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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10307


Ms KING (BallaratParliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport and Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing) (09:32): I move

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Amendment Bill 2012 which amends the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.

In summary that act establishes a system of notification and assessment of industrial chemicals to protect human health and the environment. The Department of Health and Ageing, through the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme, (NICNAS), administers that act. The activities of NICNAS underpin essential services across government agencies which collectively make up Australia’s regulatory system for industrial chemicals.

NICNAS activities are cost recovered through a combination of fees and charges levied on those persons or companies that introduce industrial chemicals into Australia through import or manufacture. For example, service fees apply to the assessment of new industrial chemicals introduced into Australia, an annual registration fee applies to all importers and manufacturers of relevant industrial chemicals, and an annual registration charge applies to all persons who introduce relevant industrial chemicals above a certain threshold value—these persons are known as 'chargeable persons'. The annual registration charge funds the majority of NICNAS’s activities, including assessment of chemicals on the national inventory, compliance activities and stakeholder education and outreach.

NICNAS has reviewed its cost recovery arrangements in accordance with the Australian government guidelines, utilising a highly consultative process. Industry, community and government stakeholders were consulted through a range of mechanisms including public meetings, an online survey and two rounds of written submissions.

The resulting cost recovery impact statement was agreed by government. This bill amends the act to give effect to several outcomes from the NICNAS cost recovery impact statement.

The first set of amendments relates to annual registration charges.

As foreshadowed in the NICNAS cost recovery impact statement, the bill changes the threshold and tier structure for annual registration charges in order to provide a more equitable charging structure for business by better aligning the charge payable with the value of the relevant industrial chemicals introduced.

The number of registration tiers will be increased from three to four, and the threshold above which registrants pay a registration charge will be reduced from $500,000 to $100,000. This change will enable more than 2,500 low-value introducers to pay a lower registration amount from 2013-14. Only a small number of higher value introducers (less than 400) will pay a higher registration amount.

This amendment supports the very important work being done to assess the very large number of unassessed chemicals that can legally be on the Australian market.

Currently, there are approximately 38,000 chemicals in the market which have not been assessed for health or environmental impacts. This is why that Australian Labor Party, in our platform, made a commitment to the efficient and timely assessment of all chemicals in order to provide the highest level of protection to the community.

Recently, I welcomed the launch of a framework which will provide a faster, more flexible and transparent approach to assess these chemicals.

This framework will be applied in a staged manner to determine the impact of these unassessed chemicals. Stage 1 began on 1 July this year, which sees the assessment of 3,000 chemicals over the next four years. A review to be undertaken in the fourth year is expected to make recommendations on the most efficient and effective approach to the assessment of the remainder of those unassessed chemicals on the national inventory. It is a very big task.

The second set of amendments introduces a new fee to recover the cost of processing applications for authorisation to import or export certain hazardous chemicals listed under the Rotterdam Convention (to which Australia is a signatory). This new fee-for-service arrangement will ensure that costs are recovered directly from those using the service, rather than being levied across all chargeable persons, as is currently the case. The proposed fee is small, and the number of companies accessing this service is low, therefore the impact on business is expected to be low.

The last cost-recovery impact statement measure in the bill amends the act to remove a redundant fee for certain applications relating to the listing of chemicals on the Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances made under transitional arrangements in 1997 only. This service is no longer operational.

The bill also makes a minor amendment to the act to improve clarity and consistency with other regulations. This is a consequential technical amendment arising from the new model work health and safety laws which commenced in the Commonwealth and some Australian states and territories on 1 January this year. Under those model laws, 'material safety data sheets' are now termed 'safety data sheets'. The amendment does not change the substance of the definition of what is a 'material safety data sheet'. For consistency, the bill also makes a corresponding amendment to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994, which currently cross-references the NICNAS Act. These minor technical amendments do not place any additional requirements on the industrial chemicals industry; they simply improve regulatory consistency.

I am very pleased to report that these amendments have been developed in close consultation with industry, government and the community. The proposed amendments enable NICNAS to provide more equitable cost-recovery arrangements for business. The bill does this while maintaining existing levels of worker safety, public health and environmental standards. And, as I stated, it also provides for the opportunity for the priority assessment of some 38,000 chemicals that sit on the register that are on the inventory that have not been assessed for health and safety, the first 3,000 of those to be done in the few years.

These amendments therefore represent a very important step in ensuring equity in regulatory charges and consistency across regulatory sectors. They reflect the government’s commitment to ensure the most efficient regulatory system is in place for industrial chemicals.

Debate adjourned.