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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 89


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Aged Care) (12:38 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Bill 1998 is a critical piece of legislation which introduces for the first time in Australia a comprehensive regulatory framework for all Commonwealth radiation and nuclear activity. The ARPANS Bill closes a current gap in regulation whereby state and territory government activities and private undertakings are regulated by state and territory radiation laws, but Commonwealth agencies have operated without corresponding Commonwealth oversight and regulation.

The bill applies to all Commonwealth entities and their employees and to non-Commonwealth entities when they are contracted by the Commonwealth to undertake radiation or nuclear activities. This includes all Commonwealth departments, such as the Department of Defence, the Department of Industry, Science and Resources and bodies corporate such as the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Under the provisions of the bill, no Commonwealth entity can deal with radioactive materials or radiation apparatus or any aspect of a nuclear facility unless licensed to do so in accordance with this legislation. This means that Commonwealth activities ranging from using an x-ray machine to the safe and appropriate construction and operation of the proposed replacement nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights are prohibited unless a licence has been issued in accordance with this bill. The bill provides for exemptions to the general prohibition, including allowing for exemptions for certain defence and security activities in the national interest. Criteria for other exemptions on the basis of very low risk will be set out in regulations under the legislation.

The legislation will be administered by an independent statutory office holder, the CEO of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. The functions of the CEO will include regulating in accordance with legislation Commonwealth radiation and nuclear activities. This will include monitoring and enforcing compliance with the legislation; working with the states and territories to develop uniform regulatory controls throughout Australia; informing and advising the government and the public on radiation protection and nuclear safety; and undertaking research and providing services of a high standard to ensure radiation protection and nuclear safety.

The functions and resources of the currently existing Nuclear Safety Bureau and the Australian Radiation Laboratory will be combined to form ARPANSA to assist the CEO with his or her functions. ARPANSA will continue and appropriately expand the excellent policy development and research currently undertaken by the Nuclear Safety Bureau and the Australian Radiation Laboratory.

It is important that the CEO has access to expert advice and import from a range of sources, including the community. The bill therefore provides for the establishment of the Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council. Members of this council will be appointed by the minister and the council will include representatives from the community and states and territories as well as others with appropriate experience. Each member will be appointed on the basis of their standing and expertise in fields relevant to radiation protection and nuclear safety.

The CEO and the council will oversee the work of the two standing committees established in the bill, the Radiation Health Committee and the Nuclear Safety Committee. The standing committees will also comprise experts in the field and include community and public interest representatives, including people from the communities hosting facilities. The value of comprehensive Commonwealth legislation and a national regulatory body such as this has been recognised in many fora.

This legislation was a key recommendation of the Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste report, No Time to Waste, which was produced with the close involvement of all political parties. This bill incorporates many of the committee's recommendations and delivers on the government's commitment to close the regulatory gap identified by that committee whereby Commonwealth agencies have operated without comprehensive Commonwealth oversight and regulation. The regulation of Commonwealth activities is also strongly supported by all state and territory governments and the bill has been crafted following consultation with states and territories.

The bill is substantially the same as the bill passed by the previous House of Representatives. Provisions have been included clarifying that powers exercised under the act must be exercised in accordance with international agreements and defining the membership of the standing committees.

I believe that this bill will result in a centre of excellence for regulation, advice, research and services supporting nuclear safety and radiation protection of employees, the public and the environment. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr McClelland) adjourned.