosis of a patient's illness. In some cases radiation can be used to treat diseased organs or tumours. According to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, known as ANSTO, one in two Australians will have some engagement with nuclear energy in their lifetime, thanks to the radioisotopes produced at Lucas Heights, a nuclear research reactor which has operated in Sydney for over 60 years. Ten thousand patient doses of ANSTO nuclear medicine are delivered every week across Australia and New Zealand alone, particularly for cancer detection and treatment.

Worldwide, over 10,000 hospitals use radioisotopes in medicine, and about 90 per cent of the procedures are for diagnosis. TerraPower, the company started by Bill Gates to design a new generation of reactors, is also engaged in seeking to develop radioisotope generators that will be able to extract potentially life-saving material from radioactive elements that could lead to what is called alpha therapy, involving much better targeting of cancer cells with less damage to healthy cells.

With advances in health care, the demand worldwide for radioisotopes is increasing and will no doubt continue to grow. ANSTO has the capacity to supply 35 per cent of the global demand for molybdenum-99, which is the precursor of the world's most widely used diagnostic imaging agent. ANSTO's facilities conduct research for other medical and industrial purposes, and their reactor is also used for the irradiation of silicon ingots for the manufacture of electronic semiconductor devices.

Beyond medicines, nuclear technology has applications for nutrition, agriculture and disease control. It is important around the world for making foods safe via irradiation, which kills disease-carrying bacteria and can significantly reduce the estimated 25 to 30 per cent of global food production that's currently wasted through spoilage.

In agriculture, nuclear technology is playing an increasingly important role in pest control by sterilising insects which are then released back into the environment. It uses other functionality to trace fertilisers for their use and effectiveness, and even to detect leaks in water and storage systems. Nuclear technology can also be used to analyse the pollutants in water and measure water quality. It is a technology which I believe Australia should embrace proudly.

However, the term 'nuclear' so often, unfortunately, breeds fear and concern in some areas of the community. Australians have tended to have a scepticism about and an opposition to many aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, evident over many decades. While that is certainly not unique, it is pretty rare among First World countries that, for the most part, have embraced many, if not all, parts of the nuclear cycle. Despite this historic scepticism, Australia plays a very significant role in supplying uranium right around the world, to Europe, to Asia and to the United States especially. We have the world's largest reserves of uranium and we are currently the world's third-largest supplier.

We also have great depth in our legislative and institutional capability in this area. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998, for example, is a comprehensive piece of legislation. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 is also vitally important because it unequivocally rejects any expansion of nuclear weaponry beyond those countries which already have them. As I've already mentioned, ANSTO, which operates the Lucas Heights reactor, is a tremendous research group with deep knowledge of every aspect of the nuclear cycle. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office are other important parts of what is an ongoing and very successful, well-informed effort by successive Australian governments to remain very closely plugged in to developments across the cycle as it evolves.

The long route to this bill exemplifies in some key ways the scale of the challenge we have in dealing with many aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle in this country, and, I believe, helps point the way to a reasoned and rational discussion on such matters. Australian governments, coalition and Labor, have been seeking to establish a storage facility for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste in our country for decades. There has been a lot of resistance; there's no doubt. This bill finally identifies Napandee as a specific site for that facility, with strong majority support from the local community in Kimba on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

The Napandee site was identified following four years of community consultation and technical assessments across the three short-listed sites. It was chosen from those sites voluntarily nominated by landowners, and it was assessed consistent with the current legal framework. The government is satisfied that the Napandee site will safely and securely manage radioactive waste and that the local community supports the project and the economic benefits it will bring. This bill is part of that commitment to be well informed and to provide detailed knowledge and much consultation about what is intended at the site in Kimba. It builds on vast experience and efforts to assure the Australian public that we can manage nuclear waste while keeping them absolutely safe.

Australia has decades of experience in managing low- and intermediate-level waste, which is what is planned for this site. In actual fact, the risks are very low—extremely low. What we mean by low-level radioactive waste is things like paper, gloves, cloths and filters that contain low levels of radioactivity and generally require minimal shielding during handling, transport and storage. Of the radioactive waste produced by ANSTO, 92 per cent is this type of low-level waste. I have visited the facility and inspected their waste storage areas. The Napandee site will also deal with some intermediate-level waste. Intermediate-level waste is largely associated with the by-products of nuclear medicine. It emits higher levels of radiation and requires additional shielding during handling, transport and storage.

The waste from these processes is currently spread right across the country, in more than 100 storage facilities across Australia. Plans to store this waste in a national facility will mean the waste will be consolidated into a single, safe, purpose-built radioactive waste facility which is consistent with Australian government policy and also with international best practice.

To store and low- and intermediate-level waste you need to get some things well sorted, no doubt. You need a geologically stable area. Vast areas of our ancient island continent are very stable, including the area that's been chosen for this above-ground facility. You need means of safely transporting waste, and we have those too. It is important to note that around 10,000 doses of nuclear medicine are safely transported in approved packages on public roads and commercial flights to around 250 hospitals and nuclear-medicine clinics in Australia and the region every single week. In fact, each week ANSTO safely transports 2,000 packages containing radioactive materials across Australia. Radioactive material has been safely transported for around 60 years, and there has never been an accident resulting in a significant impact on the health and safety of people or the environment. The in-built safety features of the packages, regulatory controls and emergency response procedures have always worked to ensure safety, and I have absolute confidence that this will continue. It's all pretty routine, quite frankly, given the significant quantities of low- and intermediate-level waste created and safely dealt with around the world over the past decades.

Internationally, large radioactive waste facilities operate in Europe, Russia and the USA, including in well-known, high-value agricultural and World Heritage tourism regions. For example, the Lake District in northern England is home to the UK's largest and most-visited national park, awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2017. The UK low-level waste repository is also there. This facility receives thousands of visitors every single year. The Champagne region of France, renowned for its grapes and wine and including some of the most expensive agricultural land in the world, also hosts a major low-level and intermediate waste facility. The local community is currently bidding to host a new waste facility. Local population, farm output and tourism numbers have all increased over this time.

I believe the people of Kimba deserve great credit for delivering a strong majority in favour of accepting this facility, notwithstanding the very low level of risk that we are actually dealing with. They have displayed common sense in coming to grips with the issue, and their performance is undoubtedly a milestone in dealing with issues in the nuclear fuel cycle—issues that are so deeply embedded in our country in so many ways. As earlier canvassed, scepticism about virtually every aspect of the nuclear industry runs unusually high in this country, so it is important to recognise that the people of Kimba have weighed the evidence and they've come down in favour of hosting the facility. Just as commendable is the effort undertaken by the government and ANSTO to ensure that people were given all the information they needed or wanted to make the decision that they have, comfortable in knowing they have all the data needed to make the right and, I believe, the sensible call.

In addition to the ministers who have taken carriage of this issue, including the current minister, Keith Pitt, I wish to acknowledge the member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, who has led his community by empowering them to engage and to have their say. In doing so, he has ensured that a calm, sensible, deliberative discussion has taken place over many years. For that, I believe, the chamber should be very grateful.

Openness and transparency are clearly key when engaging with the nuclear fuel cycle. I'm delighted that this bill comes before the House not just after extensive consultation but also after the prior informed consent of the local community. With that, I am happy to commend the bill to the House.

10:42 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 and on the amendment moved by the shadow minister to the motion for the second reading. From the outset, I feel it's important to note my views on nuclear energy. I want to make it clear that I oppose nuclear power becoming part of our energy mix, and I will touch on this again later. I believe that this is important to note given the context of the legislation. I do acknowledge, however, the importance of establishing a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility. Nuclear technologies are a part of our life, particularly in health care and new emerging medicines, and it is vital that we have facilities such as those dealt with in this legislation.

Paediatricians, in particular, have used nuclear isotopes for a very long period of time for the diagnosis of certain childhood conditions such as bone abnormality, bone infections and some solid tumours. In areas such as the brain, where it is difficult to get proper imaging, nuclear medicine has been very important. So it is a vital industry in medicine and is becoming even more important as there are now some targeted treatments, particularly for certain cancers, where nuclear isotopes are attached to a particular protein that can then be targeted to a specific cancer cell so that radioisotope treatment can be undertaken with minimal damage to normal tissues. This is evolving technology and one that is rapidly increasing its use around the world.

I note and understand, however, that matters such as discussed in this bill are quite contentious. In fact, they're extremely contentious. It's all very well to say that we need a nuclear waste management facility, but where that is to be placed can be quite controversial, hence the long and many decades delay in developing such a site. It's therefore vitally important that there is, as the member for Fairfax has noted, transparency and widespread dissemination of knowledge about this facility. I think, therefore, further consideration should be undertaken, and that should be undertaken by referring this bill to a Senate committee to consider such important issues and also to inform the public about these issues.

I'd like to say that not far from the boundaries of my electorate is ANSTO's facility at Lucas Heights. I visited the facility and it is indeed very impressive, as is its team of dedicated and highly trained staff. I recently had the pleasure of touring the facility, visiting ANSTO's new reactor, OPAL, and meeting many professionals who are doing a great deal of work in the field of nuclear science and nuclear medicine and who are training some of our emerging nuclear scientists and nuclear medicine technologists. I'd like to extend my thanks to the staff from ANSTO for their hospitality and for the opportunity that they afforded me.

