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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 681


Mr HAWKE (6:25 PM) —I rise to endorse the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 as a long overdue measure this parliament ought to take in implementing what I regard as a vital piece of our national infrastructure. I reject the proposed amendment by the Greens, and I will get to that in a moment. I endorse the comments of the member for Lyons. It is a brave man inside the Labor Party who stands up and calls for the use of nuclear power, and I encourage him to pursue that line. We have seen in recent times union leaders coming forward and saying that they feel that nuclear power is a good way for this country to proceed. We have seen more and more Labor members realising—after decades of inaction—that nuclear is a viable and long-term strategic option in Australia’s interests.

However, I do want to correct the member for Lyons on a couple of points that he made. He contended that the coalition had done nothing in government and that somehow we are here today because of coalition inaction. We are standing here today after 11½ years of coalition policy stating that we need a centralised waste management system because of the intransigence of the Labor Party in opposition. They opposed us in that endeavour. Why did they oppose us? They opposed the centralisation of waste management in Australia because they could not resolve their own internal political tensions. Labor, the Greens and the left of centre in Australian politics have always sought to create fear out of the nuclear issue. That is why I think the comments of the member for Lyons were radically different here today. I endorse his comments, because it is long overdue that the left of centre of Australian politics came to grips with technology and with the realities of the world in 2011.

I say to the member for Lyons that it is not that we are only now learning about the use of nuclear power and how valuable it could be. It has been in operation for decades. Australia has been mining uranium for decades. We have been using the benefits of nuclear medicine for decades. These benefits have been obvious to those people following and interested in the debates on nuclear power, nuclear energy generation and the use of nuclear technology in this country. These benefits have of course escaped the notice of the Labor Party.

In the 2007 election campaign the Labor Party sought to run a series of fear campaigns around this country on the siting of nuclear power plants. The front page of local papers in my electorate of Mitchell carried a big picture of a reactor tower and the words ‘Nuclear plant coming to Mitchell’. That might have been a plan proposed by the member for Werriwa—who I notice is here in the chamber—because that was certainly replicated right across this country, particularly in marginal electorates. I thought that was a shallow and defeatist set of campaign tactics. We have to seriously consider these very important technologies for the future, not cynically campaign politically on such an important and vital part of this country’s future.

We have one of the world’s largest reserves of uranium. We were held back for decades by Labor’s three mines policy. People talk about trade cartels. Labor had a three mines policy for so long in ignorance of the opportunities that we are provided by this fortunate land that we live in. The coalition’s longstanding position has been one of support for this concept, and we support this bill. We are behaving responsibly in opposition. We are behaving in the national interest. For 11½ years we sought to act in the national interest and construct a repository in a suitable location. I note that the member for Solomon is here in the chamber today. She is here in defence of her constituents—and I think she is doing a great job in that regard.

Years ago there was a proposal for a suitable site in northern South Australia. The only reason that facility did not go ahead was Labor Party intransigence by the Rann government. That is what we have seen from state Labor governments around the country: a lack of leadership and a lack of vision for their state and for their country. We have seen short-term temporary politics overtaking long-term national interest and decision making. People in this country are sick of it. No wonder every Labor state Premier is as unpopular as Captain Bligh in the rebellion. No wonder every state wants to reject them. We would have had a centralised waste management facility in a suitable location—which was identified in the report—in northern South Australia many years ago, and everything would have proceeded in a much safer way for ordinary Australians. Labor has been content to allow the storing of radioactive waste containers in car parks, hospitals and inner city areas all around the country—totally unsuitable arrangements. That is why this bill is important. It is why a centralised facility in a suitable location is important to all Australians. We do have to handle the waste that is generated by nuclear activity, and it is something that Labor has opposed.

I want to endorse the remarks of the member for Groom. I think he has a great understanding, as a former Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, of what this issue represents. In listening to what the member for Lyons had to say, it is interesting to note that, yes, we are a signatory to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, and we do have obligations in this country. Yet it seems to me that the Labor Party and the Greens, in particular, are always talking about meeting our international obligations in relation to so many things. We have international obligations for the safe handling of nuclear waste and yet that has not figured in their policies nor in their campaigning for so long. That is why this parliament has to override by necessity—using its powers under section 51—state and territory laws in relation to waste handling. It has to do that. The member for Lyons’s comments, while welcome, are long overdue in this case. The irrationality that has pervaded this debate from members of the Labor Party has been extraordinary.

