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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2962

Mr TREVOR (12:14 PM) —I thank the member for Groom for his contribution. I rise to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 and the importance of it to our country’s future. This bill seeks to establish at a single site a facility for managing radioactive waste that is generated, possessed or controlled by the Commonwealth—waste that is currently stored at a host of locations across the country. It also outlines nomination, approval and selection processes that will lead to a site being acquired by the Commonwealth in order for this facility to be established. The bill will repeal and replace the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and amend the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.

I have elected to speak on this bill because it is important that people understand the absolute necessity of the changes that we will make. This bill will put in place measures that will effectively and efficiently select a location for the establishment of a radioactive waste management facility. It is fundamentally and critically essential to the future of our country that this bill is passed so that the changes it introduces can come to fruition. The situation as it currently stands is as follows: our country has accumulated approximately 4,000 cubic metres of low-level and short-lived intermediate level radioactive waste over the past 50 years through important medical, industrial and research use of radioactive material. This waste is currently stored in interim facilities which include a multitude of small stores located in suburban and regional areas across Australia. None of these facilities are purpose-built for the disposal and storage of radioactive waste.

It is undeniable that the current interim facilities which are not purpose-built to handle radioactive waste will not last for ever and will reach capacity. To prove this point, I bring attention to the fact that the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s existing low-level waste store at Lucas Heights is already approaching capacity. To make matters more urgent, we have 32 cubic metres of long-lived intermediate radioactive waste returning to Australia in 2015-16 in the form of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s spent research reactor fuel—that is to say, 32 cubic metres of radioactive waste that will need safe and effective storage. It is simply irrefutable that we must act now to establish a storage facility that is suitable for this waste. With current facilities reaching capacity, this leaves only one viable and possible solution: a facility must be established that is purpose-built to manage both the arrival of this radioactive waste and all future radioactive waste that is generated, possessed or controlled by the Commonwealth.

Unfortunately, the approval, construction and commissioning phases of a project to establish this facility will require at least a minimum of four to five years lead time. If we are to prepare for the arrival of the radioactive waste in 2015-16, we must act now and put in place the measures in this bill to ensure that we as a country are ready to handle this challenge and the future challenges we face in managing our radioactive waste. By establishing a facility for the purpose of storing and disposing of this waste, we can protect our future by ensuring that our country is able to continue to reap the benefits of using important radioactive materials.

There are many, many benefits that people may not realise come from the use of radioactive materials. The use of these materials is important in many industries in Australia, particularly in vital medical research. To provide an example of this, radioisotopes are used in medical procedures such as cancer diagnosis and treatment. Radioisotopes can help speed up diagnosis of cancer, helping to pinpoint the exact area affected, and are an incredibly effective method of treating cancers. The use of radioisotopes benefits approximately 500,000 patients annually. This is a massive number of people who, in effect, benefit from the use of radioactive materials. But, of course, with great benefit comes the reality that we must deal with the waste produced from the beneficial use of these materials. We cannot continue to reap the benefits without accepting responsibility for the waste. And whilst the interim facilities we have at current are filling this role, a long-term solution must be found. Fortunately, this bill provides us with the means to achieve this solution.

This bill provides an outline for nomination, approval and selection processes that will lead to a site being acquired by the Commonwealth. Part of the bill also provides procedural fairness on decisions about the site and where the facility should be built. This bill will introduce procedural fairness into the process of establishing a radioactive waste storage facility. We as a government recognise the fact that it would be irresponsible to simply decide on a location for the facility. It is necessary for the people to be heard, especially the people who will be impacted upon by the establishment of a facility. The current act provides that no person is entitled to procedural fairness in relation to the key decisions to be made under the act. This is utterly irresponsible and completely out of touch. This bill will require the government to accord procedural fairness in relation to such decisions. By taking into consideration the opinions of those people impacted upon, we can ensure that the location of a facility is appropriate and that it is satisfactory to the affected parties.

In addition to the introduction of procedural fairness in relation to decisions, this bill will also amend the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 so that it will now apply to declarations and decisions made by the minister under this bill. This means that, unlike the current legislation where key decisions are not susceptible to review under this act, decisions will be reviewable under this bill. The introduction of procedural fairness and the introduction of key decisions being susceptible to review will enable the facility to be established at a site that is most suitable. The first step in establishing a facility is to identify a site for its establishment. The nomination, approval and selection processes needed in order for this to be achieved have been outlined in this bill. While the establishment of a facility is critically important, it is also vital that the facility is established on the most appropriate site.

Several sites were identified and nominated under the current legislation. In 2007, a site on Ngapa clan land at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory was nominated and approved as a site under the current act. As a result of this a site nomination deed was entered into between the Commonwealth, the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust and the Northern Territory Land Council. Provisions present in this bill will enable the Commonwealth to act in good faith and good spirit with respect to the site nomination deed and ensure the site remains an approved site. However, procedural fairness requirements will apply to any decision to select this site as the site for a facility.

Three sites on Defence land in the Northern Territory that were identified by the former government have been removed from further consideration. These sites include the locations identified at Harts Range and Mount Everard in the Alice Springs region and at Fishers Ridge in the Katherine region. In order for more sites to be nominated this bill provides that a land council in the Northern Territory may nominate land as a potential site, but procedural fairness will apply to any decisions to approve that potential site.

This bill also provides that the minister may open a nationwide volunteer site-nomination process. The current act does not allow for nationwide nominations; it allows that a site can be selected only in the Northern Territory. In deciding to allow such nominations, the minister would need to have regard to whether it is unlikely that a facility will be able to be constructed and operated on Aboriginal land that has been nominated land as a potential site under the bill. Procedural fairness will apply to any decision in relation to the opening of a nationwide volunteer site-nomination process.

Once a site has been nominated it must go through a selection process. This bill allows relevant persons to conduct activities for the purpose of selecting a site. These include low-level impact activities such as geological investigations, archaeological and heritage investigations and collection of samples of flora and fauna. Cautious and comprehensive evaluation is necessary to verify whether a site is suitable for a facility. This is to ensure that the radioactive waste can be managed safely without putting at risk the protection of people and the environment.

This bill is imperative for the future of our country. It is in our national interest. We are currently storing radioactive waste in interim facilities that are beginning to fill to capacity. These facilities are only interim facilities and as such are not designed for long-term storage of radioactive waste. Measures need to be put in place to ensure our country is prepared to manage our radioactive waste in the future. Given that we have a four- to five-year lead-up for approval and other related matters, it is essential that the process begin as soon as possible. It is also important that procedural fairness apply to decisions relating to the selection of a site and opening a nationwide volunteer site-nomination process. There is no denying people being heard.

This bill will enable our government to ensure the storage and disposal of radioactive waste is handled appropriately in accordance with procedural fairness and to ensure the site to construct a management facility is found in a timely fashion to prepare for the 32 cubic metres of radioactive waste that will return to Australia in 2015-16. It is irrefutable that radioactive waste must be managed appropriately to ensure it is safely and effectively stored and disposed of. We must act quickly to prepare for this. If we are to continue to reap the benefits of the use of radioactive materials in the future, a long-term sustainable waste management facility must be established. The solution to both the arrival of this waste and the future sustainable use of radioactive material is the establishment of a purpose-built facility. This bill provides the means for this to be achieved. It is for these reasons that I fully support the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 and commend it to the House.