The reality is that the main storage facility for nuclear waste at Lucas Heights is very limited. Much of the waste that's stored there has been there for many, many years. There will come a time when—and pretty soon, I think—we'll run out of space at Lucas Heights to store this nuclear waste. Radioactive waste is presently stored in more than 100 locations across the continent, and our stockpiles of nuclear waste have built up over many decades. Discussions around the storage of nuclear by-products are important to have, because we cannot afford to ignore our responsibilities to find suitable and safe storage facilities. It's very important to understand that these storage facilities will need to be stable for hundreds and probably thousands of years. Many of the radioactive isotopes that are stored have half-lives measured not in seconds, minutes or days but in hundreds of years or even thousands of years. There is at present no effective way to destroy nuclear waste, so it all has to be stored. Unfortunately, that means that we need to maintain these facilities for many, many years—long past our lifetimes.

Australia's nuclear radioactive waste is predominantly the by-product of nuclear medicine. It is unavoidable that we do have to store it. I am concerned about some on the other side talking about nuclear energy being a part of our energy mix in the future. In particular, some in the New South Wales National Party and the National Party in other parts of the country talk about the growth of the nuclear energy industry in Australia. I am worried about this waste facility being used to store waste from nuclear energy reactors. This is a waste product that we will be committing to our children and our children's children for many, many generations to come. I think that is something that we should not be accepting.

However, we do need nuclear medicine. As I've already mentioned, it's used in many ways, particularly in paediatrics, but in adult medicine it's now used for things like heart disease—diagnosing coronary artery disease very effectively, diagnosing cardiac muscle abnormalities very effectively. It's used very effectively also for diagnosing skeletal injuries that are not apparent on other forms of imaging, such as X-rays. In particular, it's increasingly being used in cancer medicine both for diagnostic purposes and for treatment. Nuclear medicine is an expanding part of modern medicine, and the storage facility is very appropriate for this. It's estimated that one in two Australians will use nuclear medicines in their lifetime, and I suspect that the proportion will be even higher in the future. ANSTO can deliver 10,000 patient doses of nuclear medicines to more than 250 hospitals and medical centres across Australia and New Zealand every week and has plans to expand further.

There have been a number of issues with the OPAL reactor. At present, I believe, it is not at full capacity. Whilst there are a number of issues and concerns associated with the storage of nuclear waste, it is vital that we have an appropriate facility to store the nuclear waste and make sure that it's safe and is able to be used a long time into the future. I want to be quite clear again: my support for the ANSTO facility does not in any way indicate my support for nuclear power. Labor's support for such a facility does not extend to support of a nuclear power industry in Australia, nor does it mean that we support taking nuclear waste from other nations. That is very important. Don't forget our children and our children's children and many generations will be responsible for this waste in the future. It's not going to go away. A nuclear storage facility is necessary to deal with Australia's present radioactive waste, for the waste presently produced by ANSTO and through nuclear medicine and research, and not for anything else. I firmly believe that we need to expand our waste storage facilities, and having a one-site storage facility would be excellent.

The idea that we should use nuclear power in Australia, however, is a very lazy one. It's an ill-conceived notion that reeks of a lack of planning for the future. I'll not mince my words: the idea that we should consider nuclear power in Australia, to me, is abhorrent. Other countries that have a nuclear power industry are very rapidly reducing their exposure to nuclear energy. We consistently get thought bubbles, however, from those opposite that perhaps now is the time to consider nuclear power alternatives. The answer is: no, we must not. It's not clean energy. It provides waste products that will be around for thousands of years. It's a lazy option because people who suggest it assume that we have the skills, capacity and technology to deal with potential issues in the future. We don't, and there have certainly been nuclear accidents at other power stations around the world. It's a lazy option because it places unknown and incomprehensible burdens on future generations and on the environment. 'No matter; we'll just assume that in 200 years people will have flying cars and will invent something to prevent earthquakes, clean our water tables and clean our environment in the case of a radioactive leak.' I know that's not going to happen. Also, there will be no way to prevent another Chernobyl occurring in the future at some place in the world. We don't want that option in Australia. Australia is not the USSR. It's not Russia. We don't want that energy mix here.

We have members opposite who put out feelers for the nuclear power industry all the time. There should be no dissent. The Australian people, I believe, have made their views clear. Whilst we do need a nuclear waste storage facility, this is for nuclear medicine by-products only. We cannot afford to be complacent about this, and the referral to the Senate committee to examine our nuclear waste storage facility options is very appropriate, as the Australian people need to be informed. I'm not being an anti-scientist or a sensationalist. We do not need anything other than a nuclear-medicine industry in Australia. We do not need nuclear power and we certainly do not need to take nuclear waste from other countries. I'm very worried that the beginning of this nuclear storage facility debate is a trojan horse for that option. The half-life of radioactive material produced in a nuclear reactor will last thousands of years, and I'm not going to do that to my children and my children's children. We ought to have alternatives for our electricity, of course, other than fossil fuels, and we're rapidly developing them with alternative energy sources. Nuclear should not be part of the option.

There are huge benefits, I do admit, from the use of nuclear technologies in medicine, also now expanding into industry. Its use in things like pipelines, for a whole range of issues, particularly looking for leaks, has already been explained. It's now available for industry to look at minor fractures in industrial equipment. It is used in a whole range of industrial options. But, primarily, nuclear products are used in medicine in Australia and their use is expanding. It is important that the storage facility we're talking about in the legislation before the House is expected to store low- and medium-level waste, but not high-level waste. It is expected to operate for hundreds of years. We do need to make sure that we have other things in place, like appropriate transport mechanisms for this low- and intermediate-level waste.

It is envisaged that the sort of waste we have will be able to be stored in a safe environment, with no geological risks, for many, many years. However, it's very hard to guarantee that forever. Many unanswered questions remain on the permanent storage plans, particularly for intermediate-level radioactive waste. It is important that the general public understands the issues regarding this, and the risks involved. In contrast to the member for Fairfax's comments, there are always risks in storing nuclear material. It is very important that we protect the Australian public from these. Nuclear waste is unavoidable, given the role of nuclear medicine in our modern health care, and we need appropriate facilities to store such waste. However, the concerns and issues raised by members of the community need answers. A lot of communities are watching the government's approach with great interest here. Communities around the towns of Napandee and Hawker have a keen interest in what the government will do in relation to the storage facility. But, also, communities across Australia are concerned with the government's apparent laissez-faire attitude to the topic of nuclear energy. Our shadow minister has been right to point out recently that the communities of Jervis Bay, Townsville, Gladstone, Perth, Western Port in Victoria, and the New South Wales North Coast will be appropriately concerned with the minister's openness to exploring nuclear power. They, after all, are just a few of the more than 100 communities that had previously been touted as potential sites for nuclear reactors and nuclear dumps. In fact, at Jervis Bay people can still see an excavation that was supposedly for our first nuclear reactor for power. Many communities and many others deserve to know where the government will stand on the issue of nuclear power. I commend the shadow minister's amendment.

10:57 am

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me say from the outset that I am both surprised and disappointed at the member for Macarthur's comments, and particularly the shadow minister's comments, on this bill, the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. The members are either seeking to deliberately mislead or they are completely ignorant of the facts of what has happened through this inquiry and haven't been reading the reports that have been issued and the questions that have been answered along the way. It would be disappointing if that were the case—but it shouldn't be the case. Kimba is my home town. It's a small, successful farming community in the north-east of Eyre Peninsula. A general description of the country is 'marginal cropping country', but a drive through the district will demonstrate success—good fences, good sheds, good farmhouses, modern machinery, well-maintained and first-class technology, and an immaculate town. Kimba has been good to the families that have lived there for generations, and to this day there is a good future there in farming, for those who remain. However, like virtually every other non-coastal farming community in Australia, our population is in long-term decline. Modern agriculture, a wonderful high-tech industry, does not need the people it once did. As our population declines, our football, netball, tennis and cricket clubs are reduced. Our schools, hospitals, banking services and speciality shops are all under threat, not just in Kimba but in similar communities right across Australia.

Kimba has been resilient. We still have most of the services I have listed above, but, for instance, for three out of the last four years we have not had a resident doctor. The school, which hosted over 430 students in the early 1980s, now has 170 students. There used to be four football clubs; there is now one, and we travel further for our matches. Survival of our towns will require something new, something outside the square—perhaps tourism, a mining venture, a processing opportunity, value-adding to our agricultural product or perhaps a government facility. After 40 years of failed attempts to establish a national radioactive waste management facility, in 2015 the government determined to set upon a new path and called for landholders across Australia to volunteer property for the facility. I immediately thought this was a great opportunity for a small community somewhere in rural Australia.

My electorate of Grey has the world's biggest uranium mine, called Olympic Dam. In 2011, to ensure I had a full understanding of the industry, I spent 10 days in France, Sweden and Finland, looking at their nuclear industry from top to bottom—enrichment, generation, new construction, reprocessing and permanent storage of waste. I visited facilities similar to that which is proposed for Kimba and I knew how highly valued they were in their community for the employment opportunities and the tourism opportunities they offered. Thousands of tourists come and see these well-managed, open, transparent facilities. Believing I could not ask others to do what I was not prepared to do myself—after all, I had a suitable property—I checked with the minister at the time that it would be legal for me to nominate my property and was advised, yes, it would. In April 2015 I wrote to every member of the Kimba district and told them I was intending to nominate my property for the proposed national radioactive waste management facility: 'Come along and tell me what you think. If the meeting doesn't approve, I won't continue.'

