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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 JENKINS(1.05 p.m.) —I am now in a difficult position because I have conflicting instructions from various forces around this place, so I think that what I will do first is place on record my personal comments about certain things about the present conduct of the Main Committee.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I believe that you have been placed in an invidious position in earlier having to advise speakers to—I think you used the words `contain their eloquence'—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —I invited, I did not advise.
Mr JENKINS —Often people would have invited me to contain my verbiage, so I am at least pleased that the word `eloquence' was used. I am a bit concerned that you were placed in that position so early in the session about the conduct of the Main Committee. It is a bit difficult for me, as a third person, to make comment on what has actually happened, but I understand that there was not strict agreement about that course of action. In fact, it was only coincidental that I came up here to listen so that I could more properly play my part in the debate and I sensed that perhaps the debate was carrying on. I then went back to my room and it was when I was in my room that you by your comments confirmed that the debate was to go on.
Can I just take this opportunity to place on record that I and, I believe, other members—especially of the opposition—who have placed their names on the speakers list have done so with a genuine desire to enter into the debate on the legislation, and that, if we are to see this Main Committee operate properly, I hope that we will see continuing cooperation about the hours of sitting and like decisions.
Having said that, because I don't know in the tactical sense what my next move could appropriately be, despite suggestions that I should not be speaking at this stage, I will proceed to enter into the debate. Mr Deputy Speaker, my comments were not reflective on you or a direct criticism. I know directly by personal experience that when you are sitting there sometimes you are not aware of what is going on. That is proper, because you are here to make sure that standing orders are upheld. There are other agreements that are made about the conduct of the Main Committee and in the last parliament it was as a result of those agreements that the Main Committee was able to be so successful. I am not sure whether there was any reason why this bill had to be completed today or whether it could have been held over to next week's sittings of the Main Committee.
I will now talk about the bill, the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Amendment Bill 1996. The Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989. Australia acceded to it on 5 February 1992. This bill aims to end some discrepancies which have emerged during the operation of the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act, an act designed to give effect to the Basel convention in Australian law. One such discrepancy is the definition of what constitutes hazardous waste. These amendments will ensure that the definitions used in Australian law meet those that the convention intended and that Australia is no longer out of line with international opinion on this subject.
One of the problems of the previous definition of hazardous waste was that it was confined to material deemed to be worthless. This definition excluded wastes exported for recycling or for recovery. Because Australia does not require approval for these types of exports, follow-up inquiries are not undertaken about whether the waste is to be treated in an environmentally appropriate way in the destination and transit countries. This is in clear breach of the Basel convention. The convention specifically calls on signatory countries to prohibit exports when they are not going to be treated in an environmentally sound manner once they have left the exporting country. Amending the definition of hazardous waste to include recycling exports will make certain that these are subjected to the same level of scrutiny. Even if Australia's environmental legislation and monitoring programs were the best in the world, Australia would always, to a large extent, be dependent on the environmental actions of other nations. That is why it is in our best interests to see that international standards are adhered to in other countries as well.
In a global context, there does not seem to be much point to handling hazardous waste in an environmentally sensitive manner if the waste is then exported to a country where it leads to untold damage to the environment. Technical terminology is an important issue in the operation of any convention. It is especially important that definitions and standards are uniform so that the intent of the convention is not undermined.
Obviously the government acknowledges and accepts the importance of uniform definitions and standards enough to put this amendment bill up. I take this to mean that the government accepts that there is a role for the Commonwealth when it comes to establishing standards and definitions and, indeed, measuring outcomes against these criteria. With talk of handing powers back to the states on a whole host of issues, including the environment, sadly the government does not appear very committed to this concept.
At the same time as the House debates a bill about world standards of the disposal of hazardous waste, talk continues about the Commonwealth devolving environmental responsibility to the states. Abolishing organisations like the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency, which has a vital role to play in monitoring standards across the nation, will only make achieving uniform standards that much more difficult.
