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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3570

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(9.40) —I thank the Senate for supporting the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill and allied Bills. Much more is involved in this legislation, as has been acknowledged from the other side, than a mere change of name from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. What is involved in the passage of this legislation is a quite fundamental change of direction, shape, identity and, I hope, spirit and morale in this Organisation.

For a number of years the Australian Atomic Energy Commission has had a very uncertain identity. Originally its path, its role, and its future seemed clear enough to develop for Australia the capacity to develop our own nuclear power industry, to do so in a defence context-maybe not to develop nuclear weapons which Senator Sheil, alone in the Senate, seems nostalgic about but perhaps to have the capacity to do so. The Atomic Energy Act set up the Atomic Energy Commission and, having set the parameters within which it operated, the Commission reflects that kind of 1950s approach to the nuclear industry: Tremendous cold war orientation, great emphasis on security; a tremendous inward looking character about it; a tremendous sense of being engaged in work that was dangerous and secret, and all those things which bear very little resemblance to the reality that now exists. The reality in Australia, as has been increasingly recognised in recent years, is that whatever may be the proper future of nuclear power elsewhere, the development of nuclear energy capacity within Australia-power generation-simply does not make much sense, such are our resources of low cost and well located coal, which will last us for hundreds of years.

Senator MacGibbon —That is where your legal vision is so clouded.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I know Senator MacGibbon's wistful preoccupation with the Jervis Bay development, for which cancellation he has to thank not a Labor government, but a previous Liberal government. The reality is that while there may be all sorts of good reasons for Australia maintaining a capacity to understand, to monitor and so on developments in this area and to do a certain kind of research in it, there is no particular economic point that can be reasonably articulated in the development within Australia of a fully-fledged power generating nuclear energy industry. We have eschewed completely any role in nuclear weapons production-not as a result of this legislation, there is nothing new in this legislation about that-but from the commitments we have made on the international stage and elsewhere by virtue of our participation in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the whole regime that is associated with that, which I did not understand Senator Sir John Carrick, to be disagreeing with. To that extent I think Senator Sheil's position within the Opposition is pretty isolated.

Senator Hamer —Why are you opposed to commercial uranium enrichment operations?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I shall come to that in a moment. What is needed is not a wistful harking back to a golden age that did not quite eventuate but which exists in the minds of a number of former directors and administrators of the organisation, nor a harking back to the sort of world that Senator Sheil would like to inhabit. What is necessary is a forward looking vision about a role for a very important national research and development institution in areas where that institution can make a useful and vital contribution to the Australian economy and to Australian society in a number of different respects. What we are talking about essentially is a role in industry, agriculture, medicine and scientific research. There are many facets of that and, given the time, I shall not stop to explore them in detail, but there are many extremely useful things in all those areas that such an organisation can be doing. I say straightaway against that background that it is not a matter of the new Organisation completely eschewing any kind of involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle. We have specifically articulated a proper role for the Organisation with regard to the mining and milling end of the cycle, and certainly also with regard to the waste disposal end of the cycle. Synroc is not something to which we merely pay lip service, out of some sense of spurious obligation. I, for one, have a genuine belief in the vitality and viability of Synroc as a very important second generation, high level waste technology, the utility and future of which is being increasingly recognised as a result of the excellent work that has been done in the past, and which is continuing to be done now, in co-operation with three other countries-Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom.

So there is a future in those aspects of the fuel cycle. Certainly it is important to maintain a capacity to monitor and understand developments in relation to other aspects of the cycle and the technology that goes with it while acknowledging the reality that there is no point in talking about an Australian industry developing with regard to energy production. Despite the usual frenzy of phoney indignation from Senator Sir John Carrick, based on his perception of what he thought the Government and I might be about, and given his reading of the Bill and the second reading speech, there is a very clear willingness on my part to acknowledge-I do so now-a role for the Organisation in education and training and in maintaining that kind of technical competence and capacity.

It was against that background, with the need to spell some of this out in more detail than is appropriate in the stark legislative form with which we as a chamber are necessarily confronted, that I set in train the Review of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, during its transitional phase to ANSTO, that was so ably chaired by Professor Collins, and which has so recently reported. I arranged to have the report printed and made available to the Senate so that it might contribute something constructive to this debate. Regrettably, it does not even seem to have been read by Senator Sir John Carrick. It certainly did not inform much of his contribution to this debate.

One of the recommendations was for the adoption by ANSTO of a number of interim objectives. Let me say here and now that I regard this statement of the Collins Committee as a quite admirable statement of objectives. It is up to an incoming board to adopt them. I do not seek to impose them on the Organisation. But I say now that this seems to me to be exactly what the Organisation is all about. Let me read the formulation of objectives into the record:

ANSTO should adopt the following interim objectives:

1. To encourage and facilitate the utilisation of, and benefits from, nuclear science and technology in medicine, industry, commerce, agriculture, science, and the community at large.