About 50 rolled up. I was a little disappointed, but 50 is not a bad crowd. I put the case for over an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Only two or three at the end of that time really expressed any resistance at all, and the rest were supportive. I assume that those in the community who were opposed in principle would have turned up that night. After all, they were all informed the meeting was on. I thought: this community is up for the challenge. So then I, in turn, challenged that meeting by saying: 'If you think it's a good idea that I nominate my property, and if you have property, why don't you nominate yours? That will increase the chances of success.' As it turned out, three tried. Two were successful, and the nation had 28 nominations from across Australia, two from Kimba. Incidentally, the initial advice I was provided with was changed and I was unable to lodge my application. In retrospect, looking back at the turmoils of the last 12 to 18 months and sections of the Constitution, I would've been banned from parliament had it gone ahead. Anyway, there you go; I didn't know that at the time.

So the department undertook desktop surveys and determined that six of these properties across Australia were suitable. Eventually, random based surveys were undertaken in each community. Even though Kimba voted very narrowly in favour of continuing with the process, it was overlooked. A feature of that survey was the number of direct neighbours who were opposed to the nominated sites. Remember: the government always said that we were looking for a community that actually wanted the facility. The only community that progressed to that stage was Hawker. As a result, a group of determined Kimba residents came together and formed the Working for Kimba's Future group. They were convinced that a huge opportunity had passed our town by, and they set about locating land in the district with more amenable neighbours. Two courageous neighbours came forward—the Rayners and the Baldocks—and I commend them for that. They were prepared to nominate their properties, and the committee lobbied to re-enter the process. Minister Frydenberg dispatched departmental officials to gauge whether support existed on the ground and eventually, in February 2017, he accepted the new nominations.

A period of information and interaction began, with top-level scientists, experts in nuclear medicine, radioactive waste management, geologists, a mayor and a local farmer from Champagne in France, where a similar but much larger facility is located. A permanent departmental presence was located in our town to provide information. Eventually a full ballot of the Kimba district area followed, asking people if they wanted to keep exploring the possibility of hosting the national radioactive waste management facility. Fifty-seven point four per cent voted in favour, and the process continued.

In December 2018, just as both the Kimba and Hawker communities were about to go to the final vote on the issue, the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation actioned a case in the Supreme Court of South Australia, alleging that the ballot was racist. It was referred to the Federal Court, which eventually rejected the case. The action had resulted in a 12-month delay, but finally a ballot took place in both communities in late 2019. The Hawker community narrowly rejected the proposal. A strong 61.57 per cent of the Kimba population voted in favour of hosting the facility. Importantly, more than 90 per cent of the eligible voters participated, and that underlines the fact that this community was well engaged and well informed. Separate surveys determined that around 60 per cent of the businesses, 60 per cent of the local submissions and 60 per cent of the neighbours—there's a great confluence there—supported the project. Importantly, at Napandee, the site that was eventually selected—the site that is owned by the Baldocks—100 per cent of the direct neighbours, those that share boundaries with the host property, support the facility. From the start, the government has said, 'We want a community that wants the facility,' and we've found one. In late January this year, Minister Canavan announced that Kimba was to host the facility and it was to be on the Napandee site. It is worth mentioning that the site is a freehold title and, as such, native title rights have been extinguished.

However, sadly for the community that has given five years of its life to make this decision, COVID-19 has intervened and delayed progress yet again. Today will provide some sustenance for the majority of Kimba residents who just want to get on with the job. There is no doubt that the Kimba is the best informed community in Australia on this issue. No other community has the same level of understanding as Kimba. But, after five years, the free advice and criticism from those outside the community continues. From hundreds and thousands of kilometres away, they continue to lecture the community and try to obstruct the process. We've had court challenges and inquiries from Senate committees and joint standing committees, driven by people who, by inference, believe that the people of Kimba are too dumb to get the decision right. Let me make this quite clear: this community is the best informed in Australia. There are those who sit outside Kimba and think that they've made the wrong decision, they don't know what they're talking about, they're only farmers and they're not smart enough to work it out. I can tell you that it offends me. That attitude offends me. This is a decision for the people of Kimba, and they have made it.

On the upside, in the immediate future we look forward to the second $2 million community benefits program. The last one was wonderful and provided support for a wide range of community infrastructure. The application process is now underway in both Kimba and Hawker. For Hawker, this will be the final part of their involvement in this process. This time, with a lot of the smaller jobs done in the community, I am hoping for some bigger projects offering some long-term economic gains for the community, and I'm very confident, having talked to a number of my local residents, that there will be at least a few of those.

Then we look forward to the period of evaluation and planning of the site and the design process. During that time, $8 million will be made available to build capacity in the district and the surrounding communities to maximise the benefits to the local community. There is a $320 million construction phase. Remember, Kimba is a district with a population of just over 1,000 people, so it's a very significant project. Three million dollars will be provided to maximise the outcomes for the local Aboriginal community, and following that will come the construction. It is envisaged that it will take two years. However, I will be working to ensure that, in so much as it does not compromise either the construction or the operation, we elongate that building phase. That way, local business is more likely to be able to gear up and then sustain new capacity over the longer term as we create a base in Kimba for the supply of goods and services to others.

Then comes the best bit: operating the facility. There will be 45 full-time-equivalent jobs in the dedicated workforce, with other jobs generated in the wider community providing services. We have a commitment to a resident workforce—no FIFO. Of the 45 permanent jobs, all but 12 will be able to be recruited from the local community. They will not require specific skills and will be able to be trained on the job.

Additionally, it is envisaged that a number of the projects, including telecommunications, roadworks and community infrastructure, will provide benefits to the wider community. Once operating, the $20 million will be provided for the ongoing benefit of the community. We intend to manage and protect that investment and only distribute the profits, thus ensuring it permanently remains for the community benefit. This investment can then be used to build community infrastructure and, most importantly, help establish new industry and employment opportunities, working to grow Kimba and arrest the population decline I detailed at the beginning of the speech.

The project will be a game changer for Kimba. It will offer a secure future for a bigger and stronger Kimba. We will use it to lever bigger and better things. I'm convinced a hundred other communities around Australia will look at us in the future and ask the questions: 'Why didn't we put our hand up? Why didn't we have a go at this?' The local farm group has pushed to ensure land be made available for them to grow crops in the immediate vicinity, which will provide proof of safety, but with a view of developing links with a scientific capacity to help identify and solve some of our agricultural barriers. We will build links between the school and the facility, opening up a scientific career path for our students. We look forward to the Commonwealth helping to ensure the sustainability of our medical workforce and facilities. I'm proud of my home town, and it has continued to function well through this process, even being named in a Bond University study as the kindest place in the country and the best remote area in which to live in November 2018.

Certainly the five-year process has affected some personal relationships. There have been some tough times. I accept that, and I thank the people for their tolerance and their ability to get on, even though some of these relationships have been strained. But you can't have this type of debate without that. I often say to people, 'If you want to see division, let me take you to a community where there's a proposal to build a wind farm or to put up a new mine or to build a feedlot.' All these kinds of debates too get emotional and strong when people believe passionately in the side of the debate they are taking. We've got through that, and now we are keen to get on with the job. We've held together and we want the hold-ups and delays caused by dissent in this place and others to go away. Let us get on with that job. It's a great frustration to those of us who backed the development that we just can't get on with the job.

In that light, that's why I was disappointed at the shadow minister's comments—that they are waiting for information. As I said, the information has been made available over and over again, but we'll go through this process with the Senate. I fervently hope that the opposition will come on board when we get to the Senate. (Time expired)

11:13 am

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

It is absolutely strange standing up the back here, I can tell you—it is bizarre! I acknowledge the contribution from the member for Grey. While I understand his frustration, and I understand it only too well, I think it is reasonable for us to finally go through this process in a manner where the issues which others want ventilated are ventilated in the appropriate way: through a Senate committee. That'll happen. It'll come back and, presumably, on the basis of his contribution, there will be recommendations from that committee that the site should proceed. I would say to him that it's okay to be critical, but be objectively critical, and allow the opportunity for others to have a look at the issues as they perceive them as being important.

I also want to acknowledge the contributions of the member for Gorton, the shadow minister; and the member for Macarthur, Dr Freelander. Both acknowledge the importance of having the site. Dr Freelander made it clear he was opposed to a nuclear industry, and I might just put on the record yet again that I share that opposition. I'm an old man, but in the late 1970s, when I was a younger person, I spent a lot of time trying to prevent uranium mining being developed in the Northern Territory. It's all because I was opposed then, as I'm opposed now, to a nuclear industry. But I am also a realist, and I understand that we are now all part of the nuclear fuel cycle and that there are issues that need to be addressed. Nuclear waste is one of the issues to be addressed, and that's what this bill seeks to do.

I want to put this in some sort of historical context. I have in front of me two very similar bills, which were discussed in 2005. They are the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2005 and the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management (Related Amendments) Bill 2005. I'm doing this to contextualise it—even to put it in a way which will potentially support the view that is being put by the member for Grey. There is no-one in this chamber at the moment who was here in 2005, but I can tell you that there was a very live discussion going on over 2004 and 2005 about a nuclear waste facility in Australia to address the sorts of waste concerns that we've seen identified in this piece of legislation. It was a course which came initially from a report which was made to the Commonwealth by a national scientific advisory committee, which went through and examined 22 different sites across the country as being potentially reasonable sites for nuclear waste disposal. Not one of them was in the Northern Territory. The most suitable sites were not in South Australia, either. They were seen as being Seymour, near Puckapunyal, in Victoria; Narrandera in New South Wales; indeed, there was a site near Canberra, Mount Reedy, out near Majura, which was seen as suitable; a site at Deniliquin, which was seen as 'most suitable'; and a site at Denham in New South Wales, which was also 'most suitable'.

