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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21681

Mr JOHN COBB (4:48 PM) —Over the last few years this government has conducted a great deal of scientific research on how to safely and sensibly dispose of radioactive waste in Australia. This is not a new idea. The Keating Labor government began the search for a national repository in 1992, which all states and territories supported. This is not part of a coalition agenda but a long-term vision for the safe and environmentally responsible disposal of radioactive waste.

Recently, members of the Labor Party, the Democrats and, in particular, the Greens have been on a scaremongering mission about the transportation and storage of radioactive waste. Nobody wants a repository in their state and nobody wants trucks bearing the materials travelling through their towns or cities. But let me ask this: do people want hospitals, do they want life-saving cancer treatment and equipment, do they want industry, do they want safety devices, such as smoke alarms? If they answer yes to all of those questions, let me then ask this: what do they propose to do with the radioactive materials that are generated as a result of having these luxuries? There is a price to pay for our present way of life. What do they propose to do with the waste that we generate as a society?

If they are so concerned for the safety and wellbeing of communities and the environment, logically why would they oppose a plan which aims to dispose of radioactive waste in the most safe, sensible and responsible manner possible? Low-level and intermediate-level short-lived radioactive waste going to the national repository, such as laboratory waste—including paper and plastics, industrial gauges and density gauges—will be appropriately packaged and safe for transport, according to international guidelines that have been adopted by this country. I must stress how much medical waste is involved. I wonder whether those who have such a problem with it want to close down our hospitals. This is not—and I repeat `not'—nuclear waste. Australia does not produce nuclear waste. `Nuclear waste' is the term commonly used for waste generated from nuclear power reactors.

Radioactive materials are routinely transported on our roads. In fact, in Australia over 30,000 packages of medical radioisotopes are transported annually—about 2,500 per month—from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation alone; and in New South Wales a further 2,200 additional movements of radioactive material used for medical and industrial purposes take place each month. It is a fact that over the past 40 years there have been no—I repeat `no'—accidents during transport of such material where there has been any significant radiological release harmful to the environment and public health.

On 7 March this year the Minister for Science, Peter McGauran, wrote to every shire in the state, offering to take them on a tour of Lucas Heights to show them exactly the types of radioactive materials that we are talking about. He did not get one single response. Those councils who complain about secrecy, about not being in the loop, should check their correspondence, because they had that opportunity. And they still have that opportunity. I repeat here and now: we are very willing to take any council to Lucas Heights in Sydney and show them exactly what is involved. I am puzzled that they continue to claim that the government has been secretive about radioactive waste. The proof is in the correspondence.

I have said in the past that my door is open to anyone wanting information on the storage and/or transportation of radioactive waste, and I repeat that offer. The fact is that there is a price to pay for the benefits we enjoy with our lifestyle in this day and age. To have totally safe solid waste in concrete drums being transported through its territory so that we can all continue to enjoy that lifestyle is a very small responsibility for any community to take.