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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 675


Mr RANDALL (5:56 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. We know that this current bill seeks to repeal and replace the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and subsequent Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Act 2006. The National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 will enable a site that is volunteered for consideration for use as a national radioactive waste management facility.

I want to speak on this bill because I think we have to bring some common sense to this parliament and to this nation. That is what this bill does. You cannot be a miner and a user of radioactive material and then say, ‘But we don’t want to dispose of it after its use.’ It is bizarre. It is like a shipping coal to one of our export countries and them saying, ‘We don’t want to use that; we want to send it back to Australia because it might pollute our soil.’ It is a fatuous and silly argument and that is why I expect it is coming largely from the Greens, because on this issue both the Labor Party and the coalition are in agreement.

There has to be a proper management regime for nuclear material being used and properly disposed of. Australia has the capacity to do this. We are a massive nation with all the right ingredients to store the material that we produce and use in a responsible way. Like my coalition colleagues I obviously welcome the progress of this debate throughout the House in establishing a national management facility in Australia. We know that for some years the coalition has recognised the need for such a facility. We need an informed and responsible approach to managing Australia’s radioactive waste. You just cannot pretend that we do not mine it and do not use it.

A facility is crucial to a long-term strategy to managing radioactive waste in Australia and this needs to be gotten on with. For too long it has been dragging on. The Howard government introduced the original legislation in 2005 and here we are six years later in 2011 looking at a rejigged bill which the Labor Party in opposition totally slammed, opportunistically denied, tried to defeat and scared people with. Here today they have re-tweaked the Howard legislation into a bill. That is why we are supporting it: because it is legislation that has to happen, as is said here, in the national interest. We are not fairies at the bottom of the garden who are going to pretend that this is not something that happens in Australia and, if we shut our eyes for long enough and bury our heads in the sand for long enough, it will go away. We need to get on to it, particularly because we have something like 32 cubic metres of spent research reactor fuel returning to Australia in 2015-16 after being processed internationally.

Our hospitals and a whole range of other industries in Australia use radioactive isotopes for accurate cutting and measuring et cetera and those have to be disposed of. To stop them being stored in basements of hospitals and in containers at the back of industrial sites, we need a proper disposal management regime in this country to responsibly deal with the waste that we produce. You could draw a whole lot of parallels about the waste with coal and other fuels and try to relate them to this, but it is so wacky that we have been brought here today to debate this bill. The legislation will pass, no matter what the amendment is that the member for Melbourne has moved in this place, because there is a bipartisan approach to be responsible on this issue, whereas the Greens want to hang their hats on some sort of international scare campaign on nuclear.

Let us look at the wider philosophical debate. The Labor Party do not necessarily come to this issue with clean hands. They have tried for years and years to stick to the old three-mines policy generated back in the days of the Whitlam government and, at the same time, they have tried to rejig and morph the policy so that uranium can be mined at Olympic Dam in South Australia. That is still part of the three-mines policy, even though Rum Jungle in the Northern Territory, for example—which was one of the mines—no longer exists. We have this cute debate, which is ideologically driven, running in this country. Even though we have massive reserves of nuclear material—something like 40 per cent of the world’s known reserves of nuclear material—we are saying that we should not be exporting it. The Labor Party still will not deal with India because it has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, yet through the back door India is buying its uranium from countries like Kazakhstan. It is a ‘responsible’ country, of Borat fame, which is supplying material to India through the back door because it can, and we are missing the opportunity. How ridiculous is that! Australia is missing out on an opportunity where we would not only have some control over who buys it and who gets it but also have some control over what is done with it.

Every time you talk about nuclear in this country, the first things you hear about are Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl happened decades ago. When people want to talk about them, remember that comparing those archaic facilities at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl with nuclear facilities today is akin to comparing an FJ Holden to a Lamborghini. They were FJ Holdens, and they broke up and fell apart, but nothing in any way like that has happened since. The modern nuclear reactor today delivers clean, unpolluted power. The Greens will say, ‘Shock, horror—nuclear power!’ but there are energy depleted countries in Europe such as France, 70 per cent of whose power generated for domestic use comes from nuclear reactors.