Obviously, there were limitations in the areas they were looking at, but clearly the government of the day took the view: 'We're not going to bother going to any of those places. What we will do is look at land which is available to the Commonwealth in the Northern Territory, because it's not a state; therefore, we don't have to play around with it.' They wanted initially to go to Woomera, but you will recall that the then South Australian Premier took the matter to the High Court to prevent it from happening at Woomera, so they needed to look somewhere else. What they did was choose quite arbitrarily three different sites to look at in the Northern Territory. All three of these locations were Department of Defence land, so it was Commonwealth land for the Commonwealth to determine the purpose of its use, with the attraction of its not having issues to do with native title. The sites were Fishers Ridge, 40 kilometres east of RAAF Base Tindal; Harts Range defence land, 200 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs; and Mount Everard, 42 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. You can imagine the response from the Northern Territory community when the Commonwealth took the position that it would impose one of these sites as a nuclear waste facility on the Northern Territory population without so much as a by-your-leave—no consent given, no consultation taking place. It caused a furore, as you can imagine. Ultimately, the Commonwealth didn't proceed, because of the strength of community opposition, as well it should. When, later, there was a proposal for a site which came from an Aboriginal group north of Tennant Creek at Muckaty, it, too, didn't proceed. But in that particular case there was a group of traditional owners who were prepared to allow the development of a waste repository on their land in return for commitments made by the Commonwealth. That too, of course, was a source of great contention and community division, and, ultimately, as I say, it didn't proceed.

We are now left with this proposal. I have to say, given the approach that has been taken, it has a lot more merit than any of the others because, whatever we might think of the community consultation process, there was community consultation. Whether we think it was a relevant level of community consultation is quite another thing, but, as the member for Grey has strongly put, there was a process which had the support of the majority of the residents of the Kimba local government area.

That's apparently not a position which is supported by all. While there is no native title over the land, because it was freehold title, there will be people with an interest in that land who would see themselves, had it not been freehold land, as having native title interests or traditional owner interests, and there is merit to asking what those people actually want. I know that the relevant Aboriginal native title organisation in South Australia, the Barngarla people, took an appeal to the Federal Court and lost, but they still expressed the view that they should have been consulted and that, even though they reside outside of the Kimba area, they should have been involved and had their views represented in this ballot which took place. That's an ongoing issue, and there are clearly issues around people who reside in the region but at Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla, who have interests in that community and want those interests properly ventilated. And that is what this Senate inquiry will have the capacity to do.

That's why I think it's important—given the history of this, over decades now—that we actually work with communities. I can see some merit in the proposals which have been put, but, nevertheless, there are valid concerns, which are expressed in the opposition's amendment but which I might just go to, for the sake of the member for Grey and those in the government who would be concerned about the fact that we want to proceed to have a Senate inquiry.

We, here in Labor, reaffirm our need to determine a site for the storage of radioactive waste. That is understood. I don't think there can be any reasonable person in this country who could argue that we don't need a waste facility. I think the questions arise around the nature of it—indeed, I think they arise in part because of the nature of the waste requirements. Bear in mind that this is 2005 I'm now going to talk about. At that time, the Commonwealth had approximately 3,600 cubic metres of low-level waste, a high proportion of which was at Woomera, and produced about 30 cubic metres of low-level waste per year. The Commonwealth had, at that time, 400 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste in Australia and generated less than five cubic metres a year. The intermediate-level waste generated from spent fuel out of the reactors had been sent to France where, at that time, there were 6½ cubic metres, and the United Kingdom, where there were 26½ cubic metres. As to the nature of the waste being determined then, it was from the new reactor, which the member for Macarthur referred to, the old High Flux Australian Reactor, which was, at that point, still operational, which had waste to be returned from France; Defence waste, held at various sites across Australia, including contaminated soil from the Woomera site—and of course we all remember Maralinga, and we'll have seen recently the publicity around an ABC program around it, and we all know what happened there—and the CSIRO's accelerator waste and other Commonwealth waste, including, of course, all the medical waste that has been referred to by the member for Macarthur. At the time, we were told this thing had to be done and dusted within a very short space of time. Then, in 2011, when we had a similar discussion, we were told that this all had to be settled by 2015, when the nuclear fuel rods were due to come back from France and the United Kingdom. I'm not certain what has happened to those rods but what we do know is that we have got, as was expressed by the member for Gorton and the member for Macarthur, effectively, a waste facility at ANSTO's site in Sydney, which needs to be fixed. We need to find another site for that nuclear waste. What is being proposed here is a site in South Australia.

I don't think we should walk away from the fact that there are people with significant interests who may not be directly living in Kimba or in the area of this consultation. We do need to accept that there are people with legitimate views and interests, and those views and interests should be ventilated in the course of the discussion and debate about this issue. That's what this inquiry proposed by a Senate committee will do.

We know there have been concerns raised by interested parties, including, as I mentioned earlier, by the traditional owners. It is legitimate, I think, for us to look at the costs, the funding arrangements and employment levels associated with the facility. It is legitimate to look at the potential impacts on affected communities, the adequacy of the community investment fund and related compensation.

As the member for Macarthur said, this stuff will be put away for a very long time—not 10 years, not 20 years, not 50 years but hundreds of years. We need to be aware of our obligations in ensuring the security of any repository. I know this has been referred to as a temporary facility. Old Parliament House was a temporary facility; it lasted until 1988. I don't think we should regard this as a temporary facility. If this is temporary, what is stage 2 and where will it be at? We should know that. If they've got views about what a long-term facility would look like, where will it be? What will it encapsulate and when will it happen? I would think what they're planning for here is a contingency where this site won't be for the short term or the medium term but will be for the long term, and we need to be aware of all the implications of those decisions. That's why it is important, in my view, that we support the amendment moved by the opposition and support the prospect of a Senate inquiry. And until that Senate inquiry reports, we should not be voting on this legislation. Sadly, the government has chosen, despite advice from the opposition, to debate this legislation today and effectively have us vote against it because we're not prepared to support this legislation prior to that inquiry deliberating and making its findings public.

11:28 am

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I pass my comments on this important bill, I would like to acknowledge the work and contribution over many years, in fact, over a decade, of the member for Grey. I note his contribution today and also the contributions of the member for Fairfax, the member for Macarthur and the member for Lingiari. I must say this has been an issue that has not just popped up; it's been running almost for 40 years, about a new and long-term intermediate- and low-level nuclear waste facility.

Before I entered parliament, I did practice for 33 years as a medical practitioner in general medicine, inside hospitals, in community medicine, consulting and in gastroenterology. During that time, I and just about every other doctor practising in Australia and in the modern western health system have been engaging with nuclear medicine facilities. We have 100 facilities around the country that accumulate low-level and intermediate waste. Currently, the vast majority of it is stored at the ANSTO site at Lucas Heights.

I would just like to demystify, for members of the public who are listening to this: intermediate- and low-level waste is not what it is popularly understood to be. It is actually the gloves, needles and syringes that are used in nuclear medicine facilities. It is all the leftover radiopharmaceuticals that are used in drugs and therapeutic and diagnostic tests—the accessories to PET scans and SPECT-CTs. If you've ever had health issues assessed by diagnostic tests, odds on—in your lifetime, there's a 50 per cent chance you will—you'll be the beneficiary of nuclear medicine, whether it's I-131 scans diagnosing thyroid disease or therapeutic doses of radioactive iodine to kill any cancers in your thyroid; bone scans, looking for infections and tumours—PET scans and SPECT-CTs diagnosing the extent; gallium scans, testing for lymphoproliferative disorders or lymphomas; liver cancers; infections; bone disease; bone cancers; thyroid disease; or cardiac tests for testing the ejection fractions that your heart can put out. All these issues rely on nuclear isotopes. In Australia, virtually all of them are manufactured at the ANSTO site at Lucas Heights. Yes, in downtown suburbia, in the middle, surrounded by about two million people, there is a nuclear facility that has happily been operating there since the 1950s. We have operated two nuclear reactors, but they're research reactors, generating isotopes for this very issue.

Around the world, we export these isotopes for use in other countries. When it's up and running fully—which it is now; it has pretty much ramped back up to full capacity, apart from the COVID implications of trading—we supply at full throttle about 27 per cent of the medical isotopes that are used around the Asia-Pacific and the world. That's an unknown and unappreciated fact: that we do have very high nuclear capabilities and we've been helping in nuclear medicine, not just for Australians but for many people.

I have toured the waste facility there on two occasions now. Most of it is sitting in 40-gallon drums, and the compressed gloves, needles and protective gowns that the nurses and the doctors use in nuclear medicine facilities are all squashed into these 40-gallon drums. The intermediate-level waste that has been reprocessed in France is back on that site in a separate big building, in a dry canister storage facility. I've been right up next to it. I've hugged it. I've had a photo taken in front of it just to demystify it for people who, when they hear 'radiation', think there's this red-hot, glowing isotope beaming out towards you. But that is not the case.

We've heard the member for Macarthur say that he doesn't have any problems with nuclear medicine. Well, if we want to grow nuclear medicine and look after our own waste, we will need a new facility. The place at Lucas Heights is just about full. That's why this National Radioactive Waste Management Facility near Kimba will solve the problem that has been floating around parliaments and administrations of various governments for 40 years.

Kimba, as the member for Grey outlined, is currently probably the most informed community in the country, outside the scientific community, about what is involved in a waste facility. Since 2015, there have been nominations voluntarily supplied for sites that have been analysed for suitability, and the decision has been made to go for the Napandee site near Kimba. But, before that, there was a huge education program for the people of Kimba. They've had a vote, supervised by the Australian Electoral Commission and local government, on whether it should be placed there. That went ahead, with 60 per cent in favour to 40 per cent. If you look at the site, it really is a long way from anywhere. To put it into perspective, the current low-level waste facility is in the middle of suburbia, so establishing a facility at this site is not going to harm anyone, but we have to comply with standards. We will continue to supply up to a quarter of the world's needs for isotopes in medicine, so we have to have an expanded site.

