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- Start of Business
SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1996-97
SUPPLY BILL (No. 2) 1996-97
SUPPLY (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL 1996-97
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Coalition's Election Promises
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr FAHEY)
(Mr RANDALL, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr CREAN, Mr HOWARD)
Unfair Dismissal Law
(Mr BOB BALDWIN, Mr REITH)
(Mr McMULLAN, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr FORREST, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Mr MARTIN FERGUSON, Mr HOWARD)
Industrial Relations: Small Business
(Mr LLOYD, Mr HOWARD)
Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme
(Mr GARETH EVANS, Mr FAHEY)
- Coalition's Election Promises
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Mr CAUSLEY, Mr REITH)
(Mr ANDREN, Mr WARWICK SMITH)
Apprenticeships and Traineeships
(Mrs ELSON, Dr KEMP)
Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme
(Mr O'KEEFE, Mr ANDERSON)
(Mr NUGENT, Mr DOWNER)
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr DOWNER)
(Mrs ELIZABETH GRACE, Dr KEMP)
- Union Membership
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- INDIGENOUS EDUCATION (SUPPLEMENTARY ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- AIRPORTS BILL 1996
- AIRPORTS (TRANSITIONAL) BILL 1996
- SOCIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NEWLY ARRIVED RESIDENT'S WAITING PERIODS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 1996
- THERAPEUTIC GOODS AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- Start of Business
- INDIGENOUS EDUCATION (SUPPLEMENTARY ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- HAZARDOUS WASTE (REGULATION OF EXPORTS AND IMPORTS) AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Thursday, 23 May 1996
Mr CAMPBELL(12.28 p.m.) —I rise to support this legislation. It is quite clear, as the previous speaker, the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb) said, that we need uniform legislation and we need legislation for the safe storage of waste material. The alternative, of course, is unsafe storage. I get mightily confused by those people who protest at every attempt to seek safe storage for this material but who are quite happy to leave it lying scattered around our cities. It is a nonsense.
As the previous speaker said, there is a close correlation between hazardous waste and nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is an area in which I do have some expertise. In 1974, the policy of the Australian Labor Party was to mine, process and reprocess uranium. I was one of the people instrumental in changing that policy, and I thought I had achieved a great thing when we completely reversed the policy.
So enthusiastic was I that I went to France at my own expense to campaign against nuclear energy because I rightly divined that Australia is really irrelevant in the world scheme of things and that we had to stop it in France. I spent many months travelling across France, standing up in picture theatres and heckling the French on the evils of nuclear energy, and standing in supermarkets doing surveys, assisted by my wife, who did the French speaking. I also visited establishments and talked to people.
It took me some months to realise that what I was saying was absolute nonsense. So I changed my mind. I have made it a policy in life that, when I am wrong, I change my mind. I have found that that policy has generally stood me in good stead. So I came back to Australia convinced that we had made a mistake, and I have been trying to rectify it ever since.
It appals me that I hear today, some 20 years later, people regurgitating the arguments I used to put—and, I think, generally not putting them as well. They are exactly the same arguments, which have no substance. In my electorate I have the Monte Bellos, where there was significant nuclear testing in the 1950s. It is a great part of Australia. The fishing there is like none you have ever seen before, and now it looks like being a very important oil province. It is interesting that a large part of Sydney's Chinese cafe trade fish comes from the Monte Bellos, and no-one seems to be suffering ill effects from it whatsoever.
I might add something from my own experience. When I was campaigning—I think it was in the election we had in the mid-1980s—there was talk about storing waste at a place just out of Southern Cross called Koolyanobbing. It was an iron ore mine that had ceased operation on economic grounds. They were talking about putting in a destruction plant there, principally for the destruction of PCBs. I arrived at Southern Cross and was met by one of the local state members. I said, `Give me a bit of advice.' He said, `Oppose this installation.' I said to him, `But I do not oppose it. I actually support it.' `It does not matter,' he said, `oppose it. The election will be over in a couple of weeks.' I said, `I cannot do that. I am going to support it.' I guess I was buoyed in my integrity by the fact that I knew I could survive without any votes in Southern Cross. But I went out there and said that I thought the material could be stored safely and this was what we should do, and my vote in Southern Cross, in fact, went up. So I believe that people are amenable to reasoned arguments. Unfortunately, they tend not to get them—as the previous speaker, the member for Parkes, said—from people in responsible positions.
You see this all the time. I was sitting in my office, listening to the previous debate on Aboriginal education. I must say that I do not think I have heard so much hyperbole, cant and nonsense—some of it well meaning—from speakers on either side. You have seen the reaction of John Howard, the leader—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —The Prime Minister.
