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Wednesday, 11 February 2004
Page: 24335

Ms WORTH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:17 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Amendment (Rotterdam Convention) Bill 2004 (the Rotterdam Convention Bill) makes a number of changes to the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989 (the Act). The Act establishes a system of notification and assessment of industrial chemicals to protect health, safety and the environment; and provides for registration of certain persons proposing to introduce industrial chemicals. The Act also provides for Australia to comply with obligations under international agreements.

The proposed changes would enable Australia to give full effect to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. The amendments enhance the domestic information gathering powers of the Director of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme for implementing the convention, and facilitate information exchange between Australia and the other parties to the convention. The amendments also allow for the exchange of information on regulatory activities that provide for a national ban or restriction on the use of a chemical.

The changes in the Rotterdam Convention bill complement the amendments to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992, which will also give effect to Australia's obligations under the convention that relate to pesticides. The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Amendment Bill 2004 is therefore being introduced at the same time as the Rotterdam Convention bill to allow for cognate debate of both bills by parliament.

The objective of the convention is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among parties in the international trade of certain hazardous industrial chemicals and pesticides in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm.

The convention also contributes to environmentally sound use of these hazardous chemicals, by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics. It provides for a national decision-making process on the import of these chemicals, and disseminates those decisions to parties. The convention also provides for importing parties to receive information on a chemical being exported from a country that has banned or severely restricted its use on human health and/or environmental grounds.

In recent decades, the movement of chemicals in world trade has occurred at a faster rate than the flow of information about their risks. Inadequate management of chemicals can lead to harmful consequences for human health and the environment, as well as having a negative impact on trade. Governments and other organisations have been working to develop worldwide systems to transmit information which will allow risks to be recognised and addressed before any negative consequences should occur. While Australia and many other developed countries have established appropriate procedures aimed at chemical safety within their borders, many developing countries lack the capacity to assess chemical risks in order to enforce regulations, resulting in significant risks to human health and the environment both within and beyond their borders.

The voluntary Prior Informed Consent Procedure (known as `PIC') that commenced in 1989, was designed as an information exchange procedure to help countries make informed decisions on whether to receive future shipments of certain hazardous industrial chemicals and pesticides. The PIC procedure provided a mechanism to communicate decisions on whether a country would import particular hazardous chemicals to other participating countries, which were then expected to abide by those decisions. Having participated in the voluntary PIC procedure since 1992, Australia has contributed actively and constructively to address problems of chemical management at the international level.

Although the original PIC procedure was regarded as a successful model, it was still voluntary and not enforceable, so it was considered by the international community to lack sufficient force. It was agreed that mandatory controls would provide a better basis for greater certainty and commitment by participating countries towards achieving the aims of the PIC scheme. Accordingly, negotiations on an internationally legally-binding instrument commenced, resulting in the convention which was adopted and opened for signature at the diplomatic conference held in Rotterdam in September 1998.

To date, 73 countries have signed the convention. As it was expected to be several years before the convention entered into force, an interim PIC procedure was adopted by signatories to the convention. This interim procedure mirrors that contained in the convention itself and is administered by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

The Australian government demonstrated its commitment by signing the convention on 6 July 1999 and participating in the interim PIC procedure. The interim PIC procedure will cease after the convention enters into force on 24 February 2004. Fifty countries have now ratified the convention.

Chemicals can be listed in the convention if they meet the criteria of the convention. This includes being banned or severely restricted in at least two countries in different PIC regions (or in one country for a severely hazardous pesticide formulation) because of the hazards they present to human health and/or the environment.

These chemicals incur exporting obligations. Currently five industrial chemicals, 21 pesticides and five severely hazardous pesticide formulations are listed in the convention.

The convention does not apply to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, radioactive materials, wastes, chemical weapons, pharmaceuticals (including human and veterinary drugs), chemicals used as food additives, food or small quantities of chemicals which are imported for research, analysis or personal use.

Globally, the convention will be especially helpful to developing countries, whose assessment capabilities and regulatory regimes may not be as sophisticated as those of more industrialised nations. By sharing information, the convention endeavours to help countries importing those chemicals to understand more fully, and to manage, the risks associated with their use. In this way, ratification would provide an efficient and effective mechanism to assist countries, particularly developing countries in our region, including Pacific Island states, to adopt and maintain sound chemical management, consistent with Australian policy in the region.

In summary, the changes proposed in this bill are necessary to give full effect to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

The changes will allow the director of NICNAS to collect the necessary information domestically about regulatory actions taken in relation to industrial chemicals and facilitate information exchange to other similar overseas regulatory authorities that are parties to the convention. The director will also provide the information collected domestically to the designated national authority in Australia for industrial chemicals.

Under the bill, the designated national authority has responsibility for liaison involving information exchange with the convention secretariat and regulatory authorities of other countries that are parties to the convention. The designated national authority in Australia for industrial chemicals is the Department of the Environment and Heritage.

Participation in the convention will not affect Australia's national capacity to use, restrict or otherwise regulate chemicals domestically. All decision-making will remain with Australian governments.

The convention aims to facilitate information exchange between parties on hazardous industrial chemicals and pesticides. For a chemical restricted or banned by a party on human health or environmental concerns, the convention requires that the party notify the importing party prior to the export. The convention gives importing countries the power to make an informed decision on which chemicals they want to receive and exclude those chemicals they cannot safely manage.

Australia would benefit from ratification of the convention because it would enhance Australia's capacity to influence international efforts to address chemicals issues. Furthermore it would increase Australia's access to information on hazardous chemicals. It would also provide an efficient and effective mechanism to assist countries, particularly developing countries in our region, to adopt and maintain sound chemical management that is consistent with Australian policy in the region.

Further, Australia's ratification of the convention would demonstrate Australia's ongoing commitment to supporting effective and balanced approaches to global cooperation to improve the environment. It would also help promote and protect Australia's health, environmental and trade interests through Australia's participation in decisions made under the convention. I commend the bill to the House and present the signed explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Rudd) adjourned.