On a study tour I was fortunate enough to do in Italy, I went to the area around Milan and I was told that some years ago they had had a national referendum to ban any future nuclear power generation. Guess what: they are walking away from that now as they are going to build five new nuclear reactors in Italy. Obviously, one of the reasons for that is the games that were being played by the old Russia and its satellite states which cut off the gas to Italy. As a result, their industry came to a grinding halt and they realised that they could not be held to ransom by other states in Europe but had to generate their own power. Because they have no natural resources such as coal, gas and oil to generate power, they are off building new facilities.

Of course, Italy and other countries are going to face the same problems as we are—that is, where to store it. I know the argument about ‘Not in my backyard’. Nobody wants a nuclear reactor built in their backyard—in their electorate. Ask every one of the 150 members of this House, ‘Are you happy to have a nuclear reactor in your electorate?’ and they will say, ‘No way,’ but then behind their hands they will say, ‘But it’s a good idea—it would probably not be a bad idea if we actually had cleanly generated power delivered through a very, very low-cost fuel which Australia generates 40 per cent of.’ It would be the same with the storage. You could ask, ‘Do you want to store nuclear waste in your electorate—in other words, in your backyard?’ The answer would be: ‘Oh no, you can’t do it here.’ It would be terrible—you would have people marching in the streets led by, I expect, the Greens in their little pixie outfits and, as a result, it would not happen. But a solution was arrived at and, as the states reneged on this agreement to go forward, it was decided that somebody needed to volunteer and select the most appropriate site.

My colleague the Hon. Ian McFarlane, the member for Groom, the former Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources and now the shadow minister for energy and resources, said that this bill seeks to find a national radioactive management facility for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. It is simply replicating what we have already done, and there is a need for a centralised long-term radioactive management plan and storage. That is simply being cut and pasted by the Labor Party, but the storage facility was eventually found in the Northern Territory at Muckaty Station. The Greens member of this House—who, as I digress, unfortunately got here on Liberal preferences, so we will have to do something about that next time; we saw what happened in Victoria last time, and maybe we should take note of that—just told the House that there is a ‘divided community’ at Muckaty Station.

Can I say to you, ‘Wake up, old son,’ because for all the native title issues throughout this country there can be a whole lot of claimants and title challenges from within the same family. You are seeing this regarding the facility that they want to build in the Kimberley for the processing of gas. One Aboriginal group, led by Mr Roe, is opposed to it, and the other side, led by Wayne Bergmann, who is trying to get decent jobs and income for his people in the region, has endorsed it. The courts endorsed him and two other members to go forward and negotiate before it is taken off them by the Western Australian state government. As a Western Australian, I feel quite passionate about this. We have the potential in our state to further develop the resources sector—the traditional mining of iron ore, gold and nickel; it is the richest mining province in the world—and add nuclear to that, because BHP’s Yeelirrie site is being progressed by a Liberal coalition government. It is sensible and in the national interest to get on with our resource that is used throughout the world for all the proper reasons. At Muckaty Station you will have somebody in the Aboriginal clan, or dynasty, who wants a better deal and wants to be in charge. They will go off to the High Court, as they do—they will probably get legal aid on the way—and will make sure that they string it out for as long as they can. But, at the end of the day, this is the most sensible place. Geologically, it is the most appropriate place. It is geologically stable, from a weather point of view it is dry and lacks in humidity, and no-one, to speak of, lives there. It has a very sparse population. Barely anyone lives in that arid and desolate part of the Northern Territory.

My colleague from the Northern Territory has a few issues with this because the old NIMBY issues come into her backyard, but, at the end of the day, the Commonwealth has found a site. We could look at other territories. I do not suspect that Cocos Islands, Norfolk Island or Lord Howe Island necessarily want to do a deal. They do not have the right geological framework to store this material. But, deep underground, with the technologies that are used now, this is an income for the local Indigenous people to make use of. It is only sensible and right that they are given the opportunity to do this rather than saying, as we hear in this place so often, ‘We know what’s better for you, you poor Indigenous people. You don’t know how to look after your affairs. We’ll look after them for you.’ We can see where that has got them—welfare dependency and all those sorts of things.

So, allow self-determination, allow an income for the people in this part of the world and allow a proper regime in this country that can be managed so that a facility can be built properly in order to get nuclear waste out of hospital basements and the backyards of industrial sites. We need a proper framework in place so that we can go forward. The Labor Party are supporting it and thumbing their noses at the Greens alliance that they are involved in at the moment, because they know that they will get this through the House. This side of the House supports sensible nuclear waste management. I endorse the bill.