Mr CAMPBELL —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You have seen the reaction of the Prime Minister of the Howard centralist government to gun law. He is raising fear in the community, putting forward things that are totally unworkable. He does not care about the end result. All he wants to do is project himself as dynamic Johnny so that he can be up there for his double dissolution, which he is expecting next year.
That is a totally different reaction from the measured response of John Major in England—a man under enormous pressure, who clearly does need to raise his profile. What did they do in Britain? They sent the gun issue off to a committee, under a peer of the realm, to be discussed in all aspects. The result is that the British will know what went wrong at Dunblane. They will know why it did, whether it could have been predicted, all the ins and outs. In Australia we will not because we have taken our action—we are just going to ban guns, which will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome. Of course it will not, because what happened in Hobart was a mental health problem, not a gun problem. I am digressing there, and I thank the chair for his tolerance.
Let me get back to waste storage. I have in my electorate one of those areas designated as a suitable site for waste storage—Mount Walter. It is 70 kilometres west of Coolgardie. I remember that a few elections ago an anti-waste dump party ran in Coolgardie against the state member, on the basis that they did not want the stuff in their backyard, some 70 kilometres away. They do have large backyards out there! The result of it was that the state member, Julian Grill, increased his majority. So, I think, if you take the trouble to explain to people the hard facts—the truth—you can convince them.
Mount Walter would be a suitable site for fairly toxic waste and certainly for medium-level radioactive material. In fact, a French company, Rhone-Poulenc, is mining around the Pinjarra area and it is seeking to downstream-process, to extract from this material the rare earths, which have a clear value and a much greater value than simply in exporting the raw material.
When the company first started, the argument coming from the Green movement was that we could not trust the French to ship the stuff overseas because it contained the radioactive element thorium, which of course is included in every bit of granite. I can tell new members of parliament that this new Parliament House is certainly many times more radioactive than the Old Parliament House. The background radiation here would be considerably higher than you would get in lots of parts of Australia, owing to the enormous amount of granite here and the enormous concrete platform on which this place floats—because we have built it on a geological flaw. But do not worry: the radiation is still well within any safe limits.
The company was told that, because it was French, it could not be trusted to export the stuff, because the wicked French would extract the thorium and maybe make bombs. The French company said, `Yes, we understand that. What we will do is process it here.' The argument then became, `You must now make the wicked French take their radioactive waste with them. They can export the rare earths, but they must take the radioactive waste with them.' It was never an argument about the environment; it was always an argument about stopping any economic development or progress. I think there is always a lot of confusion in that area.
Anyhow, I accept radioactive waste in my electorate. It is, I guess, medium-level waste. It would be mainly gamma-radiating and, if it is stored as proposed—in plastic containers six feet below the ground—we return, of course, to background levels of radiation. Mount Walter is ideally suited. Firstly, it has a low rainfall; secondly, it has internal drainage; thirdly, if there is any underground water at all, it is hyper-saline and there is not much of it; and, fourthly, it is geologically very stable. I have made it clear that I would be prepared to store high-level waste in my electorate, and this is a position I have always made clear to my constituents. Since they have always returned me, it would seem there is some measure of agreement there.
However, the goldfields generally are booming. This is an area of dynamic growth in Australia. The same cannot be said for Broken Hill, and it may well be that this is an industry that Broken Hill needs, if it is going to continue to exist at all. Unless there are more ore bodies found at Broken Hill, it is inevitably going to become another ghost town or one depending increasingly, as it appears to be, on tourism. I left Broken Hill in 1959. I left just ahead of the police. I had not been back for many years but I was disappointed, when I went back, to see that it had become very much a tourist place, and not the working town that I knew it as.
Geologically stable areas are ideal places, if you have them, for the disposal of high-level waste using the synroc technology. The Australian synroc technology is 1,000 times safer than the borosilicate glass technology favoured by the French. That is not to say that the French borosilicate glass is not safe; it is. I am convinced it is perfectly safe. It is just that synroc is much safer, although it is slightly more expensive, and it is something that I believe should have been pursued with vigour. Had the Australian Labor Party had the policy it had in 1956, there could have been be a future for it, because mining, processing and waste reprocessing could have led to the establishment of a big industry in Australia.
We have the requirements that make us a very good country to look after waste. Firstly, we have stable government and a trustworthy system. Secondly, we have the best geology in the world for the safe storage of this material. Thirdly, we have the best distribution of people, as we have areas of very low population. I am sure that there is a multi-billion dollar industry that Australia could run very well, and Australia could play a very important part in providing this service to the world. That is far better, in my view, than to not know what people are doing with their intractable waste, and I think there is a lot of fear raised in the community.
