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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11127

Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (16:30): I rise to speak on the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Amendment Bill 2012. The coalition will not be opposing this bill. This bill amends the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989, which established and regulates a system that assesses industrial chemicals used within Australia for their health and environmental impacts before they are released for use. NICNAS also assess chemicals that were already in use in Australia prior to the scheme's implementation on a priority basis.

The bill before the parliament seeks to amend that scheme, and there are two specific amendments contained within this bill which I would like to touch on briefly. The first is the registration structure. The major amendment contained within this bill is the changes being made to the registration structure. NICNAS operates on a full cost recovery structure, which means that the cost to administer the industrial chemical scheme is recouped via charges imposed on entities that introduce industrial chemicals into Australia. NICNAS recently reviewed its cost recovery arrangements in accordance with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines. Those guidelines were originally introduced in 2002 to improve transparency and accountability of cost recovery arrangements. This review resulted in the NICNAS Cost Recovery Impact Statement 2012-13 to 2015-16, which was released earlier this year and agreed to by the government in July. The proposed changes to the NICNAS registration structure were foreshadowed in the NICNAS Cost Recovery Impact Statement. The annual registration charges fund the lion's share of NICNAS's regulatory activities.

This bill will amend the current three-tier registration structure for NICNAS into a four-tier structure. The structure will begin in the 2013-14 financial year. A number of alternative fee structures were canvassed during the development of the NICNAS CRIS. However, the four-tier option was deemed the most appropriate during the review. The effect of this amendment will see 2,500 low-value introducers pay a lower registration fee, thereby lowering the barriers to entry for those small businesses, with approximately the top 400 chemical introducers paying more. It is my understanding that amendments to the regulations will be introduced separately in the near future to amend the registration fees associated with the changed tiers. The coalition will be ensuring the proper scrutiny of these amendments to the registration fees when these regulations are introduced into the parliament.

The second part of the bill relates to the Rotterdam convention fee. The bill also introduces a small fee to recover the cost of importing hazardous chemicals listed under the Rotterdam convention. Previously this cost was levied across all chargeable organisations, but it will now be recovered directly from the applicants. I am informed that there are fewer than 10 of these applications each year. There are some other consequential amendments. The bill makes a number of minor amendments to remove redundant fees that are no longer applicable and improve the consistency with other regulations by standardising language. For example, 'material safety data sheets' have been renamed 'safety data sheets', and the changes in this bill reflect that. These changes do not impact on the industrial chemicals industry but rather improve regulatory consistency.

I need to touch briefly on the better regulation ministerial partnership that was announced on 8 September 2011 by the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. This partnership was set up to review and evaluate the operation of NICNAS to improve competitiveness of the Australian chemicals industry, as well as health and environmental outcomes. This will be a wide-ranging review that many stakeholders are interested in the outcome of. The current CRIS that this bill implements states that, if there are material changes to the NICNAS cost recovery arrangements as a result of the partnership recommendations, the current CRIS will be amended or a new CRIS will be developed.

A number of industry stakeholders expect that the better regulation ministerial partnership will recommend changes to the cost recovery arrangements of NICNAS as part of broader NICNAS regulatory reforms. The coalition questions the benefit of implementing the cost recovery impact statement through this legislation only months before the better regulation ministerial partnership review is released and responded to, considering the likelihood of further changes to the CRIS. As stated originally, the coalition will not be opposing this bill. We do, however, question the benefit of implementing the cost recovery impact statement before the better regulation ministerial partnership is concluded. We eagerly await the response from the better regulation ministerial partnership review later this year and the recommendations on the broader review of the current structure of the NICNAS scheme.