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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 3018

Mrs MOYLAN (4:24 PM) —I am aware that in five minutes the House will adjourn, and I am extremely disappointed that we do not have the opportunity to more fully canvass what I think are very, very important matters for this parliament to discuss and debate—and definitely in the national interest. I had a full 20 minutes to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 and I now have about four.

The fact is that the 2007 inventory of radioactive waste shows that the Commonwealth currently holds a total of 3,820 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste. This originates from many different areas—some of it from smoke detectors and other radioactive materials, including soils. Of course, we know that a lot of it comes from medicine that is used in hospitals. A full list can be found on the department’s website. One thousand, six hundred cubic metres is held in Lucas Heights, right in the middle of suburban Sydney; 2,010 cubic metres of contaminated soil is held at Woomera; 210 cubic metres of sealed radioactive sources are held at various defence sites; and further waste is held at various CSIRO sites. With respect to long-lived intermediate level radioactive waste—that is, radioactive waste that may require shielding for handling, transport and storage—the Commonwealth currently is responsible for 430 cubic metres, and the states and territories in total hold approximately 100 cubic metres.

This is always a very emotive area to talk about. Australia does not produce high-level radioactive waste at the present time. In 1999, as chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, I presented on behalf of that committee to the parliament a report on the replacement OPAL reactor at Lucas Heights. That report highlighted that radioactive material was—and unfortunately still is—held at more than 50 interim sites throughout Australia. The committee found that:

In many cases, the waste is held in temporary storage, in buildings neither designed nor located for long term storage.

As part of that report, the committee recommended that ‘a national repository should be a high priority’. In fact, the search for a suitable site to build a national repository commenced in 1992. The honourable member for Hotham, Simon Crean, the then primary industries minister, was responsible for the initial surveying.

The sites around Australia include suburban hospitals, not just city-based hospitals. The headline of the Northern Territory News on 4 March 2010 is an exemplar as to how we should be considering this matter. The headline read ‘Radioactive waste in hospital basement’. Ad hoc and temporary storage areas are unsatisfactory. The coalition government took action on this issue, legislating for a national repository—to move radioactive material out of our suburban hospitals and into a purpose built facility. That legislation is the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005. That legislation is enacted today; however, Labor’s policy is to repeal that legislation. Why?

On 22 October 2007, about one month before the 2007 federal election, the member for Kingsford Smith, now the environment minister, circulated a press release. In the press release, the member said:

No working family wants a nuclear reactor or a waste dump in their backyard.

Only a Rudd Labor Government will say no to nuclear reactors and the waste dumps that go with them.

Yet today, here we are considering the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010, presented by the Rudd government to recreate the framework to choose a so-called waste dump. Labor is proposing this bill to investigate and potentially develop a site—

Consideration interrupted; adjournment proposed and negatived.

Mrs MOYLAN —Labor is proposing this bill now to investigate and potentially develop a site that has already been put forward and can be investigated and developed under existing legislation. An area known as the Muckaty Station site, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, was volunteered by the Ngapa people and the Northern Land Council under the process in the existing legislation. Under this bill that nomination will remain. In a recent interview on ABC radio, the Minister for Resources and Energy said:

We will proceed firstly with the only voluntary site that we have, and that goes to the Ngapa land with respect to the Muckaty station.

The Northern Territory News summed up the situation in their article ‘How Canberra has wasted territory’ published on 27 February this year. Paul Toohey wrote:

When in opposition, Labor promised to repeal the legislation … In one of the most plainly insincere examples of legislative slight of hand ever seen in this country, Labor this week did repeal the legislation - and reinstated legislation that gives an almost identical outcome. All this for the sake of appearing to keep a promise.

This is not the kind of action that one expects from responsible government on a subject that is already very emotive in the community and often argued without reference to the facts.

Interestingly, this bill actually expands the potential areas that could house a nuclear waste facility. Under section 3A of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005, only the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory or an Aboriginal land council can nominate a site for consideration. Under proposed section 6 of the bill, if a person holds an interest in land and the land is in a state, the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory and the estate is in fee simple, the person who holds the interest can nominate the site as a potential radioactive waste facility.

Essentially, anyone who owns land in any state or territory can suggest their land for a waste dump. Quite literally, you could nominate your backyard. However, should you fail to consult with your neighbours as per clause 7(1) of the bill, it is not fatal. Clause 7(4) says that your failure to comply with clause 7(1)—that would be telling your neighbours you want to house nuclear waste in your backyard—does not invalidate your nomination. Further, the minister under clause 8 has ‘absolute discretion’—clause 7(4)—to approve the site. The minister for the environment may believe that no working family would want a waste dump in their backyard, but this bill certainly allows for that possibility.

As much as backyard radioactive repositories are a legal possibility under this bill, as I read it, I would defer to common sense. No minister would ever grant such an application. I urge other members, too, to take a common-sense approach. Nuclear medicine benefits over 500,000 people in Australia every year and that number will only continue to grow. We need to take a mature approach and leave out the hysteria and finally get a national repository to safely store our waste.

As my colleague the member for Kalgoorlie said in his speech earlier in this House, today we saw over 100 children come to this place from all parts of Australia to talk about what it is like to be a child with type 1 diabetes or juvenile diabetes. These children have this condition not through any fault of their own but through a fault in the genes and a pancreas that fails to function properly. Last night we were fortunate to hear from some of the best medical researchers this country has. I know this is moving slightly from the topic of this bill, but we do have a very progressive nuclear medicine facility in this country. We have some of the best researchers in the world and nuclear medicine has become a fact of life. Very few of us remain untouched by the benefits of nuclear medicine. I am sure that someone in most of our families or circles of friends has had that benefit. It is simply closing our eyes to the reality that we cannot continue to store the waste material that comes from modern medicine, and particular from nuclear medicine, in city hospitals and in other city based repositories around this country.

It makes sense for us to talk factually about this matter in the community, to let the community know that this material has been stored at Lucas Heights, right in the middle of suburban Sydney, since the 1950s. To my knowledge, there has never been a serious problem with that. There has never been a serious breach of security or an episode that could give rise to a lack of public confidence in our capacity to store this material safely. But there simply is not enough room, from a practical point of view, to continue to store the material there. It certainly should not continue to be stored, as I said, on hospital premises and other facilities in less than ideal conditions.

Common sense should prevail. I think those of us on this side of the House are very keen to see this legislation pass. As I said, this issue was canvassed before, when I was Chair of the Public Works Committee in 1999—in fact, we made it a condition of our report to the parliament that, before the new reactor went into Lucas Heights, before the old reactor was replaced, we wanted the government to identify at the very least, a site where radioactive material could be safely stored. So I would just urge everyone to have a cool head on this, to get out in the community and talk factually about the issues and to make sure that this country can properly deal with its radioactive waste.