House debates

Thursday, 18 March 2021


Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management (Register) Bill 2020, Industrial Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management (Register) Charge (General) Bill 2020, Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management (Register) Charge (Customs) Bill 2020, Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management (Register) Charge (Excise) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:01 am

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

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 notes that the Coalition Government has consistently been slow to deliver on its announcements".

Labor supports the passage of the Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management (Register) Bill 2020 and related bills because it is sensible to work towards a national approach to the management of industrial chemicals and their impacts on the environment. These bills will establish a national standard in relation to the management of industrial chemicals—like PFAS, but many others as well—and their risk to the environment. Labor hopes this national standard will help manage risks to protect the environment and to provide a nationally consistent approach for both governments and industry. Sadly, some communities know all too well the environmental impacts of the mismanagement of chemicals, including PFAS. The bills intend to address a gap in standards set nationally for the management of risks for the protection of the environment. While there are existing regimes for managing risks from industrial chemicals to public and worker health and safety, there is currently no national standard-setting framework for managing the environmental risks of industrial chemicals. These bills come after a lengthy period of consultation, spanning more than a decade, with agreement and consultation between the states and territories.

It has now been more than five years since the environment ministers agreed to establish a national standard, and finally the government has introduced these bills into the parliament. It was back in 2015 that environment ministers agreed to establish a national standard to manage the environmental risks of industrial chemicals. A draft was developed and stakeholders were consulted over a three-year period, from 2015 to 2018, but draft legislation was only released in 2020. That's two years after the government's consultation. This government is consistently slow or fails to deliver on its announcements, and haven't we all seen that. It's a government that's all photo-op and no follow-up. It's a government that will turn up and make a big announcement and then wait for the caravan to roll on and never actually deliver on it. We've seen that in my portfolio, in the environment. We've seen it with the emergency bushfire money that was announced in January 2020, at the height of the national bushfire crisis. We got to the end of that financial year and they hadn't managed to spend all of that so-called emergency money.

I was in the Blue Mountains just recently with our wonderful member Susan Templeman, who was showing me around. I was introduced to local environmental groups, who work on the ground—remember, this is a bushfire affected, in fact a bushfire devastated, area. These local environmental groups were telling me that they'd scarcely seen a cent of the bushfire money in the Blue Mountains. It was quite bewildering and gobsmacking, in what was in some ways ground zero—at least in that part of the world around Sydney, from the environmental destruction wreaked by the fires—to have the people who are there caring for such important forest, for such important country, tell me that they weren't seeing the money. It was pretty surprising, I've got to say.

Look at water. This is a government in their eighth year. They're responsible for delivering on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—obviously, in collaboration with other basin jurisdictions, but you expect the Commonwealth to show leadership. We're now in a situation where the 450 gigalitres of up-water due by 2024 has seemingly no prospect of actually being delivered. In fact, in the First review of the Water for the Environment Special Account that was published last year, the panel bluntly said the 450 gigalitres is not going to be delivered by 2024. Why did the panel form that conclusion? Only 1.9 of the 450 gigalitres had been delivered—less than one per cent! This Prime Minister is just all about announcement and failure: announcement of policy and failure of delivery. I think it's really disgraceful. So it's no surprise that they've taken quite a significant amount of time to pursue this really non-controversial legislation that we're talking about today—that they've taken such a long period of time to bring into existence this framework for a national environmental standard for the management and storage of industrial chemicals.

In respect of this bill, I note that some stakeholders flagged concerns about a number of issues. Those included the adoption and implementation of the national register being a decision for each state and territory jurisdiction, some trepidation relating to the charges bills and some questions about the timing and timeliness of the bills. So I call on the government to ensure that they actively engage with state and territory governments, in line with the relevant recommendations from the recent Senate inquiry into this legislation, particularly in relation to planning for the adoption of the register across the country, the cost recovery arrangements and the role of the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme.

The current settings where individual jurisdictions must separately determine if and how chemicals should be managed to protect the environment could result in additional costs and duplication of effort for industry. The development and design of the legislative framework has been informed by consultation. We appreciate that, and that's why we are pleased to see this bill finally before the parliament to be passed. We know that the Commonwealth government has been collaborating on this reform with state and territory government and industry groups for over a decade. It's time the Morrison government got on with the job of delivering.

We note the broad support for the national standard and its objectives, and we will watch the government closely to ensure they engage in further consultation, as recommended by the Senate inquiry, and especially when it comes to undertaking comprehensive consultation with affected businesses in developing a cost recovery implementation statement before imposing any charges. I commend the legislation to the House and I look forward to seeing it passed.