When you visit these nuclear power plants in Britain and France, one of the things that you notice, particularly in the cold winters, is ponds with a bit of steam rising from them. That is where the French store their very high-level waste. They store it there for 40 years to cool it down. It is hot because of the high rate of atomic decay.
I noticed that there were always plenty of seagulls floating around on the top because the water was warm. I was assured that the seagulls were at no risk because water, of course, is a barrier, being a dense material. In fact, distance is a barrier to radiation and that is the defence mechanism we use against the sun. The denser the medium, the less distance required. There was no threat to the birds and they were obviously enjoying it.
The member for Prospect (Mrs Crosio) talked about Australia's responsibility and how we must act in terms of the environment. It was all good emotional stuff, with little basis in fact, but very good for grabbing the heartstrings. You have seen the situation in New South Wales, where a totally irresponsible premier stopped a mine at West Wyalong—also in the electorate of the member for Parkes.
I have had a look at this mine and it is a very ordinary engineering enterprise. There is nothing difficult about it and it is very straightforward. There is absolutely no doubt that if it had any effect at all environmentally, it would be marginally a plus because it would marginally reduce the rising ground water which, of course, is the big environmental problem there. It would also create a lot of employment and a lot of wealth for Australia.
There was a lot of emotion about Parkes where some birds had been killed on the tailings dam. This can actually happen if cyanide levels are not properly controlled—and the birds died. What affects populations of birds and, in fact, the population of any animal, including the human animal, is the availability of food. If 10 per cent of the bird population had died—it was nothing like that figure—that population would certainly recover in a couple of years. I think that really, we have to keep these things in perspective.
I was talking to a fellow who was the third generation of a family that pioneered the Kellerberrin area, and he was adamant that the pink and grey galah, the Kakadu rosy colour, is not a native of that area. You see it absolutely everywhere, but he is adamant that it was not there until the wheat farmers came. It obviously followed the wheat farmers because there was an exponential increase in food.
One of the things that I find a little concerning when these people are so concerned about the environment is that we have increased the food potential for these birds exponentially—for all the cockatoo family, basically—but we have decreased the habitat so they tend to overcrowd existing trees. Their method of survival is to ringbark around their holes to protect themselves from goannas and, because they are nesting there in such numbers on the few remaining trees, they are tending to ringbark those trees, and the trees are dying.
Yet, if you were to say, `Let us commercialise these birds. Let us sell them to reduce their numbers,' you would meet with instant white-hot anger from a lot of these people who profess to have real concern for the environment. I guess that that is very much the nature of life.
What we do need here is good education. It appals me. I received a letter from grade 5 at a certain school where every student in the class had written to me, begging me, as their member of parliament, to do something about greenhouse gases which were enlarging the hole in the ozone layer. This obviously came from the teacher. I wrote back to every kid individually and said, `If you ask your teacher, she will tell you that this is wrong and that you do not know what you are talking about. The greenhouse gases have no effect on the ozone layer.' I hope that by this mechanism we are able to educate the teacher. I am concerned about the misinformation that is made available through our education system, and which often appears to be supported by governments.
There is, at the end of the day, no real alternative to having scientific and rational discussion on these matters. I am all for that. There should be much more of it. As I have said, if I am shown to be wrong, I will be very happy to change my mind.
This bill is a commonsense bill. In my view, it does not do a lot to look at the economic advantages that can be achieved by these measures. But I do want to say just one thing: the hyperbole we have been faced with from the `Paul Howard' centralist government about selling Telecom to fund the environment is an intellectual disgrace. If you want to do something about the Murray Valley—and we certainly need to do something about the Murray Valley—it really does have to have an economic base. There is certainly no doubt in my mind that the mass planting of Eucalyptus camaldulensis has the capacity to lower the rising ground water level. It will be effective only if there is an economic base for that.
What we should be doing is seeking to establish a timber or a paper industry based on those trees. It is young trees that suck up water. If we can keep turning those trees over, we can keep pressure on reducing that rising ground water, which is the main basis of the problem with the Murray Valley. But, of course, giving an economic basis to it is often seen by the environmental movement as tawdry, and it will, therefore, most likely be opposed.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Before I call the next speaker, I would point out to the committee that we would normally expect to adjourn in something like 12½ minutes. However, the intention is for this bill to be completed before we adjourn. Therefore, while we have four more speakers, which is in total 80 minutes, and I have not the slightest desire to impinge on the rights of members, I would like to suggest that, if possible, they might restrain their eloquence and perhaps not take all of their time.