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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5588

Senator CARR (2:59 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Alston, representing the Minister for Science. Can the minister confirm that yesterday was the final day for public comment on the draft environmental impact statement on the planned low-level nuclear waste storage facility in South Australia? When will the Minister for Science release copies of all responses to the invitation for public comment on the draft? Does the Commonwealth government intend to persist with the proposed South Australian location for the low-level storage facility, in the face of the legislative prohibition by the South Australian government and the overwhelming community opposition?

Senator Minchin —What about Simon Crean?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank the senator for his question. I make the obvious point that Senator Minchin just made that Labor in government has a very different attitude from Labor in opposition. In fact, it reminds one of Senator Collins's immortal words: `Don't worry about what we say in opposition; you'll say and do anything.' That still seems to be the case. We can remember Senator Evans's equally immortal letter about Lucas Heights.

Senator Bolkus —Get serious!

Senator ALSTON —The fact is that you are ancient history, so we will probably put you into a research project, too, in due course. It is a matter for the minister to decide to what extent and when he might release details of the submissions that have been received, unless that has already been spelt out in the original announcement—of which, presumably, Senator Carr would be aware. If he is not, then one can assume that it is a matter of discretion and the government will make that decision in due course. The government is committed to the safe management of Australia's radioactive waste for the benefit and wellbeing of the Australian community. We are pursuing the establishment of purpose-built national facilities for the management of radioactive waste arising from the use of radionuclides in medicine, research and industry.

The South Australian government's legislation to ban the establishment of the national repository is inconsistent with a previously agreed national approach to disposal of low-level radioactive waste and sits uneasily with the lack of any coherent plan by South Australia to deal with its waste. The South Australian government's policy fails to recognise that, given the small amount of radioactive waste that Australia generates, national facilities make sense. It also fails to recognise the benefit South Australians receive from the use of radioactive materials in medicine, research and industry, including the benefits provided by the Lucas Heights research reactor. So it really is a classic example of Labor in opposition running around trying to drum up any local community scare campaign, because people will always be afraid of the future if you tell them that the sky is about to fall in, and particularly if you do not tell them of the corollary benefits which, of course, you readily acknowledge when in government. You would be out there spruiking about how important it was to get the balance right, to minimise any dangers but at the same time to recognise the enormous research potential for lifesaving and life-enhancing research activities.

It is a bit hard to take people like Senator Carr seriously. I know the Left feels bruised and irrelevant. Perhaps it is about to make a comeback in the wake of the fiasco last Saturday. In fact, you will have to do a lot better than those sorts of scare campaigns. The people of Wollongong, for example, were subjected to nothing but a Telstra scare campaign—it was untimed local calls one day, it was price caps the next day and it was local call rates having gone up. Telstra was going to be the big issue in Cunningham, just as it was going to be the big issue in the last federal election. Imagine what they would have done without that scare campaign—it really is horrifying to think about, isn't it? It might mean that Senator Carr will be leaving the party in the not-too-distant future.

Senator CARR —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the government's claimed commitment to the safe management of nuclear waste, when will the minister release the complete list of sites under consideration for the location of the proposed intermediate-level waste storage facility?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I can assure Senator Carr that the minister will take whatever action he thinks is necessary to inform public debate in the national interest. He certainly will not be out there pandering to the scaremongers. So if you are talking about suiting your agenda, I am afraid he will not be able to help you; but if we make a judgment about what might sensibly add to public debate, the minister can make that decision in due course.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.