There have been tours of people from Kimba to the ANSTO site. There have been information sessions, workshops, newsletters, fact sheets, independent reports, and direct consultation with neighbours, business and traditional owners, including surveys. Between August 2018 and December 2019, there was a public submissions process for people within and outside the communities to express their views. As I said, it was completed with a community ballot run by the Australian Electoral Commission. I think it was probably the most extensive consultation process in my experience.

This bill does give certainty to that wonderful community. They know they're going to be totally safe. They know they're going to get extra jobs and economic activity. There's also going to be a $20 million community fund established to help the cultural, economic and social life of that region. The bill creates a community consultative committee, and it allows the minister to specify the practical nuts and bolts issues about building a site.

Comments have been made about native title. There is no native title engaged in this site, because that has been looked at both in this House and in other inquiries. It is broadly accepted that we need this site. I am perplexed by the last-minute queries and unfounded concerns that some previous speakers have brought to bear, because they don't match with the facts. We've recently heard comments outside this House about international waste. The bill specifically prevents this site from being used for international nuclear waste, apart from the ANSTO-derived reprocessed material that is currently residing in Lucas Heights. As I mentioned, this doesn't extinguish any native title rights. There are no native title rights engaged. A lot of the amendments in this legislation are being made because it was originally thought that the site would be in one of the other states, particularly the Northern Territory. The amendments are being made because that decision is no longer relevant.

I fully support this bill. As I said, nuclear medicine is something that one in two of us will depend on. It allows diseases to be diagnosed, treated, ameliorated and, in some cases, cured without the need for extensive surgery. We want this amazing industry that Australian technologists in ANSTO have developed to flourish and help our near neighbours so that these isotopes for medical use can be applied. It's a great project. I would again like to pay tribute to the member for Grey for his untiring support for this very worthy project and for his patience. I commend the bill to the House.

11:39 am

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad for the opportunity to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020, which I oppose, and to support the second reading amendment moved by the shadow minister for industry and science, the member for Gorton.

There is no question that Australia needs to make progress when it comes to the proper long-term storage of nuclear waste. It is just that this bill doesn't help take us towards that end. It's taken us 40 years and it's cost $55 million to get us to this point. There's no question that we benefit significantly from nuclear medicine, from the use of radiopharmaceuticals, especially as a diagnostic tool. We benefit here in Australia and we provide those benefits to other parts of the world. We have the nuclear facility, the OPAL reactor, that's operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, ANSTO, at Lucas Heights. It creates the relevant material for nuclear medicine and it creates the need to carefully and safely deal with the waste. It's not an easy task to do that, but this bill doesn't help.

Effectively this bill seeks to rush and force the issue of community acceptance, which is a mistake. The minister has the power to make the decision in question. You can only guess that the reason for this legislation is to lock in an outcome, when the minister and the government accept that there are some concerns with the community acceptance process that has occurred so far. The bill effectively also wants to ignore, avoid and further neglect the key issue of a permanent disposal site for intermediate-level waste. There are two kinds of waste that this bill proposes to send to a site in South Australia—low-level waste and intermediate-level waste—and they are very different. A lot of what has been said, including what the minister said in introducing this bill, glides over that difference in a way that is wrong and is certainly not helpful in terms of getting to where we need to get to with a permanent disposal site for low-level waste and a permanent site for intermediate-level waste.

If we know anything about nuclear technology, we know that it relies upon toxic radioactive material and it generates toxic radioactive waste. That's why there are serious engineering challenges in relation to waste and that's why there are quite legitimately very serious issues in relation to social licence around nuclear technology. People are wary of it, especially of nuclear waste, and they should be. We have to get towards a long-term disposal solution, and yet this bill raises two serious questions about how the government wants to take us there. There's concern over the site selection process, which goes to the question of consultation, engagement and community agreement, and there are concerns about the purpose and function of the facility. I want to talk mostly about the latter, but, in relation to the former, in relation to community decision-making, I support the fundamental proposition that the people of South Australia, or any state or territory where a waste disposal site is proposed, should decide, and the agreement about a site should be a meaningful agreement without the serious question marks that remain in this case. Really, for the government to take us to that end, it would do better to work on achieving that meaningful agreement rather than steamrolling over the top in the way that this bill seeks to do.

The second issue is the fact that this site is proposed to be a permanent disposal site for low-level waste and a temporary storage site for intermediate-level waste. To the extent that it proposes that it's going to be a temporary storage site, it really stretches the ordinary concept of the word 'temporary'. The problems with that are really quite considerable. There is a very serious risk, and no-one in this place should be ignorant of the possibility, that intermediate-level waste will go to this site and it will be there forever, effectively. I'm sure that moving it from its current location will mean that the long-neglected task of preparing for a permanent disposal site will only be further delayed and ignored.

As other speakers have mentioned, low-level waste is mostly personal protective equipment and it contains limited amounts of long-lived radioactive substances. It needs to be stored for a few hundred years in what are described as near-surface facilities. At the moment, it's stored in 200-litre drums in a big shed at Lucas Heights, and presumably it would be not dissimilarly stored at a site in South Australia if that's where it went. Intermediate-level waste is something quite different. Intermediate-level waste comes from spent and reprocessed nuclear fuel and the residue from parts of the radioisotope production process. It does not decay in a way that makes it acceptable for near-surface-level disposal. You get a sense of the toxicity of intermediate-level waste when you consider the time frame that's involved. The proposal here for the permanent disposal of low-level waste is for it to be stored and for the facility to be actively operated for a period of 100 years and then 'institutionally monitored'—that is the phrase in the explanatory memorandum—for a further period of 200 years. Intermediate-level waste, by contrast, needs to be stored for thousands of years. It remains toxic for thousands and thousands of years. It needs to be buried deep in the ground.

I also make the point that there is no permanent disposal site for high-level waste anywhere in the world. At the time when members of the government are going around spruiking the take-up of nuclear power in Australia—in defiance of all logic, in defiance of the international trends away from nuclear and in defiance of the economic evidence and the energy needs of this country—let's remember that this is a 70-year-old industry. It's been around for 70 years, and the industry still is incapable of dealing with its most toxic waste.

In relation to this site, I want to make a few points about how we've got here. It has taken 40 years and, as I said, cost $55 million to get to the point of nearly selecting a site. Departmental officials came before the energy and environment committee when we were inquiring into nuclear energy, and they gave us some very rough estimates of what the construction of the site itself would cost. That will be somewhere around $340 million to $350 million. That's for the construction of the site, and that was described to us as a conservative estimate. Bizarrely, there is no current process underway with even a single dollar of government resources going towards the issue of a permanent disposal site for intermediate-level waste. It's quite strange. It's almost hard to believe that, when it's taken us 40 years to get to the brink of a permanent site for low-level waste, there is not yet any departmental group or any taskforce on this and there's not a single dollar going to the process of site selection, engineering design or anything else around the question of a permanent disposal site. We actually have an answer on notice from the then Department of Industry, Innovation and Science on that issue:

A government decision on the entity responsible for the waste management technical coordination function—

in relation to intermediate-level waste—

has yet to be determined and is required before an Intermediate Level Waste disposal project timeline and budget can be determined.

So, while we've taken 40 years and $55 million to get to the brink of a permanent low-level waste disposal site, no process is advancing by a single hour, let alone a day or a year, towards what the department itself said will likely be another 30- or 40-year process.

So this bill says, 'Let's send intermediate-level waste to South Australia for temporary storage.' What does 'temporary storage' mean to the average person? Do you think it means 30, 40, or 50 years or forever? I doubt that very much. But that is, in effect, what this bill seeks to do with intermediate-level waste, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

The government, in the material, suggests there are reasons for the waste being moved, and a lot of the members from the government have said that they're running out of space at Lucas Heights. That might be true for low-level waste. It is not true for intermediate-level waste. Like the previous speaker, I've been into the enormous shed. It's bigger than the chamber in which I stand—well, it's about the same size as the chamber in which I stand—and there's a canister of intermediate-level waste. There's one of them. There's another one due back before long. There is plenty of room in that interim storage facility, so there's no issue with space as far as intermediate-level waste is concerned, and there's no issue in relation to safety or health concerns either. That is really important. If anyone is suggesting that there are health and safety reasons for moving intermediate-level waste to South Australia, they should point to the evidence of that, and then they should answer the question of how it came to be there in the first place, because we started receiving intermediate-level waste, the reprocessed fuel rods, back in 2015. There was a proper process, supervised by ARPANSA, that saw that waste come and be stored at Lucas Heights, and there's never been any suggestion whatsoever that there is a safety or health concern about the location of intermediate-level waste at that site. If the government are in possession of any evidence to that effect, they should share it with the public. The member who spoke previously said that he walked up and gave the canister a hug. I was there and I found that quite strange to observe. But where is the evidence that there is any problem with the intermediate-level waste staying where it is, as it should do, until the government of Australia identifies and resources an appropriate permanent disposal site for intermediate-level waste?