An argument is put that, so long as you have a national standard, it is really irrelevant whether the Commonwealth or the states do the monitoring and policing of that standard. This argument contends that, as long as a national standard is in place, the state environmental protection agencies can be responsible for the monitoring and the Commonwealth agency can be abolished. However, the experience in Victoria would suggest that there is a definite need for increased, rather than decreased, involvement of the Commonwealth in these matters.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I might need some guidance here. It would probably suit me if there was a mechanism where I could move the adjournment of the debate and seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Standing Order 274, subclause (c), gives you the possibility to move the adjournment—and, of course, you would seek leave to continue your remarks.
Mr JENKINS —Yes. There is a risk component to the process I am about to embark upon, but I do so.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is leave granted?
Mr Warwick Smith —No.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Leave is not granted. If I may invite you to resume your seat briefly, I would like to thank you for your comments and I would like to advise the committee that the chair was not aware that the proposition to continue beyond 1 p.m. had not been agreed by both sides of the parliament.
I should also point out that while the standing orders provide for the Deputy Speaker to fix the time of meeting, and although the convention is that we meet from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m., there is no fixed time of ending. The convention is one o'clock. Once we start, the proceedings may continue, and will continue, until there are no other speakers or there is no quorum. So the one obvious option for both sides of the House is to withdraw a quorum at any time they want to do that.
I am not advising that you do that, but I thought I should, in fairness, tell the committee that those are the options open to you. The present situation is that you have the call—the honourable member for Scullin—and leave has not been granted for you to move the adjournment.
Mr JENKINS —I will bat on. I accept what you have said. I should indicate that the reason I was nearly caught short on even getting the call was that I was trying to seek advice about what I could do under the standing orders to adjourn the debate and protect my right to be involved in it.
One of my real problems is that I believe the honourable member for Reid (Mr Laurie Ferguson) who is to follow me was led to believe that because the debate was to be adjourned he would be able to speak on this matter in the Main Committee next week. As the honourable member for Reid and I have a friendly rivalry about the numbers of speeches that we are able to make, he would understand that my trying to make sure that he got to speak is against the rules of that contest. Having said that, I will bat on. I just might add that it is a bit difficult even to use the quorum option as I would be the member of the opposition who would make the quorum if I stayed here on my feet.
I was talking about the acts of the Victorian EPA. For example, about two years ago, a study of Melbourne's sewerage system was completed by the sewerage review project team of the environment group, Environment Victoria. It found that very little is actually known about the content of the hazardous waste that is being pumped into Melbourne's sewerage system. This was in part because the monitoring undertaken by the state authority, Melbourne Water, was claimed to be infrequent. Furthermore, the sewage was only tested to quite a limited range of traditional factors, like the pH level, and it neglected more harmful substances.
Melbourne Water's licences to pollute are specific on the concentrations allowed to be discharged but there are no indications of total amounts pumped into the sewerage. Environment Victoria claims that it is simply not known how much aluminium, arsenic, cobalt or manganese, among other substances, there are in Melbourne's sewers.
The point of this example is to illustrate that if the Commonwealth expects to hand back environmental responsibility to the states, it is going to be sorely disappointed by the adequacy of work carried out by these state authorities in monitoring standards.
I hope that the government can be convinced to accept the value of the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency and national forums for intergovernmental cooperation, like the National Environment Protection Council. These institutions at a Commonwealth level do have an instrumental role to play and should not be sacrificed because of some kind of bizarre, ideological whim on states rights. At a time when the government is attempting to berate the opposition by quite inappropriately and misleadingly linking the sale of one-third of Telstra to a commitment to the environment, there are currently some interesting reports appearing in the media.
I note with interest and concern that funding for key programs dealing specifically with the area of hazardous wastes is set to run out at the end of the financial year. The programs affected include the national pollutant inventory, which would specifically force industry to give detailed information about types and amounts of hazardous waste that they create. As part of its `all things to all people' strategy before the last election, the coalition promised to maintain the existing environmental programs funded by the previous government. If these very substantial and worthwhile programs are allowed to be wound up because the government will not devote funds to them, that really exposes their true colours on environmental issues. Attempts to create some kind of false link between Telstra and the environment will not give the government any amount of credibility on environmental issues then.