When you look at the benefits that nuclear technology has brought to us, nuclear medicine today enables doctors to produce quick and accurate diagnoses of a wide range of conditions and diseases in persons of any age. When we look at the provisions of this bill, in Australia we have to recognise that we do not deal with high-level waste. We deal with low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. It makes sense to centralise, in a safe way, the waste and to have a facility for dealing with it. I think it is odd to hear the remarks in this place, especially by the member for Melbourne, about the benefits of nuclear medicine to increase the standard of health care for all of our citizens and about the benefits of nuclear technology in an advanced and modern society.

The position of the member for Melbourne is that the location in the Northern Territory would be the wrong one, but he has no proposal for where to centralise waste management in this country. It is absolutely unsatisfactory to come into this chamber and say, ‘It’s the wrong place,’ and to have no alternative. I think it is absolutely the wrong position to come in here and say, ‘I really want the benefits of nuclear medicine; I want the advances that come from nuclear technology’—we live in a society where people do enjoy the benefits of it—and then say, ‘We don’t like the waste.’ Radioactive waste is a very unfortunate by-product of this technology. It is the level of technology that we have reached at this time in human development. We have to deal with it in the best way we can and in the most advanced way we can. We cannot be half pregnant on this issue. We cannot have nuclear generating facilities like Lucas Heights in Sydney and hospitals that use nuclear technology and not deal with the waste in the most intelligent fashion that we can. We must.

It is vital that this bill is supported as quickly as possible, and that is why the opposition is moving to do so. I think that the Greens have not just missed the practical and common-sense arguments about the importance of this technology to our country’s health and other benefits; they have also missed their own arguments on climate change. It is no accident that countries like France have so many nuclear power plants and have no problems with nuclear power. With the advances in technology, with fourth and fifth generation plants, and the way it is moving and progressing all around the world, we can move down this path in a very safe fashion. It is not an accident that other countries have lowered their emissions. Australia is one of the highest emitters of carbon, per capita, in the entire world and it is primarily because of our power generation. Everything this government has attempted to do around the edges that has not dealt with power generation is a waste of our time. We have wasted so much time. We can tackle carbon emissions through the use of nuclear power, and we can do so intelligently, in a forward-thinking fashion that provides energy generation for Australians for a long time to come.

It would not be a surprise to those opposite that I am a supporter of nuclear power plants. It would not surprise the member for Werriwa—who may or may not have been the architect of the scare campaign all around Australia about nuclear power plants—that I was not a supporter of the one that was reported on the front page of my newspapers in Mitchell. Mitchell is an unsuitable site for a nuclear power plant, just by virtue of it being in a metropolitan area, and it was wrong of the Labor Party to try to scare my constituents into thinking that there was ever a plan to put a nuclear power plant in Mitchell. It was wrong of them to scare communities across this country that they may have had a nuclear plant coming towards them. That was a wrong thing to do. But I am a supporter of nuclear power. I think there are appropriate sites in a country so large and a population so small.

I think that many of the provisions of this bill are improvements. While it does call for the repeal of the coalition’s previous act, I do think that there have been some improvements made in this bill. However, I also note that much of the original legislation is replicated in the bill before us today. They have not reinvented the wheel. They have fulfilled their promise of repealing the previous act and they have used large sections of the act and added new provisions. So it is a little bit cute of the Labor Party to come in here today and say that the coalition did nothing for 11½ years when, at every turn, the coalition proposed to deal with radioactive waste in the very manner prescribed in this bill. The reason it never came to fruition is that Labor at federal level and state levels across this country opposed it, at every step of the way, for pure political interest. That is why we are here as an opposition behaving differently. We support this bill because it is the right thing to do. We support this bill because we do need a centralised waste management facility in this country to ensure the safety and security of Australians in our metropolitan areas and to ensure that waste is properly handled, sensitively handled, in the right way and the best way that we know how. That is why I support this bill.