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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 195


Mrs VALE (3:45 PM) —Before I begin on this important legislation, I would like to point out to the member for Jagajaga that I note she has made some criticism of the phrase `to represent the interests of the general public'. But it was actually her predecessor, the member for Dobell, who insisted on this phrase being inserted during the last parliament.

Also, I noted that the member for Jagajaga raised, in her concerns about this legislation, how the local council would perhaps be represented on the committees.


Ms Macklin —I said it was a good thing.


Mrs VALE —It was a good thing that it would be. Clause 26(d) of the legislation provides for a person to represent the local government or the local administration of an area affected by a matter relating to the safety of a controlled facility.


Ms Macklin —I am very happy about that.


Mrs VALE —Yes. Thank you very much. It is something that I think the people of Sutherland Shire are interested in seeing put into the legislation.

Mr Deputy Speaker, this is the second time this legislation has been presented in the Main Committee. As a member who has one of the `controlled facilities' in my electorate, being the nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights, I have a personal interest in ensuring the progress of this important legislation. I am grateful that our government is determined to act upon the recommendations of the research reactor review of 1993 to enact this important legislation.

Also, I think I noted that the member for Jagajaga actually said that the Labor Party had been working towards this type of legislation after the recommendations of that review. I must say we never saw—


Ms Macklin —No, we initiated the review.


Mrs VALE —Exactly. But there was no—


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —The member for Jagajaga has had her opportunity.


Mrs VALE —That is all right. I am wanting to assist the Main Committee, Mr Deputy Speaker, just to clear it up. I do not want to verbal the member for Jagajaga.


Ms Macklin —That is not what I said.


Mrs VALE —My understanding is that, despite the initial review being done during the Labor Party government in 1993, there did not appear to be any perception that any recommendations of that review actually had been put into force.

It is with great concern that this legislation does again come before the Main Committee. I acknowledge the work of the previous Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services, the member for Adelaide, and also acknowledge the Minister for Health and Aged Care for bringing this legislation again before the Main Committee today. I refer to my speech on 14 May this year when this matter was initially presented. I understand that perhaps I will have very little time to canvass many of the issues that I raised in that speech, Mr Deputy Speaker.

It is important for my constituents because, for the first time in 40 years since the establishment of the facility at Lucas Heights, they are going to have an oversight agency which will protect the people and the environment. This is an oversight agency and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency will be responsible to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, not the minister for science. It will actually operate at arm's length from the activities of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and will reflect the world's best practice to have an independent regulatory agency that will act for the people and for the protection of the environment in our area and, indeed, Australia-wide.

The government is to be commended because it is acting in that regard. It gives me some satisfaction to welcome this legislation for an independent regulatory oversight agency, together with the enabling bills to cover the licensing charges and consequential amendments.

The nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights has been in my electorate of Hughes for almost 40 years. It is important that the Main Committee is aware that this is a research reactor which operates at 10 megawatts whereas a power reactor operates at 3,000 megawatts. I just stipulate that because there often is some confusion regarding nuclear reactors and there are differences.

By way of history, the reactor was built in the Sutherland Shire in the mid-1950s and it was completed in 1958 when I was a child at Sylvania. The research reactor has been operating in my electorate for almost 40 years and, in that time—and most importantly in recent years—with a significant growth in world consciousness about scientific safety and environmental protection, the facility has established a sound safety record which it scrupulously maintains in accordance with community expectations. The facility employs between 800 and 900 local people, many of whom are my constituents. It has a policy of positive support for local businesses and tradespeople. It contributes almost $50 million to the economy of my electorate. So it is a very important facility for the electorate of Hughes.

It also produces nuclear isotopes that are used in the delivery of diagnostic and therapeutic health services to thousands of Australians. As a matter of fact, the isotopes produced at Lucas Heights save many Australian lives and are depended upon by an increasing number of Australians as medical science expands its application of nuclear medicine.

However, it has long been a concern of mine and many other residents in the Sutherland Shire that, although the facility has been operating safely now for 40 years, its regulatory regime has been significantly inadequate, given the growing world consciousness regarding health and safety issues and the heightened awareness of our responsibility to our environment, especially in the last decade. It is amazing that the previous government never had the political will to provide the proper legislative base for the appropriate regulation of nuclear installations and radiation activities in Australia.

