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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1505

Mrs DARLING(9.30) —In October 1980 I was elected to this House as a people's representative. Tonight I saw a procedural low point in this chamber. The honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) abused the spirit and forms of this House when he embarked for 65 minutes on a prolonged and unsubstantiated personal attack on another member of this House. Since I came into the House I have come to know that the majority of members on both sides of the House are hardworking, and it distresses me that they are publicised as being people who do not work, who are corrupt and who are no good. The majority are good people. But when I heard the honourable member for O'Connor abuse the forms of this place as he did, and at a time when a grievance debate was scheduled-this is the one time when back benchers are able to bring forward matters of concern from their own areas, and he deliberately went on and on to use up that time-I was ashamed of what was happening in this House.

I wish to speak tonight about another matter. Great and justifiable public concern is expressed about the safety issues surrounding the mining of uranium and the use of nuclear devices and missiles in the Pacific Ocean. But in south- east Queensland an issue which could have disastrous consequences in the long term remains virtually unnoticed and until this week certainly unresolved. It has been given some attention this week in Brisbane. The Queensland Government is still evading its responsibilities on the issue of radioactively contaminated sand. In October 1982, 12 months ago, State Cabinet approved the formation of a special committee to speed investigations into the dumping of radioactive sand in south-east Queensland. However, nothing appears to have been done since the setting-up of that special committee-which comprises members of the State Health , Local Government, and Mines departments-which was formed twelve months ago to avoid time consuming red tape, as the then Minister for Health, Mr Austin said. He said that it would comprise members of the different departments. In January 1982, following reports of the contaminated sand being dumped at Byron Bay, Mr Austin said that, before deciding whether to investigate former sand mining areas in Queensland, he would study the claims. That was 21 months ago. Queensland people are still in the dark. The sand is still there somewhere. No one is clear as to just where it all is. Some was in Brisbane homes and some has been found in state school playgrounds.

Sales of sand mining tailings to the public began in south-east Queensland in the early 1960s, and since that time the Queensland Government has supposedly been monitoring for radioactivity in sand. Yet we find that a grossly negligent act has been occurring for more than 25 years and that over 200,000 tonnes of potentially radioactive sand has been distributed to householders and builders in this area. So far investigations by the Queensland Government have only produced information on the whereabouts of about 1 per cent of this 200,000 tonnes of sand. Householders are just not coming forward. Either the properties have been sold and transferred and the new owners are not aware that their land contains the suspect sand, or the owners are well aware of the problem but are keeping the presence secret as they are also concerning about the cost of its removal and replacement. They could also fear that any disclosure of the presence of the sand could bring down the market value of their property.

The State Government surely has a responsibility to ensure that the sand is removed from all known sources. It also has a responsibility to ensure that people do not have to pay exhorbitant amounts for its removal and replacement. At present the only assistance offered by the State Government is a low interest loan to cover the removal expenses-if the sand is discovered. This leaves the householder to pay off the loan and also pay the cost of landscaping or replacement. A legal precedent was set recently when the Small Claims Tribunal ordered a firm which has supplied radioactive sand to a Brisbane householder to remove it from the property. However, the amount involved was only $130 for the removal and $78 for the sand, which had never been used. Yet final responsibility must surely rest with the State Government, particularly for cases involving amounts over $2,000, which are outside the limits of that Tribunal.

When this matter was raised in the Queensland Parliament, verbal assurances were provided. But, as I said before, these have not yet been backed up by any firm action, even though tests carried out by government officers show in some cases a radioactivity reading 10 times higher than the accepted safety level recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council. What is that Government doing? The State Opposition has continued to voice its concern that this contaminated sand has been sold throughout the community without any danger being detected by the Mines Department inspectors. Of course, the Government has been remiss. It surely has an obligation to ensure, firstly, that the sand is removed as soon as possible and, secondly, that people do not have to pay substantial or excessive costs for its removal and replacement. I am told that the prices charged for the removal of contaminated sand are incredibly high. I have been given examples of quotes of up to $18,000 to strip a 32-perch allotment of this 'hot' sand. I have also been assured by other sources that an allotment can be filled to a depth of four to five inches for less than $1,000. So it appears that some unscrupulous people are climbing on the bandwagon when quoting for the removal, as I cannot see how it would possibly cost that much to strip the sand.

Another example of the State Government's tardiness is at the Pinkenba State School in my electorate. The principal was advised in October 1982 that the school gounds contained contaminated sand. It was not until May this year that work was carried out at a cost of $60,000. But the Government did not move until public agitation by me and the energetic State member for Nudgee and next Minister for Mines and Energy, Mr Ken Vaughan. The children continued to use the playground all the time until the work was done.

Mr Milton —Shame!

Mrs DARLING —I find this situation to be shameful, as the honourable member for La Trobe has pointed out, and it is ludicrous. People are being faced with bills of up to $18,000 to clear tonnes of fill which they bought in good faith and which they now find is a health hazard. It is obvious why Queenslanders who suspect they might have this sand are not coming forward. If they report the problem the Government has stated very clearly that, unless they move the sand voluntarily, government officials will force them to remove it, but still at their own expense. Who can afford that sort of money? There is also concern in the community about how the State Mines Department intends to dispose of the sand once it has been removed. On the one hand, the Department gives an assurance that it will now carefully monitor the production of radioactive sand by the dry mills. At the same time, the Department points out that the removal of sand from homes and sites-that is the 200,000 tonnes of bad sand-is a matter for recommendation by the Minister for Health in Cabinet. While it is to be stockpiled at the Consolidated Rutile Ltd depot at Meeandah, where it will be stored until the Government decides how to dispose of it, the sand supposedly comes under the responsibility of the Minister for Health. This is not good enough. It is ad hoc.

There do not appear to be any safety regulations to cover the dumping. No one accepts full responsibility. In 1981 Mr Austin, the then Minister for Health, assured us that everything was okay in regard to radioactivity and that there was nothing to worry about. But other than the formation of a special committee 12 months ago to speed investigations, there has been no further action by the State Government. People are still in danger of contamination through this inactivity and people are still having to bear the costs for the sand's removal. In the words of Bill Ord of the Courier-Mail, 'the Government believes it has no more responsibility in the matter than if the householders had bought a dud product of any other kind'. Investigations show that the problem is not limited only to Queensland. It was found in New South Wales, but the New South Wales Government acted. Now, finally, some action has been taken in Queensland, but not through the Government. The Government must be made to admit some responsibility and in the public interest it must be brought to do it without delay. Surely the longer the delay the more cause there is for anxiety.

Experts point out that mineral tailings do not present a health risk in the short term but prolonged exposure could be cause for anxiety. As the former Minister for Health said 12 months ago, we have a real problem in homes where a family of young children may live for many years exposed to high levels of radioactivity. If that was the case they are still being exposed to high levels of radioactivity. In October 1983 the matter still is not resolved. It is a disgrace to the Queensland Government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.