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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1097


Mr SYMON (Deakin) (20:44): I speak in support of the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013 in this cognate debate. With an additional appropriation of just over $1.27 billion being sought through both these bills, there are a range of topics and subjects. Some are things which are quite local to me and others are, I suppose, quite out of the box.

One of the first things that I picked up out of these bills when looking at them was the additional expenditure for the now superseded General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme, GEERS, which, although closed as from 5 December last year, is being topped up by $48 million to cover claims that were made later in the year. It is very fair to say that I have been a critic of GEERS for many, many years, and there are very good reasons for that. What we have done now with the changeover to a legislative solution through the Fair Entitlements Guarantee is put in a system that picks up on the deficiencies that were embedded within the administrative scheme that was GEERS. We should not forget that this scheme was introduced by the current opposition leader, the member for Warringah, in his time as Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business in September of 2001—the very same member who proclaimed himself the workers' friend. As a worker, I would not like to have him as my friend.

As I said, I have long been critical of GEERS, as it has never had a legislative basis and it has always been difficult for some employees to access the scheme. It was back on 20 February 2008, in my first speech to this place, that I spoke about the deficiencies of GEERS and my belief that there could and should be a better solution. So it was that during the 2010 election campaign Labor released a policy called the Protecting Workers' Entitlements package. This policy foreshadowed three areas: protecting workers' entitlements, strengthening superannuation compliance measures and targeting phoenix company arrangements, all of which are very important when it comes to someone who is suddenly out of a job and wants to know where their entitlements are.

It has happened so many times—not only in my role as a member of parliament but also in my previous roles over many jobs—that I have had to deal with employees who have gone to work one day and found a padlock on the gate and also found that their tools and possessions inside the facility, the factory or the site having been taken over by a receiver. They have also found, of course, that their accrued entitlements are now in the hands of someone else, and the process of getting through that is always long and tedious. But, of course, it is even worse if you as a worker were relying on that week's pay to pay off a mortgage or a debt or just to meet your basic day-to-day living expenses.

The Fair Entitlements Guarantee covers workers entitlements if they lose their job as a result of their employer becoming insolvent, and it now covers—better than GEERS—unpaid wages of up to 13 weeks, including allowances, loadings, amounts payable for overtime and amounts paid at penalty rates. With an initial maximum weekly wage of $2,364 as a continuation of the threshold under GEERS, there is provision for that to be adjusted as costs of living and wages go up over time. There is redundancy pay of four weeks pay, at a rate relevant to the pay for which the employee was working, paid for each full year of service depending on the industrial instrument, along with pro rata provisions, and there is payment in lieu of notice not exceeding five weeks pay at the relevant rate. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee also provides for the Commonwealth to pursue advances made to employees through the winding up or bankruptcy proceedings of their employer. The important part about that is that it can speed up that process of recovering moneys that are legally owed to the employee who has put in the hard work and done the job. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee—legislated by Labor and voted against by the Liberal Party—provides a higher level of certainty for those employees whose employers cease trading due to insolvency.

Also within these bills is an amount of approximately $50 million to be provided to the Attorney-General's Department mainly as funding towards the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Although there has been a lot of media coverage about this, the important thing is that it has to have funding. It is good to see it here in black and white.

On another issue, also included in Appropriation Bill No. 4 2012-2013 is an allocation for an equity injection of around $45 million to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to complete the detailed engineering design for the construction of a nuclear medicine manufacturing facility and a waste treatment plant at Lucas Heights. While the total project cost is estimated at $168 million and it will take several years to build, that facility also includes a co-located Synroc waste treatment plant. During construction, around 150 jobs will be created. Once finished, there will be 100 new operational jobs in addition to ANSTO's current workforce of around 1,200 people. Of interest, this facility will produce molybdenum-99, a radiopharmaceutical that is used in 80 per cent of procedures for the treatment and diagnosis of heart disease and cancers. World wide, 45 million patients receive a diagnosis or treatment using molybdenum-99 every year and the new nuclear medicine project will provide a steady supply to this demand.

Over 200 hospitals in Australia and New Zealand use molybdenum-99 for patient treatments. It is used particularly commonly because it is particularly useful. Currently, ANSTO supplies molybdenum-99 for the one in two Australians who require this radiopharmaceutical during their lifetime. The new facility, which is expected to be completed in 2016, will meet not only Australia's demand but demand beyond our borders. Each year around 550,000 people in Australia receive a diagnosis using molybdenum-99.

I recently took the opportunity to visit ANSTO's Luca Heights facility and found it a great learning experience. Not really knowing a whole lot about what went on inside the gate before I got there, when I arrived I found a fairly large fence and a Federal Police post and various other security measures. But once inside it was a completely different picture. It is a facility that has a commercial arm and a research arm. It was highly interesting to find out that they run public tours at such a place, and around about 11,000 people, including school children, a year go down there to see what is being done. The research fields in particular are wide and varied. ANSTO provides the facilities for many researchers to be able to do research that cannot be done anywhere else in Australia.