That is the sort of stuff that is spelt out very clearly in the text of the legislation. But beyond that:

2. To maintain a national centre of scientific and technological competence in nuclear science and technology by

(a) developing and maintaining expertise in nuclear science and technology and in areas of relevance to nuclear science and technology

(b) undertaking research and development, and maintaining an awareness of overseas research and development, in areas relevant to nuclear science and technology

(c) establishing and operating major facilities related to nuclear science and technology, including reactors and accelerators.

3. To provide expert technical advice and information to the Government and the Australian community on matters relating to nuclear science and technology, including the Government's international initiatives in nuclear affairs.

4. To contribute to international endeavours to seek technical solutions to problems associated with nuclear activities including work on improving safeguards technology, nuclear waste management and the environmental impact of nuclear activities.

Coming back again to things that are more explicit in terms of the Bill:

5. To provide an appropriate range of commercial and technical services and products, including the supply of essential radioisotopes and radiopharmaceuticals.

6. To facilitate the training of scientific, technical and research workers and the establishment and award of scientific research studentships and fellowships in matters relating to nuclear science and technology.

7. To make its expertise and facilities available to educational institutions and other persons for the conduct of research and of other activities related to nuclear science and technology.

So there it is. It is spelled out there in terms which I would accept and endorse, and which I think are totally consistent with the kinds of concerns that Senator Sir John Carrick, as I understood him, was articulating. True it is that the Bill is expressed in terms of the Organisation being guided by the science policy of the government of the day. True it is that the legislation is expressed, as one would expect it to be, in terms of adherence to directives from the government of the day as to research priorities and so on. But let me say here and now that within the framework of that legislation is that full range of things involved in developing and maintaining a scientific and technical competence in all these areas that I regard as absolutely integral to the Organisation's existence.

If the Organisation is to have credibility of course it is necessary to maintain its capacity to engage in full scale research across a wide spectrum. Whilst the HIFAR and the MOATA reactors certainly give it that capacity, it is necessary, if we are to maintain any kind of world status in this area of science, that we develop a national scale cyclotron. As was gracefully acknowledged by Senator Puplick, we have bitten on that objective and after years of its being talked about and argued about we have actually made the decision to go ahead and have allocated the first sums towards realising that vision. That again will be crucial to giving flesh and blood to the reality of this new Organisation.

Senator MacGibbon —Where will it be built?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It will be built at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, not physically on the Lucas Heights site but run by ANSTO in conjunction with the hospital; the idea being that it will be available for immediate medical utilisation of the very short life isotopes. Also, it will be available for production of the whole range of medical and industrial isotopes that an organisation such as this needs to be able to produce. Much needs to be done in reshaping this Organisation to give it the outward orientation that I have talked about rather than the inward looking and, let us face it, rather paranoid view of the world that it has understandably had, given the way in which it has been defending itself against assaults from government or, more often over the last years, indifference from government. Much needs to be done in developing its research competence, ensuring that a new generation of young and able scientists take up the positions that will increasingly be vacated by the older generation. Much needs to be done to develop its commercial orientation, not in pursuit, I say to Senator Sheil, of any grand socialist vision but simply in pursuit of the kind of financial efficiency and return on capital and funds invested that I think Senator Sheil would regard as simply sensible organisational practice, whether one is talking about the public or the private sector.

I think we have made a good start in getting the Organisation going with the review of Professor Collins and his very broadly based team, including trade unionists, internal representatives of the Government and the Public Service as well as industry and academe. It is a review which not only identified the interim objectives that I have read into the record but which also came to grips with the principles that need to be applied in determining priorities for the Organisation. It came to grips with a number of crucial questions about the Organisation and structure of the body itself that will need to be addressed by the new management structure when it comes into place.

I had hoped that this reshaping and reclothing of the Organisation would have proceeded beyond the second reading debate in the Senate given the number of months that this legislation has been lying around but the realities and frustrations of the legislative process in this Parliament have meant otherwise. Now it will not be until the first week or so after we resume in February that we can conclude this debate and get the legislation through the other House and get in place the new board structure and modified management structure that go with it. I reiterate that I am concerned to maintain the momentum that has been gradually built up over the last 12 months or so. The Government and I have a very strong commitment to genuinely rebuilding this Organisation as a world class research and development organisation, one that has the morale, the drive and the vision to succeed as a body that justifies that description. Accordingly, I commend the legislation to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Motion (by Senator Gareth Evans) agreed to:

That consideration of the Bills in Committee of the Whole be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.