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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 84


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(5.42) — The Government also opposes Senator Puplick's proposed amendments, but I would not wish it to be thought for a moment that our reasons for doing so had any remote connection with those articulated by Senator Sanders. I think we find ourselves inhabiting different planets on this matter, as is so often the case.

I have no difficulty at all with anything that Senator Puplick said in support of his amendments. The difficulty I have, however, is that, as drafted, and no doubt as a quite unintended consequence of their operation, the effect would be, if they were to be adopted, to limit the capacity of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to do things that Senator Puplick would undoubtedly want the Organisation to be able to do. Let me explain why. The first amendment would, as we see it, restrict research and development work under sub- paragraphs 5 (1) (a) (i), (ii) and (iii) respectively to nuclear fuel cycle matters only, rather than those sub-paragraphs being capable, as at the moment, of application to a much wider range of matters than fuel cycle matters. There would be a conflict, for example, so far as sub-paragraph (ii) is concerned, as the use of radioisotopes and isotopic techniques and nuclear radiation in medicine, science, industry, commerce and agriculture would mostly not be related to the nuclear fuel cycle, other than perhaps in the production of the radioisotopes using a nuclear reactor. Unfortunately, research and development in these applications areas, I am sure Senator Puplick would agree, would be restricted.

The amendment would again, as we see it, also prevent any research and development into cyclotron techniques, although cyclotron-origin radioisotopes could probably still be produced and sold under the provisions of clause 5 (1) (c). Again, the Minister's powers under clause 5 (1) (a) (iii) to direct the Organisation to undertake research and development in any area would be lost to the extent that the governing clause is confined to fuel cycle matters. Only research and development related squarely and directly to the nuclear fuel cycle would be possible on that basis.

The further concern we have is in regard to the second of the Opposition's amendments, with its specific reference to commercial application and utilisation. While it is, of course, very much part of our own thinking that the efforts of ANSTO be focused, as far as humanly possible, on commercial applications, we would not want the Act to be interpreted, so as to impose any restriction on non-commercial research and development by the Organisation. We are concerned that that would be the interpretation, it always having to be assumed that the Act would be likely to be challenged, I suppose, by those with an interest in ensuring that the Organisation confined itself to its statutory charter. Bearing in mind that possibility of litigation, it needs to be quite clear that the scope of the Organisation is not so confined.

An example of non-commercial research and development which would still, we believe, be properly undertaken in the best interests of the Australian community, would be that which, for example, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission is currently doing as part of its investigation into the high rate of the rare cancer lymphoma among workers in the Huntley colliery on the New South Wales south coast. I suppose that some people might argue that such work ought to be paid for by the user, but this study is being funded by the Commonwealth on the basis that some of the techniques being used by the Commission are still very much in the development stage. So it is not applied research; it is far more theoretical, if you like, in character at this stage, although that might not be stating the distinction too precisely. But it is an example of clearly non-commercial research, in any event, of the kind that we would certainly want to continue.

I can certainly give Senator Puplick the undertaking that I believe he seeks on the part of the Opposition that there is nothing in this language which is intended to be restrictive of the work of the Organisation. We, of course, have our own views as to certain aspects of the Organisation's potential research activity which we believe are not relevant to present Australian conditions and ought not to be pursued. We have our own views as to priorities. Some other government might have different research priorities for the Organisation. The Act is broad enough to enable those different priorities to be applied. I do not think anything is to be gained from Senator Puplick's and the Opposition's perspective by this amendment. Certainly, there is a danger of something being lost. On that basis I hope that the amendments will not be pursued.