When the interim facility was set up, there was no suggestion it was only for a few years. The licence that exists for the storage of the intermediate-level waste at Lucas Heights runs to 2055. ARPANSA itself addressed this issue in the submission that it made to the Senate inquiry. I want to quote from it, because this is important:

ARPANSA is aware that some stakeholders have interpreted ARPANSA's decisions regarding the IWS

which is the intermediate-level storage—

as a requirement for relocation of the waste stored in the IWS, even suggesting that there is an urgent need for relocation. This is not correct. ARPANSA has not raised safety concerns regarding storage of waste at the IWS. ANSTO seems to share this view. ANSTO has indicated to ARPANSA that the mandatory recertification of the TN-81 casks every 10 years can be carried out at the IWS …

But the claims that the government and government members in this place have made that intermediate-level storage needs to go to South Australia because there's no room for it and that there are health and safety concerns about where it is currently are rubbish. And so it should stay where it is as a spur to the government to get on with the process, which currently hasn't even started, of finding and resourcing a permanent disposal site. That is not occurring, and that's one of the chief flaws of this bill.

The government is going about this important task the wrong way. Labor support a permanent national radioactive waste facility. We know it needs to be created. We just think the government should do it in the right way. They shouldn't steamroll over the issue of community acceptance and community engagement, and they don't need to. If they do that, they are going to put social licence at risk, and that will be even worse if they move intermediate-level waste to South Australia. They need to immediately start and resource the process of a permanent disposal site for intermediate-level waste. They should commit to maintaining that waste where it is currently stored, which is another reason for an inquiry on this issue.

More broadly, the government need to recognise that the social licence for nuclear technology is fragile at best. And that's for good reason. We have our own chequered history in this country. We allowed the British to detonate 10 nuclear bombs in this country, all of which were as big or bigger than the bombs dropped on Japan. That didn't go through a parliamentary process. What's worse, we allowed the British government to explode nuclear material just to see what would happen if an aeroplane carrying nuclear material was shot out of the sky. That meant that radioactive material was strewn over South Australia, the clean-up efforts for which didn't conclude until the early part of this century, and cost millions and millions of dollars, which the British government only very reluctantly contributed to. We know there are problems with uranium mining. We've watched events like Chernobyl and Fukushima. Yet there are members of the government running around saying that nuclear power should be part of our energy mix in our communities across Australia. Frankly, that is not only deeply irrational but ridiculous and unhelpful in the task this bill presents to us.

This bill is not a sensible or appropriate way in which to move towards the waste storage solution. It puts the program at risk. That's why we don't support the bill.

11:54 am

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I currently stand, the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, as well as the Barngarla people of South Australia, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 gives effect to the establishment of a national radioactive waste management facility to permanently dispose of low-level radioactive waste and temporarily store intermediate-level radioactive waste. This raises concerns in respect to the temporary storage of intermediate-level radioactive waste. There is no established case or current extenuating circumstance for this temporary relocation of intermediate-level radioactive waste. I do have concerns that the passage of this bill will be used to argue a case for storage of high-level waste in circumstances where there are issues of support by the community.

The bill specifies the site on which the facility will be established and operated—the Napandee site, located in the District Council of Kimba in South Australia. The facility will allow for a single repository of Australia's nuclear medicine and research waste at this time, which has been sited over diverse geographic areas over many years. Currently, that is an issue. Nuclear medicine is particularly important to the Australian people. Many will need it in their lifetime for screening and for various diseases and ailments.

The bill also establishes a community fund of $30 million to support the local economy, which will be overseen by a local community board for distribution to viable projects. The establishment of the facility and the community fund will provide ongoing economic benefits and employment opportunities for the local community; I am very cognisant of that.

The bill comes at the end of a significant consultation effort made by the minister and the department over many years, and I do commend them for that. However, there is still a level of uncertainty and grave concern, as far as I'm concerned. As with anything nuclear, the siting of the facility has caused significant division within the local community and debate over Indigenous rights more broadly.

Article 29 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples explicitly requires:

States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.

The standard of free, prior and informed consent is identified as part of Australia's binding human rights obligations under articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The land on which the facility is sited covers the native title area of the Barngarla people. The statement of compatibility on human rights states:

Native Title rights have been extinguished at the specified site; however, Aboriginal heritage, either tangible or intangible, may still be present.

Whilst the department has made admirable efforts to consult with the Barngarla people—consistent with the components of free, prior and informed consent—the facility still does not have their consent. The Barngarla people nominated the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation as their registered native title body corporate to speak on heritage matters. Of its members who were eligible to vote in the ballot, 100 per cent voted no on the question, 'Do you support the proposed national radioactive waste management facility being located at one of the nominated sites in the community of Kimba?'

Further, in a submission made to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics on 26 March 2020, the Barngarla people reaffirmed their opposition and raised additional concerns as to the consultation provided by the government and to legislative provisions set out that could limit their democratic rights. So there is clearly still an issue. I also note that there exists a level of ambiguity over the protection of native title in the broader site area.

In the circumstances, we are at a loss to understand why the government cannot place the facility somewhere where these issues are not in question, like the Woomera prohibited zone. I have received representations from several groups, including the Sisters of St Joseph and the Australian Conservation Foundation, raising their concerns about potential environmental and human rights implications of the bill, and that has also factored into my consideration of this bill.

It's curious that the government has decided to debate this bill now, as it comes at a crucial point in our history. The death of George Floyd, and the resulting protests, in the United States has highlighted entrenched racial bias and inequality and has created shock waves in countries around the world with their own troubled histories. Australia is not immune. We rectify our history by listening and enabling Indigenous Australians to chart their own destiny. That's why I support constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, and I strongly urge the government to hold a referendum on this issue and legislate an Indigenous voice to parliament, consistent with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, as soon as possible.

The Uluru statement ends with an invitation: 'We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.' The sentiment is so selfless and empowering—to be invited to share in a history and culture that reach back 65,000 years. This is a moral choice for all Australians to make. What kind of Australia do we want to be? The recent blasting of the 46,000-year-old Juukan caves by Rio Tinto and the reports of further consideration of destruction of Indigenous sites by other mining companies demonstrate that we need the voice now more than ever and that we're far from the that ideal as set out in the Uluru statement.

That brings us back to this issue. I'm sympathetic to the economic benefits for the Kimba district and the general need for opportunities for the local non-Indigenous community that this bill will create. However, the facility clearly comes at the objection of the Barngarla people. It also undermines the spirit of the bipartisan commitment this government has to pursuing the goals set out in the Closing the Gap reports and the spirit of the Uluru statement. Considering this, I again repeat my request that Minister Wyatt devise the question and publicly commit to a referendum on a voice to parliament without delay and that the referendum be put to the Australian people during 2021. It's also clear from recent events that the Prime Minister should urgently convene a national cabinet to discuss Black Lives Matter, inviting experts from the Indigenous community to agree to a national plan of action to address Indigenous deaths in custody and incarceration rates. This all forms part of how we do all walk together for a better future.

So, in considering this nuclear waste facility, put yourself in the shoes of the local Indigenous people. They've been ignored for generations. Imagine their sense of hopelessness, despair and despondency as they are continually overruled. Consistent with the voice and the sentiment expressed in the Uluru statement, I will not support this bill. The turning point for our regard for Indigenous Australians is now and starts with rejecting this bill.

12:03 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. As I was sitting in my office listening to some of the contributions made by the government members on this bill, my ears pricked up a little bit, because some of the contributions were extraordinary. The minister for energy has joined us in the chamber, and he does have a very difficult job placating some of the pretty extraordinary views in his backbench. We'll start with the member for Fairfax.

The member for Fairfax, who chaired the committee inquiry into nuclear energy, stood here and said that there haven't been any incidents at ANSTO in Lucas Heights, where the medical nuclear technology is manufactured. Of course, we know that last year there were a number of incidents where people were exposed to radioactive material. Thankfully those incidents didn't result in serious health concerns for people, but there were a number of very serious exposures. There was also a period of time where ANSTO had to cease production of medical nuclear technology until ARPANSA was satisfied with the safety practices. But that wasn't quite as extraordinary as the member for Grey, who in his contribution admitted he was going to offer his own property as a site for a nuclear waste deposit area—until he was advised he would be disqualified from sitting in the parliament if he were to do so. So he then quite wisely decided to withdraw the offer of opening up his backyard as a nuclear waste site.

But that was almost beaten by the member for Lyne, who pronounced that he had given intermediate waste a hug at Lucas Heights. At Lucas Heights there is a massive structure that looks like a big can of Coke; it is 11 feet high or maybe taller. Of all the things I thought about when I walked up to that big structure containing intermediate-level nuclear waste, giving it a hug wasn't in my top 10. Nonetheless, the member for Lyne decided he was going to give it a hug, and we continued on with our tour. On that note, I recognise that ANSTO has some very capable scientists and people working there who do fantastic work. They produce nuclear medical technology that is absolutely necessary. Like many people in this House, I can say that members of my family have benefited from having tests and other treatments that use nuclear technology and require the material that is created at the Lucas Heights facility. Ultimately, that is something we don't have a choice on. We need to continue to produce this material and we need to continue the activities at Lucas Heights.

While there are no other options for medicine, there absolutely are other options for other sorts of nuclear technology and energy. We do not need nuclear technology for energy. The OPAL reactor at Lucas heights is a fascinating piece of equipment. It is an open-water reactor. You can literally peer over the top and see the reactor underneath you. It is quite extraordinary. I was very privileged to go and have a look at it. Obviously, if we were talking about scaling up the activity in order to be able to produce nuclear energy, we wouldn't be having an open-water reactor; we would be having either a large-scale nuclear reactor or, if you listen to members from the government, small modular reactors—even though they don't exist. But, in the future, you would need to have a different form of reactor, a large-scale reactor, which would not be an open-water reactor; it would be closed off and you wouldn't be able to see it because of the much higher level and volume of uranium required in order to create enough heat to produce energy.

