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Wednesday, 29 November 2006
Page: 24

Mr TUCKEY (10:30 AM) —This bill, the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2006, is a small piece of legislation designed specifically to address an issue that was not adequately resolved on the introduction of the Commonwealth radioactive waste management legislation of 2005.

If you are not too busy, Mr Deputy Speaker Lindsay, I might later make some remarks about tidal power in which you may be interested.

This is a simple piece of legislation. It addresses the opportunity for the Commonwealth, having acquired the land for this waste facility in the Northern Territory, to return that land to the traditional owners if it finds that the land is excess to its needs or if the land is no longer required because of a change of policy.

The member for Lingiari was at pains to stress the rights of the Aboriginal landowners to speak for country, and I would certainly endorse their right to speak for country. He makes constant reference to a land council. But my observation of the process is that it does not address that right.

The land entitlements of various tribal groups were minuscule compared to the coverage granted to land councils. A land council is a sort of cooperative and a bureaucracy that has taken upon itself the right to speak for individual native title traditional owners.

Might I quote to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the experience I had as a minister when I thought it was appropriate to clean up an embarrassing slum in Canberra, outside Old Parliament House, which some people—campers, if you like; and I am surprised that a few Australian pensioners have not thought it appropriate that they turn up and park their caravan there on some similar grounds—had set up. When I set out to clean that up and replace it with an appropriate interpretative centre, to recognise the original tent embassy—which, by the way, happened to be a beach umbrella, but it caught the popular imagination of Australians—I had a very interesting experience. I thought it quite appropriate to consult sincerely with the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal people. But it became obvious to them that most of the inhabitants of this so-called ‘embassy’ were not traditional landowners—they did not even come from the region! They took some exception to this, once it was obvious to them, and went down and told these people to leave and started to pull down their tents and the other things that they had constructed there. And those people went off to the whitefella court—the Supreme Court of the ACT—for protection from the traditional landowners who did not want them there. This is how farcical certain aspects of so-called land rights can be.

And for the member for Lingiari, as he traditionally does, to stand up in this place defending the rights of a bureaucracy, in terms of what might be best for the traditional landowner, is, I think, just typical of a Labor Party bureaucratic approach. Consequently, I reject the amendments that he and others have promoted on this.

I find it quite amazing that we have (a) to (f)—in fact, we have two paragraphs of amendments, which of course in the first place state that the bill not be given a second reading. But when we get down to 1(f), they criticise the government’s failure to deliver a national waste repository after 10 long years in government. And they have spent the bulk of this debate saying why it should not be in the Northern Territory!

Yet, of course, it is in the Northern Territory because when the residents of the Northern Territory were given the opportunity to become a state and have some constitutional rights in regard to the land under their administration, the people of the Northern Territory voted against it. So I think there are a few realistic matters that have come forward. But the reason that this is in the Northern Territory is that, by the decision of the local people, it is still a territory answerable to the Commonwealth. And it is also, of course, appropriate, in many ways, from a geographical, a geological, perspective.

It is interesting to look at the second reading speech of the Minister for Education, Science and Training. In that speech we are told that, through this bill, the Australian government seeks to ensure, should a volunteer site be selected for the facility, that there is a mechanism for the land to be returned to its original owners or successors when the site is no longer required. We will not be returning a dirty or polluted site.

The bill provides that the return may not be effected unless the independent regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency—highly regarded, I might add—has released the facility from regulatory control. Further, the traditional owners must consent to the return of the site. However, in the extremely unlikely event that contamination occurs as the result of the use of the land for the facility, the traditional owners will be indemnified by the Commonwealth against any resultant claims. A related purpose of this bill is to amend both this act and the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 to prevent politically motivated challenges to a land council nomination. What could be more sensible than that?

If we ever have a nuclear power industry and a uranium enrichment facility in Australia, we must have a safe and properly controlled nuclear waste management facility. I find it remarkable that people get all frantic about this when the prime purpose of the Lucas Heights facility is to produce radioactive isotopes for the purpose of human medicine. As is well known, those isotopes are injected into the human body by a doctor using a syringe of some description, some rubber gloves and maybe some other robes. These items could be ‘contaminated’ by that process. Each of these items becomes low-level nuclear waste.

State premiers who say ‘No nuclear waste in my time’ approve the storage of such products in the basements of their hospitals. Admittedly, the only protection needed between these items and other human beings is a sheet of cardboard, but surely such waste, if it is declared to be low-level nuclear waste, should have an adequate repository.

There is now almost total acceptance that sending Aboriginal people out onto some of their traditional lands with no commercial or other opportunities has been a disaster. A nuclear waste management facility would bring a lot of commercial activity in which I hope these people would be able to find employment. It would clearly bring better roads and many other facilities for which, I think, they would be grateful.

This legislation refers to nuclear waste. The member for Lingiari was at pains to point out that the potential exists to have 25 nuclear power stations in Australia and, in that regard, a waste repository would be required. This gives me the opportunity to speak for some time on that situation. I am neither frightened of nor concerned about a nuclear power industry. In fact, I have advocated for the storage of international nuclear waste in Australia, particularly the waste from yellowcake, or uranium oxide, exported from Australia. It is my view that, whatever the economics of it, it should be enriched in Australia, leased to users and returned to Australia—if only to guarantee that the cycle is complete and that Australia, as a contributor to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is able to guarantee the safe and secure storage of that waste. I have often said that I would much prefer to have the waste returned in the appropriate container than at the head of a rocket. Therefore, I think it is appropriate that Australia have a facility and a commitment to that approach.