My tour was hosted by Nadia Levin, the general manager of government, international and external relations at ANSTO. In the time that I was there, I viewed the OPAL multipurpose research reactor, the neutron beam facilities and the Centre for Accelerator Science. I also met with the chief executive officer, Dr Adi Paterson; Shaun Jenkinson, the general manager of commercial operations; Sam Moricca, the director of technology at ANSTO Synroc; Dr Richard Garrett, senior adviser of synchrotron science; and several other experts in the field. I happened to learn while I was there that ANSTO have also taken over operation of the synchrotron, which is based in the suburb of Clayton in my home town of Melbourne. The synchrotron was built by the Victorian government. In recent years, it has had funding issues. Even though it is world class, without recurrent funding—and it is now jointly funded by the state and federal governments—that fantastic facility would not be available not only to Australian researches but to so many researchers from around the world who come from overseas to get access to this great facility.

At ANSTO, I learnt that the supply of nuclear medicine in the medium term is under threat, as some 70 per cent of the world's current supply of molybdenum-99 comes from reactors that are due to be decommissioned between 2015 and 2020. I also found it interesting that currently most of the world's supply of molybdenum-99 is produced in reactors fuelled by highly enriched uranium. By contrast, the OPAL research reactor at Lucas Heights is powered by low-enriched uranium, which is almost impossible to repurpose for use in nuclear weapons.

I was also briefed on the new Synroc facility at Lucas Heights. It will be the first of its kind in the world, with the ability to treat and contain, in a permanent way, the by-products from past, current and future manufacture of nuclear medicines. Although Synroc is a great Australian innovation, a separate debate must still be concluded as to where the waste should be stored. Many people are unaware that low-level radioactive waste from medical and industrial purposes is stored in many metropolitan locations across Australia, quite often with very minimal security or tracking systems. To me, it is a great worry that that exists in our cities. I know the debate has been going on for a long time, but it is something that Australia will have to deal with one day, and I think the invention and application of Synroc technology helps it along its way. It is one of the things that needs to be done.

In the debate on last year's Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4), I spoke about several programs from the Clean Energy Future package. I highlighted the ones that are of great benefit to community organisations, local governments and low-income residents, not only in my electorate of Deakin but in electorates right across Australia. In particular, I spoke about the Community Energy Efficiency Program that is investing $200 million, in partnership with local councils and community organisations, to improve energy efficiency in council and community buildings and facilities. With dollar-for-dollar matched funding, this program is a great opportunity for councils and community organisations to save energy, particularly electricity, and of course save on the costs of that energy.

The Community Energy Efficiency Program is now at its round 2 stage, with round 1 having already been awarded, and I know there are councils in Melbourne that have already started on particular projects to change over street lights. The two local government areas that I cover in the seat of Deakin—Maroondah City Council and Whitehorse City Council—have both applied for funding under round 2 of the Community Energy Efficiency Program, and both have put submissions in to replace old street lights with new. The energy savings are quite staggering—as is the initial outlay—but for both councils the projected costs will be returned in a small number of years. And they will have got rid of old, inefficient mercury vapour light fittings—and in some cases even old fluorescent light fittings—and replaced them with new compact fluorescent fittings.

In the near future I think the opportunities that will come from the changeover of lighting from old to new will become even greater, as light-emitting diode technology becomes more and more common for lighting, internally and increasingly externally. Instead of achieving an energy saving of 50 per cent, energy savings of 80 per cent will be quite easily available for a fairly small investment. When it is thought about like that, it almost becomes something that cannot be argued. The capital cost of changeover versus running cost pretty much drives that equation by itself. So, it not only reduces energy costs, as I said, but, importantly, reduces carbon emissions—in Victoria's case, from our brown coal power stations down in Latrobe Valley.

Programs like this cannot just be a one-off; they need to continue. And it is important that they do continue, because both our councils and community organisations need to be community leaders in this field. I would hope that by showing individuals that it is easy to change over, that there is money to be saved and that there are environmental advantages to be had, programs such as the Community Energy Efficiency Program will convince or persuade householders and businesses of the value and the benefits of changing over to low-energy lighting.

In my home state of Victoria the price of electricity has been rising at close to 10 per cent per annum—sometimes more, sometimes less—and the current retail tariff in my local area is now around 27c to 28c per kilowatt hour. That really has an impact when a household or a business receives an electricity bill, and it has been going up at that rate for many years. Indeed, I actually went back through some old electricity bills not that long ago, and I did not have to go back that many years to find one on which the rate was but 14c a kilowatt hour.

I commend both councils for applying for funding under the CEEP. I think it is a great example to the community, and I commend these bills to the House.