Mr Leo McLeay —I seek to adjourn the debate.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is this a point of order?
Mr Leo McLeay —It might suit the chamber if I could have your indulgence for a moment and seek leave to adjourn the debate.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am sorry. You cannot interrupt another member who is speaking. You can rise to a point of order.
Mr Leo McLeay —I was seeking your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am prepared to give you indulgence when the member for Scullin has concluded his remarks. My understanding is that you cannot rise to interrupt him unless you have a point of order.
Mr Leo McLeay —We have always run this committee in a very cooperative fashion because that is the way we thought it might work better. We seem to have a jam here that both myself and my colleague, the chief government whip, would like to resolve. The way in which we would both like to resolve it is to seek leave to adjourn the debate now and when the debate comes back on, I am sure that the government will grant an extension of time for the member for Scullin to conclude his remarks.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! While I would like to give the honourable member for Watson the utmost indulgence, he is out of order. I wonder whether, in the spirit of cooperation, which he was espousing just a couple of seconds ago, he might wait until this debate is concluded. When the honourable member for Scullin has finished his remarks, you would then be in order to seek my indulgence.
Mr Cadman —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: if the honourable member were to seek leave, you could grant it and that might resolve the problem.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —What are you saying?
Mr Cadman —If the honourable member were to seek leave to continue his remarks at another time, maybe that leave could be considered and given.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is a matter for government. The honourable member has already sought leave to adjourn and for consideration of his remarks at another time, and permission was not granted by the government.
Mr JENKINS —I am starting to get some good vibes. It has taken a while but I will give it a try.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —If the honourable member for Scullin would like to seek leave to continue his remarks at a later time—
Mr JENKINS —Certainly. I would not wish you to put words in my mouth but I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later time and move that the debate be adjourned.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is leave granted?
Mr Warwick Smith —Leave will be granted, but let me say that when the question was put for the adjournment, I was acting on the remarks from the chair when you indicated to speakers to truncate their remarks because we were going beyond one o'clock. There was no discussion with me, as minister at the table, from any party—government or opposition. I was relying on your remarks. So I accept the adjournment.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The question is that the debate—
Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Deputy Speaker, before you put the question, could I continue on the remark made by the minister. I put it very clearly on the record here that this committee has operated in a consensual manner. Both the government and the opposition had agreed that this debate would, as usual, conclude at 1 p.m. If it is anyone's intention to change that, it gets done by consensus. My colleagues and I are part of that consensus. We had not agreed that this debate be continued past 1 p.m., and certainly not to 1.40 p.m. We had another speaker on this which would have meant we would run into question time. We have no intention, ever, of letting this continue close to question time because we have people who have other things that they have to do in the run-up to question time. If there is an intention to keep going after 1 p.m., then we need everybody to be part of that plot, not just one-half of the place.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member for Watson for his contribution. I inform the committee that the chair, through the clerks, did receive advice from the parliamentary liaison officer that it was hoped that that would continue. I raised the question. There were no government members available or wanting to speak beyond one o'clock but opposition members did continue to rise. I agree totally that the whole spirit of this committee is to work in a sense of consensus and cooperation.
I might just expand on the remarks I made earlier so that everybody is quite clear that, once this committee starts at the nominated time, whether it be at 10 o'clock in the morning or four o'clock in the afternoon, the business of the committee can finish only by one of four means: the lack of a quorum; the House rises; the committee runs out of business; or there is a motion to adjourn.
Mr JENKINS —Just on an indulgence, it is ironic that I was the meat in the sandwich on this occasion. However, I place on record my delight that, in the atmosphere of the Main Committee, we were able to come to some resolution on this. It is now not a precedent that will cause upset in the way that the Main Committee is conducted. In the spirit of the way that the Main Committee operates, this was resolved in that spirit.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I certainly endorse your remarks.
Mr Leo McLeay —I put on the record that, when we next convene, the government will be moving the extension of time for the honourable member for Scullin (Mr Jenkins) so that he can have his full time in this debate.
Debate (on motion by Mr Warwick Smith) adjourned.
Main Committee adjourned at 1.26 p.m.