The facility was thought to operate under conditions laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but this was dismissed by the research reactor review in 1993. This review found that, up to the present, ANSTO had operated under authorisation issued by its board to its executive director. As I pointed out in my earlier speech, the Nuclear Safety Bureau had referred to this as, amongst other things, a de facto licence. Minutes from meetings of the Safety Review Committee show that, in certain areas of operation, there has been regular confusion between the Nuclear Safety Bureau and ANSTO as to who has jurisdiction in certain areas of operation. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency has set the ground rules for independent regulation of the nuclear industry, by which most countries abide, the previous government had allowed the situation to drift along. The research reactor review in 1993 concluded that this state of affairs could no longer be allowed to continue.

It has been of immense personal concern to me, since my election as the member for Hughes, to ensure that appropriate regulation comes to fruition. It is with great satisfaction that I have been able to successfully lobby the government and the cabinet to take these actions necessary to put into legislation the recommendations of the research reactor review in this regard.

There is wide support from the various sections of the community for this legislation. The New South Wales state Minister for the Environment, Pam Allan, has stated that the Environment Protection Authority, which administers the radiation control act in New South Wales, confirms its support for a national uniform approach to the control of radiation. The Mayor of Sutherland Shire Council, Mr Kevin Schreiber, stated:

Council supports this bill and hopes that it will enjoy the confidence of the Senate and it will be passed as soon as possible.

The council also supported the establishment of the oversight agency in submissions to the research reactor review in 1993 and more recently in the Senate inquiry.

The prime object of these bills is to protect the health and safety of the people of Australia and to protect the unique Australian environment. These bills give effect to the cabinet decision to enact the legislation to provide this protection by the regulation of all its Commonwealth radiation and nuclear activities, and to provide the statutory base for the regulatory safety agency to be called the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency or ARPANSA. As directed by cabinet, the resources and expertise of the Australian Radiation Laboratory—the ARL—and the Nuclear Safety Bureau—the NSB—to form the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency come within the health and family services portfolios.

ARPANSA will establish a regulatory scheme to oversee the operation of the Lucas Heights facility and the management of radiation sources, including ionised material and apparatus and non-ionising apparatus, where such activities are undertaken by the Commonwealth, Commonwealth entities and all those who do business with such entities. This legislation will provide a complete, independent oversight body for the better protection and assurance of all my constituents. Most importantly for my constituents, a Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council will be established under the legislation and there will be capacity within the working groups for local representation. Again, I mention the legislation for local council representation on the Nuclear Safety Committee. Clause 26(1)(d) provides for:

. . . a person to represent the local government or the local administration of an area affected by a matter related to the safety of a controlled facility.

It will be a direction of the CEO of this agency that matters to which he must give consideration will include consideration of world's best practice. These directions will be listed, as appropriate, in the regulations.

The direction will apply to corporate bodies of the Commonwealth like ANSTO and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and Commonwealth business enterprises like Australian Isotopes. It will also apply to non-Commonwealth contractors who work under contract to one of the aforementioned entities.

This legislation will also impose regulatory controls on the operation and decommissioning of ANSTO's research reactor and the disposition of spent fuel. It will regulate and license each stage of the life of the replacement research reactor. ARPANSA will also regulate the establishment of a national nuclear surface radioactive waste repository. This national repository will provide for low and intermediate level waste suitable for shallow ground burial and will arrange for the safe storage of material not suitable for disposal in other ways. Mr Deputy Speaker, the waste generated from nuclear reactor operation is a real problem. The storage of waste, especially in the repository up at Lucas Heights in my electorate, has been of great concern to my constituents for many years.

It is with significant interest and appreciation that we welcome this government's announcement of its selection of a designated site for this purpose in South Australia. This government is committed to the health and wellbeing of the Australian people and the Australian environment. Its actions in implementing the recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on the Dangers of Radioactive Waste show that commitment, as does the implementation of this legislation.