However, considering the greenhouse emissions debate, the economics and the arguments for a reliable and consistent form of renewable energy—remembering that nuclear electricity generation does not create any greenhouse effect—I would prefer that my government, and maybe this parliament, look at a better option. This is not the first time I have drawn the attention of the parliament to the huge, reliable, predictable and renewable resource of the tides of the Kimberley. I have recently been advised that there is an opportunity for an electricity generating facility at Walcott Inlet. This is a 50- to 60-kilometre inlet which twice a day experiences mean tides of 11 metres. It is 50 metres wide where the water rushes in and out and it has the capacity to produce 2.8 gigawatts of electricity—arguably, 2½ nuclear power stations. And that is a drop in the ocean. If you take my index finger as a representation of the energy capacity of the tides of the Kimberley—

Mr Albanese —Is that parliamentary?

Mr TUCKEY —I thought the member for Grayndler might be interested in this example; he might want to include it in his policy instead of being totally negative. If you take my index finger as a representation of the generating capacity of the tides of the Kimberley, the generating capacity of the Snowy River scheme would be the thickness of my fingernail. This is a good way, in a visual context, to make that comparison—and I was not sending a sign to the member who interjected! But I hope he listens closely, because, as I have said in this place before, if the Labor Party wants to do something positive after 10 years in opposition, it might want to steal my ideas.

We have wind power, which is so variable. New Zealand is experiencing variations over five minutes of 100 megawatts, which means that somewhere you have to keep burning coal in anticipation of that variation. The sun is quite helpful in a way, provided you do not need to turn the lights on at night time. We have hot rocks energy, which may have some potential as, more particularly, it is compliant with a grid; you can turn it up or down.

You can predict the tides of the world for 100 years. If you were proposing to have tidal generation power without the available adjustments that you can achieve through the pump storage of water during high-tide flows, you could back it up with coal, because it is predictable: you know that at a certain time on a certain day you would need the generating capacity of a coal-fired power station to replace the power that was not available from the tides because they were neap or whatever else.

On clean-coal technology, I might add that the best that the CSIRO can offer us to date is that a power station requires 20 per cent of its energy production to be used to actually clean up its own mess. That means that somewhere else you have to burn 20 per cent more coal. That does not seem to me to be a high-priority option. I would say the same about nuclear power whilst, as I said earlier, I am neither frightened by it nor opposed to it.

The problem with Kimberley tidal power has been that there has not been a customer as the site is too far away. As we all know, technology in Australia changes every day, and a very significant customer is now in the immediate vicinity of the Kimberley tides. It is the liquefied natural gas industry. For every million tonnes of liquefied natural gas exported out of Australia, we burn 100,000 tonnes, or 10 per cent, of that gas resource. What is more, there is an emission problem associated with that. When we burn the gas as a gas, we pay little attention to the amount of natural carbon dioxide that is found within that gas. The big problem for Gorgon is that it is up to 14 per cent, and the government is negotiating with them to attempt geosequestration, which is significantly easier to do in a liquefied natural gas process than in taking it out of the very hot chimney stack of a power station.

So there is a customer for tidal power. The Browse field, yet to be developed by Woodside, requires 900 megawatts of electricity generation. That is the output of a very big suburban power station. I doubt we have got many of that size in Australia. That field is one of many; Gorgon has not started yet. In other words, we could meet those gigawatts of demand in the immediate vicinity by developing the tidal resources of the Kimberley—totally renewable, perpetual and predictable.

But now it so happens that Australia has walked into the high-voltage DC transmission industry. We have a very credible facility called Basslink. We have crossed Bass Strait with a power line that obviously could not have transformers and all the usual things by which we pump electricity along wires. It is based on HVDC technology. It is two-way traffic—and very sensibly so. Instead of wasting the hydro resources of Tasmania on baseload, they are now consuming baseload from coal, topping up Victoria’s and their own grid with hydro.

America’s HVDC transmission capacity is such that it is now transporting electricity over 2,000 miles, or 3½ thousand kilometres. The other day I got out an old Main Roads map that I had when I was a truckie and that tells me distances around Australia, particularly distances around the state of Western Australia. I was surprised when I suddenly found that Perth is only about 2,300—don’t hold me to the exact number—kilometres away from Derby, the centre of this tidal power region. We could transmit that power all the way to Perth and the south-west. It is not that much further to Port Augusta, where there is a substantial power station and, to the best of my knowledge, an interconnection throughout the eastern seaboard. In other words—for the information of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, who is sitting at the table—we could give some tidal power to Melbourne and we could balance that against the emissions from their brown coal. Instead of wasting 20 per cent on trying to clean the coal, we balance it with probably 40 per cent renewable power that creates no emissions. Of course, you can also go across Australia and hook up to the coal-fired power stations and resources of Queensland. Then, as you do with Basslink, you go back and forth: from the coal to the liquefied natural gas when that is needed and to tidal power for the major cities of Australia when it goes the other way. In my closing remarks, I am asking the opposition to come with me and ask the Prime Minister for another Switkowski inquiry into the potential of tidal power generation. I do not see why it should be left out.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lindsay)—Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. I thank the member for O’Connor for his commercial. I advise the House that whether power is transmitted by AC or DC the losses in the lines are the same.