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

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) 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 Griffith has moved an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

10:08 am

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to lend my support to the Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management (Register) Bill 2020 and related bills. These bills would establish a national framework to manage the handling, use and disposal of industrial chemicals, which have the potential to cause serious health and environmental harms if mismanaged. Currently, there is no mechanism to implement the health and safety recommendations made by the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme to manage such risks, and that's a huge risk in itself. This bill will ensure that industrial chemicals are appropriately and uniformly classified based on risk and that this classification is based in evidence and the expert advice of an advisory committee on environmental management of industrial chemicals. Importantly, this bill also creates a mechanism for states and territories to jointly implement recommendations relating to the appropriate management of industrial chemicals to ensure national consistency.

This bill has relevance to my electorate of Indi where poor regulation and management of PFAS, also known as a 'forever chemical', has directly impacted residents in East Wodonga. PFAS is a man-made persistent organic substance, meaning it does not break down easily and, therefore, accumulates over time and remains in our environment and in us. There are thousands of such chemicals. Wodonga is one of a number of regional cities across Australia currently tackling issues related to PFAS contamination in the environment. The Bandiana Military Area near Wodonga, like many military bases across Australia, previously used a firefighting foam that contained the chemical PFAS. Although it's no longer used and has not been used at Bandiana for around 10 years, PFAS can still be detected in the surface water and groundwater at the base and has leaked from the military base into the surrounding environment.

A number of Wodonga residents are part of an Australia-wide class action that is seeking damages to compensate for impacted properties, land values and livelihoods. Similar claims in Katherine in the Northern Territory have resulted in a significant settlement for residents, amounting to $212.5 million. The Department of Defence conducted a series of investigations into PFAS exposure at Bandiana and in the community, concluding 'low and acceptable' levels of exposure. However, 'potentially unacceptable risks' were identified from activities that are not currently occurring in the area surrounding Bandiana, but could in the future, such as the use of groundwater for stock watering or growing local vegetables and eggs, as many people across my electorate already do. My constituents and all Australians should be able to do these things with confidence, without wondering whether they're putting their lives and the lives of their families in danger.

Although the links between forever chemicals and serious health risks are not officially recognised by the government, the Department of Defence recognised in its investigation that 'important health effects for individuals exposed to PFAS cannot be ruled out based on current evidence', and exposure to these chemicals should, therefore, be minimised. With these types of findings in official government reports, I can empathise with community concern about the extent of the health risks PFAS might pose. Nicole Beach, whose family home borders Jack in the Box Creek where water samples have exceeded PFAS freshwater guidelines, is understandably concerned about any possible connection between Bandiana and extremely high rates of cancer and autoimmune disease in her family. And there are many more concerning stories like this. More research is needed, and PFAS is, of course, only one of numerous industrial chemicals that pose potential risks to human health. North East Water continues to monitor PFAS levels in drinking water for Wodonga, Wangaratta, Yarrawonga and Wahgunyah, thankfully, having found no alarming levels to date. This bill will not solve overnight the problems and concerns that communities like Wodonga are experiencing, but it is a step towards ensuring that it doesn't happen again.

Australian communities deserve to be protected from the hazards associated with the use of chemicals of an industrial nature. Australian communities should have confidence that the government is doing its best to protect them from the hazards associated with the use of industrial chemicals, and this bill takes us a step in the right direction. Regulating industrial chemicals is currently the responsibility of states and territories. PFAS is regulated differently in Victoria, where my electorate of Indi is, than in Queensland or Western Australia. Under this bill, states and territories would continue to hold regulatory responsibility but would be coordinated by national standards to ensure dangerous chemicals are managed consistently, proactively and more effectively across the country than has been the case in the past. It's also important to note that just this month the New South Wales Liberal government banned the use of PFAS firefighting foam except in catastrophic circumstances. Firefighting foam is the main source of PFAS contamination in New South Wales, so the phase-out will contribute greatly to the reduction of this toxic contaminant in the New South Wales environment.

It's a commendable reform by the New South Wales government and a sign that it's possible to remove these toxins from products that we need for daily life. I support this bill and hope it will improve the successful management of industrial chemicals to protect the health of Australians and to protect our precious environment.

10:14 am

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Youth) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to sum up on the Industrial Chemicals Environment Management (Register) Bill 2020 and associated bills. Firstly, I'd like to thank all the members who have contributed to the debate on these bills. This legislation will deliver groundbreaking improvements to the way that environmental risks from industrial chemicals are managed in Australia. This legislation will establish a national framework to manage the ongoing use, handling and disposal of industrial chemicals in order to reduce impacts on the environment and limit people's exposure to industrial chemicals. It delivers on reforms agreed by environment ministers from all Australian jurisdictions to drive consistency and high standards for environmental protection across the nation.

I'd also like to thank the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills for their review of this package of bills. I table two amendments to the explanatory memorandum to respond to concerns raised by the committee.

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 Griffith has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.