Monday, 21 June 2021
National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
As Senator Abetz has just articulately outlined, in their lifetime, every Australian is likely to rely on nuclear medicine to identify and treat life-threatening cancers and other conditions. Australia has a responsibility to safely and securely manage our radioactive waste, which is the by-product of nuclear medicine manufacturing and other nuclear research in the national interest.
This bill reflects over 40 years of effort by successive governments and successive ministers—such as Senator Carr on the other side and Senator Canavan, who just made a contribution, and now, in the other place, the member for Hinkler, Mr Pitt—to progress the facility and guarantee the production of nuclear medicine in this country. I would like to thank the communities around Lyndhurst, Napandee and Wallerberdina for engaging in this lengthy process in good faith. I'd also like to thank the member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, for his ongoing commitment to this project, and acknowledge the South Australian government's support for this important infrastructure which is in the national interest.
Government has invited parliamentary oversight of this bill. Minister Pitt referred the bill to the Economics Legislation Committee to ensure stakeholders had the opportunity to have their say about the delivery of this vital piece of national infrastructure. The committee report recommended that the bill be passed without amendment. Consistent with other recommendations made by the committee, the Australian Radioactive Waste Agency continues to reach out to the Barngarla people to seek their support to engage with an independent mediator. The government remains committed to working with the Barngarla people to appropriately manage Aboriginal cultural heritage and to support Aboriginal economic development in the region.
Senator Patrick's proposed amendments are unsuitable. It would not be sensible to permanently site a facility in a missile-testing range. The government accepts the advice of Defence that a radioactive waste facility is not compatible with those operations. Additionally, these amendments would impose a site on a community that has not been subject to thorough community consultation or extensive technical assessments.
In the course of the inquiry and legislative debate, it has been clear that stakeholders are uncomfortable about the site selection decision being one made by the parliament. The government has heard these concerns and consulted with the opposition and the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation on these amendments that will reinstate judicial review to the site decision. The amendments recognise the three short-listed sites and reinstate a declaration process, a process whereby the minister must have regard for all the relevant information and make an informed decision to declare a suitable site for the facility. This is no longer site-specific legislation.
The level of community support will weigh into the minister's consideration when determining where to declare a site for a facility. Listing the Wallerberdina Station site recognises the short-listing stage of the site selection process only. It is not—and I reinforce it is not—intended to signal a change in the government's assessment of that site. The community that live and work in the vicinity of Wallerberdina Station have made it clear that they do not broadly support the facility being located there. The government's position is clear: the facility will not be imposed on an unwilling local community.
In passing this bill, the Senate has the opportunity to establish important mechanisms to support the host community and ensure they can realise the benefits that this new industry will bring. The Senate also has the opportunity to recognise the bipartisan support for a purpose-built facility which will permanently dispose of Australia's domestic low-level waste and temporarily store our intermediate-level waste.
In concluding, I thank all of the senators who have made a contribution to this bill, whether it be through the very extensive committee process, the bipartisan support that this received in the recommendations from that committee report or the contributions that have been made by senators in this place as we have started to debate this bill tonight. I thank them very much for their contribution to this debate and I commend the bill to the Senate.
I table two supplementary explanatory memoranda relating to the government's amendments to be moved to the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020.