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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 3021

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism) (4:37 PM) —in reply—I express my appreciation to the members for Groom, Flynn, Tangney, Solomon, O’Connor, Brand, Grey, Herbert, Kalgoorlie and Pearce for their contributions to a debate on what is a complex, challenging question for the Australian community to finally front up to and resolve in a mature way.

Whilst I will deal with a few of the issues raised by the opposition members, can I say at the outset that I appreciate the support that is being given to the government by the opposition on this matter. It is time for Australia to resolve this issue—the process, as the member for Pearce pointed out, having commenced in 1988. We have to front up to the fact that as a mature society that wants access to, potentially, the best health care in the world, nuclear medicine has and will continue to be part of our future. Five hundred thousand Australians per year have access to nuclear medicine, and there is not a person in this House who does not have a family member or a personal friend who has not had access to nuclear medicine.

It is in that context that it is about time the hysteria and the misrepresentation of the facts by some in the community ceased—including, I might say by the Greens, who simply do not want this issue resolved. I must say that I give credit to the Indigenous community. The Ngapa people have taken the time to go to Lucas Heights and properly consider the complex issues at hand. What is really worrying the Greens more and more in this day and age is that the Indigenous communities are now making their own decisions. For far too long, representatives of some environmental NGOs and the Greens-

++ party have sought to unduly influence the thinking and decision-making processes of the Indigenous community.

Right across Australia at the moment, with respect to the nuclear repository in the Northern Territory—and the determination of the Ngapa people and the representatives of the Indigenous community in and around Broome with respect to a potential economic development around a gas hub—the Indigenous community is standing up and saying: ‘You wanted to give us independence and a capacity to make decisions about our land. We are now going to do it in the context of what is in our best interests and we are not going to be influenced any longer by emotive, hysterical contributions from some in the community.’ It is in that context that I approach this debate this afternoon.

With respect to the contribution of the opposition members, I simply want to make a couple of brief points. Firstly, the bill that we have introduced into this parliament is different to the one introduced by the Howard government in four significant ways. I will firstly go to the issue of procedural fairness, which will now apply to declarations and decisions made by the minister under this bill. Secondly, the bill will allow voluntary, nationwide nominations to be made if it is unlikely that a facility will be able to be constructed and operated on Aboriginal land that has been nominated under the bill. This would include the existing nomination or a new nomination on a site of Ngapa land on Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory. Thirdly, the government has removed from further consideration three sites on defence land in the Northern Territory, identified by the former government. These sites are: Harts Range (Alcoota) and Mount Everard in the Alice Springs region and Fishers Ridge in the Katherine region. Fourthly, the bill no longer singles out the Northern Territory as the only location the minister can consider to establish a facility.

In relation to the procedural fairness provisions, I note that under the act introduced by the Howard government procedural fairness was expressly excluded from persons affected by the approval and selection of a site for a facility. Under this bill, procedural fairness will now apply to decisions and declarations made by the minister—including, the approval of land nominated by a land council, a declaration opening up a nationwide voluntary nomination process, the approval of any voluntary nomination if made, and a declaration to select any land at the site for a facility. This approach appropriately honours commitments made to the Ngapa traditional owners of the land at Muckaty Station, who have nominated land under the current act. Procedural fairness will apply to any new site nomination on Ngapa land on Muckaty Station. In addition, procedural fairness will apply if the minister decides to select any site on Ngapa land on Muckaty Station as the site for a facility.

I now want to briefly go to issues raised in a sincere way by the member for Solomon, and I note his concerns which I have listened to carefully. I can assure him, his constituents and the House that it is our intention to consult fully with all native title holders, including those whose land has been nominated to be used for a radioactive waste repository as well as those whose land would be affected. I note that the traditional ownership of land at Muckaty Station is not the subject of any dispute. I only ask that others who are giving their voice to this political dispute in another place have proper regard and respect for Indigenous decision-making processes, which they are seeking to dismiss and undermine despite years and years of struggle by the Indigenous community in Australia to establish such rights.

No-one is challenging the traditional ownership of the land nominated by the Ngappa plan on Muckaty Station. Traditional ownership was established through proper process under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 with the Aboriginal Land Commissioner conducting hearings and publishing a report in 1997 and the appropriate land council, the Northern Land Council, subsequently performing its functions in accordance with the act.

The purpose of this bill is, therefore, to finally establish a facility for managing at a single site radioactive waste currently stored at a host of locations around the country. I remind everyone it is our waste and our responsibility to store our waste because we want the benefit of nuclear medicine. Such a repository will ensure the safe and responsible management of this waste arising from medical, industrial and research uses of radioactive material in Australia. The bill ensures the Commonwealth’s power to make arrangements for the safe and secure management of radioactive waste generated, possessed or controlled by the Commonwealth.

Australia produces low-level and intermediate level waste through its use of radioactive materials. For the information of the House, the low-level waste includes lightly contaminated laboratory waste—such as paper, plastic, glassware and protective clothing—contaminated soils, smoke detectors and emergency exit signs, many of which we are familiar with because they exist in our homes and our workplaces. Intermediate level waste arises from the production of nuclear medicines, from overseas reprocessing of spent research reactor fuel—our spent research reactor fuel—and from disused medical and industrial sources such as radiotherapy sources and soil moisture meters.

The generation of low- and intermediate level radioactive waste is an unavoidable result of many worthwhile activities. Radioactive materials have a variety of important uses—just think about it—in medicine, industry, agriculture, environment and sterilisation as well as in our own homes. As I and others said in this debate, 500,000 patients annually in a population of 22 million benefit from radioisotopes in medical procedures such as cancer diagnosis and treatment. However, accepting these benefits also means accepting the responsibility to safely manage resulting radioactive waste. The two go hand in hand—and so they should. Australia also needs to comply with its international obligations to manage radioactive waste. As a party to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management we need to promote the consistent, safe and responsible management of our radioactive waste. We need a long-term solution to this unavoidable but not unmanageable issue. Let mature debate resolve this matter once and for all. I thank those who contributed to the debate in a positive way and I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.