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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 687


Mr FRYDENBERG (6:52 PM) —I rise to speak in favour of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010, which repeals the Commonwealth’s Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005. The bill will lead to the establishment of a facility managing in a single site radioactive waste. This is important because radioactive waste in Australia is currently stored in multiple sites, and this creates handling and storage concerns that could otherwise be allayed with the creation of the single secure repository. Over the last five decades Australia has accumulated approximately 4,000 cubic metres of low-level and short lived intermediate-level radioactive waste. In stark contrast, and as has been pointed out in this House, Britain and France produce on an annual basis approximately 25,000 cubic metres of such waste. Low-level waste, according to the second reading speech of the Minister for Resources and Energy, includes:

... lightly contaminated light laboratory waste such as paper, plastic, glassware and protective clothing, contaminated soil, smoke detectors and emergency exit signs.

Intermediate level waste arises from the production of nuclear medicines, from overseas reprocessing of spent research reactor fuel and from disused medical and industrial sources such as radiotherapy sources and soil moisture meters.

In the words of Dr Adrian Paterson, the CEO of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, who testified to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee:

The current situation where radioactive waste is held in over 100 separate locations around Australia is not conducive to the safety and security of that material, nor is it consistent with international best practice.

He goes on to say:

The opportunity that this legislation provides is for that management practice to now be established at a national level and to be available nationally to all of the small holders of these used sources and the orphan sources in Australia.

So here we have it, the technical experts and the people we trust to protect our safety advising us that this bill will make a positive difference. Critically, passage of this bill is urgent and the Greens tactics to delay it should not be supported because Australian spent fuel waste, which was transported to France and Scotland, will be transported back to Australia in 2015-16 and will need to be immediately and safely stored.

While the coalition supports this bill, it is important to acknowledge that during the years of the Howard government, when we advocated and legislated for a single national facility, the Labor Party at a federal level and Labor governments at a state and territory level put up obstacles at every turn and did their best to impede progress. The Rann South Australian Labor government in 2003 and the Martin Labor Northern Territory government made clear their opposition to coalition efforts to find a suitable central repository. Julia Gillard’s hypocrisy in taking to the election a policy that would repeal the coalition’s 2005 Radioactive Waste Management Act seems hollow in light of the bill that they have now put before the House.

This bill assumes many of the features of the coalition’s legislation and will still see Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory remain a potential site for radioactive waste. It is a site that was selected during the coalition government’s process after nomination, importantly, by the Northern Land Council. In the telling words of the Greens, Labor’s bill is ‘a cut and paste’ from the previous Howard government. This grandstanding from Julia Gillard and her party is both typical and cynical. But more dangerous than the ALP on this important issue is the Greens, who according to their election platform want to close down the reactor at Lucas Heights. This retrograde step must never be allowed to get traction.

Radioactive materials in Australia are being put to valuable use in the fields of medicine and industry. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation is responsible for providing 85 per cent of nuclear medicines to hospitals in Australia and in so doing helping to treat patients who are suffering from a range of diseases, including cancer. According to the Minister for Resources and Energy, around 500,000 patients annually benefit from radioisotopes in medical procedures. These facilities are clearly important to our society and need to be continued and supported.

As has been made clear by the member for Groom in his statement to this House, the debate about this bill provides an important opportunity for the leadership of the Labor Party to declare itself in favour of a comprehensive and immediate debate about pursuing the benefits of a civilian nuclear power industry. As we all know, the member for Batman is ahead of the pack and leading his colleagues out from underneath their ideological covers. Bob Hawke, who said of nuclear power, ‘It is intellectually unsustainable to rule it out as a possibility,’ and that quotable AWU leader, Paul Howes, are among the other outspoken nuclear proponents. Nuclear power is a carbon neutral baseload energy source. With Australia’s energy needs to double in coming decades and our desire where possible to transition to a less carbon intensive economy, we must consider nuclear energy in the mix. The facts tell the story. Australia is home to 38 per cent of the world’s known recoverable uranium reserves and we export it to more than 10 countries, to which we should add India immediately.

With 31 countries hosting 440 reactors in the world today and more than 55 reactors currently under construction, nearly half of them in China alone, the international message is clear: get on board because you are already being left behind. New technology is getting more cost-effective and power plants quicker to build. Decades of experience since the explosions at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island indicate that reactors are inherently safer too. Ziggy Switkowski, the pre-eminent voice in the Australian nuclear debate and until recently chairman of ANSTO, believes Australia can have its first operating reactor by 2020 and 50 in place by 2050 providing 90 per cent of Australia’s energy needs. This message has already been heard loud and clear by the Democrat American President, Barack Obama, who recently committed $1 billion in federal loan guarantees for the next-generation reactors, and the former Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain, Gordon Brown, who described nuclear power as ‘a fundamental precondition of preparing Britain for a new world’.

If it was good enough for the American Democrats and the British Labour Party to enthusiastically embrace nuclear power, why is it not good enough for their left-of-centre political cousins here in Australia? To paraphrase Paul Keating, they are still back down in the time tunnel. Australia’s long-term energy future requires a comprehensive and bipartisan debate about nuclear power. This is long overdue. It is time Julia Gillard took the lead. So, too, is Australia overdue in finding an appropriate and secure facility to store our existing stockpile of radioactive nuclear waste. This bill meets this end and I commend it to the House.