The reactor is very much scaled-down, but if we were to go down the road of nuclear energy, we would be required to use a very different piece of technology that would be producing a far greater quantity of waste. As the member for Fremantle rightly pointed out in his contribution, we have been in this process for decades, and it has cost us tens of millions of dollars, yet we still don't have a site because it is a very difficult task to place materials that will have to be left alone for literally thousands of years. While we do have a number of sites across the country where low-level waste is stored, intermediate-level waste is currently only stored at Lucas Heights. Many government members want to increase our nuclear capacity towards nuclear energy. If we were to do that, the amount of storage that would have to be found for intermediate- and high-level waste would have to increase dramatically. And yet, after four decades, we are only now coming to the pointy end of a process to find storage places for intermediate-level waste. It shows the complications, it shows the sensitivities and it shows the range of voices that we need to be looking at and bringing with us in this discussion.

I think it is worth mentioning the events leading up to this, where First Nations people did have a say. Not one First Nations person who had a vote in the Kimba process voted for this nuclear site. While I acknowledge that the Kimba region may have a range of economic challenges that the government should be looking at—and the government should be looking at investing in that region, along with many other regions around the country—simply looking at this as the only option is also not true.

Any site that we decide on, any site with this intermediate-level nuclear waste, would have to be left alone for literally thousands of years. So it is only right that we get this right, that we take the time to make sure that people and communities are brought with us, because any product that we leave in one place will have to be left there for thousands of years. It begs the question: if this has to be done right and if this product has to be left for thousands of years, why can't the government simply wait until the Senate inquiry has done its job in order to come back and present this bill to this House? Why are the government forcing this bill through the House, showing an attitude of not bringing people with them but, rather, neglecting people along this process for something that literally has consequences for thousands of years?

While the member for Grey might be happy to have all of the economic benefits of having a nuclear waste site on his private property, it doesn't make it an easy or right decision. Therefore, as quite rightly pointed out by the member for Gorton, we don't support this bill in its current form. We don't support the timing of this bill. In any consideration of the sensitivities of such a decision as where nuclear waste will end up sitting for thousands of years in Australia, surely we can wait a little bit longer and get this right and listen to all of the different considerations that will be undertaken via the Senate committee.

Any site has a cost to the environment, any site has a cost to build the new facility and any site has a cost to the community that it eventually will sit in. Ultimately uranium is something that Australia has in abundance, but the demand for uranium is not dramatically increasing across the world. Nuclear technology is not the preferred technology when it comes to energy generation across the world. While the world is generating far more energy, the amount of nuclear technology is remaining relatively stable. The amount of government subsidies that are required to produce new nuclear technology is immense, and the only countries that are doing it are doing it heavily subsidised by government. This government ultimately need to make a choice: are they going to find a facility and a nuclear waste site for our medical technology that brings along the communities with it or are they going to force it through without listening to the voices who are affected? It is not just about the people living there now; it is the people living there for generations to come. These are momentous decisions and these are difficult decisions, and we need to get this right. That is why the order of this bill is crucial.

I'll finish on once again reiterating my opposition to the large scale up of our nuclear capability towards nuclear energy. While medical technology is crucial—and we have all had family members who have benefited from having nuclear technology available and nuclear medicines available—we do not have an option; we need that technology in order to help treat people. We do have an option when it comes energy. We do have an option to look at cheaper, safer, reliable sources of energy that do not require the massive government expenditure that nuclear energy would require. This debate highlights the very, very difficult task of finding a place to hold nuclear waste. It is something that the nuclear industry has not been able to solve in its 70 years of being in existence. That is a part of the supply chain and the cycle that we have not found an answer for.

In Australia we are not immune. We need to find a safe place to hold our low-level and intermediate-level waste, but we also must move cautiously through this process, because the consequences are here for thousands of years. We also must take this opportunity to reiterate that moving towards nuclear energy capability in this country would be a bad move for our environment and for the Australian people. Most of all, it makes absolutely zero economic sense. We will have a robust, strong defence if the government and the minister try to push it through.

12:16 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The federal government has no mandate to situate a radioactive waste dump in South Australia. It is illegal, and the government is trying to change the law to make it permissible. People in South Australia have had this fight before. The traditional owners have had this fight before. Just as they have succeeded in the past, they will succeed again, because it is irresponsible of the federal government to disrespect the South Australian people and the traditional owners and impose a nuclear waste dump in the state of South Australia.

The site selection process has been grossly mismanaged and has been extremely stressful for the Kimba community. A waste dump in the middle of the agricultural heartland in Kimba will put at risk South Australia's 'clean, green' reputation and potentially damage the grain export industry as well. Not only has there been appalling consultation with locals but there has been zero consultation outside the immediate region, including the communities on the wider Eyre Peninsula and across SA and, critically, along the extensive potential transport corridors. The government hasn't even bothered to ask people who are going to have trucks of nuclear waste passing by their houses whether they support it. It's no wonder the government doesn't want to ask that, because you know what the answer will be. The government's plan is going to result in shipments of radioactive waste passing through South Australia's regional roads, streets and waters for decades to come. The people of Port Augusta, Whyalla, Port Pirie, Port Lincoln and in every town on the potential transportation routes should be consulted and given an opportunity to have their say.

I mentioned the situation of the Barngarla traditional owners. The traditional owners do not support the imposition of a nuclear waste dump on their lands. This parliament should stand with the traditional owners. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has acknowledged the affront that this bill, the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020, does to the rights of the traditional owners, and it's up to us to stand up for human rights and to say that the traditional owners of the land should be listened to and respected. This is a fight that many traditional owners in South Australia have had to have before. They shouldn't have had to have it but they did, and they fought hard and they won. You would think the government would listen to the wishes of traditional owners and listen to the wishes of the South Australian people, but no. It is going to ride roughshod over them.

'Why are we doing this?' many will ask. Why is the government wanting to impose a nuclear waste dump in South Australia against the wishes of traditional owners and locals and without asking the people on all the transport routes what they think about it?

The government talks about the waste at Lucas Heights. The vast majority of Australia's intermediate-level waste is currently stored at ANSTO's Lucas Heights facility. This proposal from the government is not to have a permanent new facility; it's to effectively have double handling. We're going to handle it at ANSTO and then handle it again to move it across to this new site. ARPANSA, the federal nuclear regulator, has stated that there is no urgency to move the most problematic intermediate-level waste from its current site at Lucas Heights and has made it clear that there are no safety concerns with the current storage either. This is not something that we need to do. The government says this is about Lucas Heights, but the experts in charge of the management of that site are saying that it is not something we need to do.

Look at international best practice. It is clear that unnecessary transport and handling from an above-ground extended interim storage facility at ANSTO to an above-ground extended interim storage at a less-resourced facility is not consistent with international best practice. Double handling this intermediate-level waste is not credible and lasting management; it's shirking the hard issues and handpassing these to a future uncertain, unspecified process. It's not an evidence based policy, because the experts are not calling for this; it is simply a tired and fragile political promise from a tired and fragile government.

If the experts are not calling for it and if it's contrary to international best practice, contrary to the wishes of the traditional owners and contrary to the wishes of South Australians, why is the government proceeding with it? We know that many in the government want Australia to be the world's nuclear waste dump so they can say: 'We've got a facility and we've been even able to expand it. Bring all your waste here to us and you can dump it here in Australia.' We know many in the government have been arguing for that. We know that many in the government are even arguing for nuclear power in Australia. They've let all of those people off the hook and are out saying that we need to build nuclear power in Australia.

If you have a fuel spill at a wind farm it's called 'a stiff breeze'. If you have one at a nuclear plant, it's called 'Chernobyl'. In Australia we are blessed with the best sun and wind resources, and the fuel is free and safe, so why would you want to start a nuclear power industry here? That is what some are arguing for, either because they're on the take from the nuclear power and fossil fuel advocates or because their long-term goal is to make Australia the nuclear waste dump of the world. They figure that if we can get acceptance of nuclear power and can get this waste dump up then we can start being the world's nuclear waste dump.

South Australia should not be the world's nuclear waste dump. The lands of the Barngarla traditional owners should not become a waste dump. There is no pressing need for this. That is what the experts are telling us very clearly. There is a call for a much better practice and for much higher existing international standards to be applied. We should be able to agree in this place on some basic principles. We should not impose any federal facility on an unwilling community, and that includes Aboriginal traditional owners. We should act consistently with state and territory laws and with leading international industry practice. We should ensure high storage standards at the two secure federal sites that currently exist—at the Lucas Heights facility and at Woomera—where most waste is sited, and we should have an inclusive and robust examination of the full range of future long-term management options. In other words, even if you are one of the people who think Australia should expand its nuclear sector—and I'm not one of them—then this is not the best practice that you would follow. As all of us accept, there is an issue to be dealt with in regard to the management of intermediate-level waste coming out of places like Lucas Heights. This is not the answer to that issue, because the people associated with it are saying that there is no pressing urgency or need for change. They're saying that taking waste from Lucas Heights and handling it and storing it there, and then moving it across state boundaries to another place, where there are no long-term plans, is not best practice, either.

The government has other agenda and motivations here, which we need to understand and have fully fleshed out and aired. In the meantime, what we should absolutely not do is facilitate this government's siting of a nuclear waste dump on the lands of the Barngarla traditional owners, against their will. That means we have to oppose this bill. We must say, 'No, South Australia will not become another unwilling nuclear waste dump.' This bill should be opposed. We should send the clearest possible message to the government that this is the wrong way. Go back—we will not let the government impose a waste dump against the wishes of locals and traditional owners.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In his contribution the member for Melbourne made a reference to members of the House—the government—who might be either on the take or something else. It would really assist the House if the member could withdraw that statement. It is a reflection and imputation on members of the chamber.

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Melbourne. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand as part of the question. I call the member for Makin.

12:27 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 seeks to establish a low-level radioactive waste storage facility at Kimba in South Australia, a site that then will also be used for the temporary storage of intermediate-level radioactive waste. The mention of the words 'radioactive' or 'nuclear' immediately raises community anxiety and confusion, and understandably so. On the one hand it is claimed that low-level radioactive waste, in particular, but also intermediate-level waste, presents very little community risk. For decades, that waste has been stored in close proximity to community facilities. On the other hand, we are told that the waste should be permanently stored in remote facilities away from people and homes. People are therefore getting mixed messages, so it is no wonder that they are confused and even sceptical.

Before I go to my substantive remarks, I want to respond to a comment made by the member for Grey. I respect the member for Grey's close relationship with the community he represents. He said that criticism about this proposal came from people outside of the area. I point out to the member for Grey and to members of the House that criticism also came from the Flinders Local Action Group, the Barngarla people and other Indigenous representatives, the No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural Land in Kimba or SA group, the No Dump Alliance, the state member for Giles and, notably, the former member for Grey, Barry Wakelin, and his wife, Tina. All of those people and groups also have a close association with the area in question.

There is general agreement that Australia should have a national radioactive waste facility, and the member for Gorton and others on this side of the House have made that absolutely clear. It is a position I also support. For decades Australia has pursued the idea, but to date a suitable site has not been agreed upon. Currently, Australia's radioactive waste is stored in more than 100 locations across Australia. In answer to a question on notice from me in February this year about this issue, the minister recently responded as follows:

9. The Commonwealth generates and holds the vast majority of Australia's intermediate level radioactive waste. Most of this waste is held by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Lucas Heights, Sydney. ANSTO currently has about 1,211 cubic meters of legacy intermediate level waste in storage and an expected volume of 1,849 cubic meters of future intermediate level waste.

10. The Commonwealth generates and holds the vast majority of Australia's low level radioactive waste, and most of this waste is held by ANSTO in Lucas Heights, Sydney. ANSTO currently has about 2,711 cubic meters of legacy low level waste in storage and an expected volume of 4,685 cubic meters of future low level waste.

It seems that the options here are to either increase capacity at Lucas Heights or establish a new facility elsewhere. However, finding a suitable location is proving to be very difficult, as others have already pointed out, with no community wanting a site in their backyard, including much of the community around Kimba. Despite claims of community support for the Kimba site, earlier this year around 300 local people turned out to a rally in Kimba. For a country town, quite remote, that's a considerable number of people, and they turned out in opposition to the waste facility.

There is also an argument that many people who should have been consulted around the proposed site were not given a say and that the government's claim of over 60 per cent of locals being in support is not a true indication of community views. In particular, the Barngarla people, the traditional owners, claimed they were excluded from a community ballot. Testing community support for the site selected, amongst people in the areas surrounding Kimba, was something that should have included the Barngarla people.

The whole site selection process and the handling of this legislation has been dogged by controversy. For example, there are concerns that the bill seeks to change the objects of the original act by removing an explicit reference to 'Commonwealth waste' in relation to the proposed facility. This opens up the proposed facility for significant future project creep and waste streams—possibly, waste from more places. Secondly, the bill proposes to continue with exemptions from project compliance with both the EPBC Act and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. These are serious concerns.

The notion of establishing a nuclear waste facility in this region of South Australia has already twice been rejected by South Australians over the past two decades. In 2004 the South Australian government took a federal government proposal to court and blocked the federal government from establishing a nuclear waste facility in South Australia—again, in this part of South Australia. In 2017 a citizens' jury overwhelmingly rejected a high-level nuclear waste storage facility, again in South Australia. That was after extensive and inclusive public consultation.

The consultation process surrounding the Kimba site selection has been widely criticised, albeit that the proposal is for low-level and temporary storage of intermediate-level waste. Labor is calling for this proposal to be referred to the Senate Economics References Committee so that questions about the concerns raised by farmers—that damage to Australia's clean and green image in producing agricultural products will directly affect them. Also, there are concerns about transport, as other speakers have said, in carting radioactive material from one side of the country to the other. There are also concerns that other sites should be reconsidered, and there are real concerns about the risks and long-term benefits to the local region that have been claimed, and they should also be open again to scrutiny. That is what is needed to restore public confidence in the process, to ensure that the process is transparent and to allay any other concerns.

I will now turn to the issue of looking at alternative sites. Once a site is selected, as others have rightly pointed out, it will be a long-term decision that will cover many, many generations to come. Once a site is selected it will be a permanent site—literally forever—and we all know that. So it's important that we get the site right. Whilst I accept that we have already spent many, many years doing that, if there is a better site than this we should be looking at it.

The federal government owns extensive tracts of land across Australia, as do all state governments. There are also extensive existing and disused mining sites that may be suitable for nuclear waste storage. For example, in 2005 the South Australian government commenced discussions with BHP, the owners of Roxby Downs uranium mine, about the possibility of storing waste there. That would seem to me an eminently sensible thing to do. And there may be other alternative places that, again, common sense would suggest are eminently suitable for the storage of waste. I don't know where that discussion led to, or what happened to it, but my point is that there are opportunities to look at other legitimate sites that, I suspect, would have far less community opposition.

There are also numerous Defence sites that may be suitable for a waste facility that would have much less impact on surrounding communities. Woomera already stores about 120 truckloads of low-level waste. The member for Lingiari mentioned earlier today other sites that were looked at in 2005. In my view, and without knowing the details, these are sites that would seem to be suitable or that should at least be reconsidered. And I imagine that these sites would create little or no community opposition.

Why are those sites not being considered, if low-level waste truly presents minimal risk? Why is it that the government is looking for a temporary site for intermediate-level waste, not a permanent site? Why are the two waste streams not considered separately? Why isn't the storage of intermediate-level waste the priority, when it should be? I think there would be widespread agreement that low-level waste is not the real issue here; it is the intermediate-level waste that is of concern to people. If that is the case and if that is what we should be trying to address, why aren't we making that the priority and looking for a site for the intermediate-level waste? Instead, under this proposal, we are simply saying the site will be used for the temporary storage of intermediate-level waste. Where does it go to after that? The truth is that nobody believes it will go anywhere; this site will probably become the permanent storage place for intermediate-level waste. Why is the government not saying: let's split the two streams and just deal with low-level waste? If we did that, perhaps there wouldn't be such opposition to the proposal at Kimba. It might be a way of dealing with that problem, if that is the truth of what this legislation is all about.

This is an important issue. I accept what others have said in terms of the importance of nuclear medicine in this country. We all benefit from nuclear medicine—there is no debate and no disagreement with that—but let's not make that an excuse for choosing the wrong site. We have spent decades looking for the right site. I chaired a committee that looked into the Muckaty Station proposal and I heard extensively from community members about that site, so it is something I've had some experience dealing with. With respect to this site, based on the objections that have been raised by people in the area surrounding Kimba, their concerns are legitimate and ought to be considered properly. A Senate select committee, I hope, would do that. I would hope that at the end of that process—if this is the site we choose, or if there happens to be another site—we get the site selection right. Because if we do, we know it will be there for the long term, and that is exactly what the Labor amendment seeks to do.

12:40 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

The National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 reflects over 40 years of searching by successive governments to identify a suitable site that will support the safe and secure management of radioactive waste in Australia. The establishment of a national facility will benefit all Australians by supporting nuclear medicine, which is so critical to cancer treatments, and other important nuclear science and technology activity in the national interest, by providing confidence around how and where radioactive waste will be managed in Australia. The bill provides clarity and certainty about the location of this important facility for the local community, for the broader Australian public and for the nuclear industry.

It also establishes mechanisms to support the host community that will be delivering public services and community infrastructure to the facility. While the bill removes the existing site nomination and selection framework in the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012, the identification of Napandee in the South Australian Kimba region as the host site was based on the extensive voluntary process set out in the act. The selection of Napandee was the result of detailed site assessments and community sentiment information, which are the products of years of technical studies and community engagement efforts. This included engagement and consultation with the Barngarla people over a number of years. It is not the government's intention to extinguish native title rights or interests in the process of developing the facility. While Napandee is within the Barngarla Native Title Determination Area, native title does not exist within the proposed site at Napandee. The government has proposed amendments to the bill to put beyond doubt that native title rights and interests in the area surrounding the proposed site will not be compulsorily acquired as part of the acquisition of additional land for all-weather road access to the facility.

In addition, the bill provides for the establishment of a $20 million community fund, intended to be managed and controlled by the host community. The bill makes clear that the fund is to be used to support the economic and social sustainability of the host community. The community fund will contribute to sustainable health services, agriculture research and development, enhancements to local critical infrastructure and the further development of the local Indigenous community economy. The details and arrangements of the community fund will be determined in consultation with the host community.

I would like to thank members for their consideration of the bill and the government amendments. I particularly thank speakers for their contributions. Siting a national facility for the management of radioactive waste raises a number of important issues for consideration, and the bill represents an important milestone in this endeavour. So it is encouraging to see members actively engaging with the issues and the process going forward. I would encourage continued participation in the upcoming Senate committee inquiry, which is due to report by 31 July 2020. I also look forward to continuing these important discussions in the Senate in due course.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

12:54 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that this bill be now read a second time.