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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 99

Senator SANDERS(8.34) —by leave-I move:

(1) Proposed new sub-clause 24A (6), after ``sub-section (4)'', insert ``or sub-section (5)''.

(2) Leave out proposed new sub-clause 24A (7).

(3) Proposed new sub-clause 24A (10), after ``members'' (second occurring) insert ``or former members''.

(4) After proposed new sub-clause 24A (10), insert the following sub-clause:

``(10A) One of the persons appointed under sub-section (9) shall be a person representative of the interests of persons residing in the vicinity of nuclear reactors.''.

(5) At the end of proposed new sub-clause 24A (11), add ``, but a member of the Committee who is a member or a former member of the staff of the Organization shall not be appointed to be the Chairperson of the Committee''.

Our original amendments to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill included radical changes to the Nuclear Safety Bureau which would have turned it into an independent investigative watchdog, and the nation very much needs such a watchdog. The Government responded with its own amendment, No. 38, which leaves the Nuclear Safety Bureau, the NSB, in its original form, but creates a Safety Review Committee, an SRC, which is similar in function and structure to our original proposal for the NSB. However, there are some weaknesses in the SRC which this set of amendments seeks to correct. They are as follows: Our amendments (1) and (2) make it compulsory for the Minister to table all reports submitted to him by the Committee-that is, the SRC-within 15 sitting days of having received them. In the Government's amendments only the Committee's annual reports are compulsorily required to be tabled. Reports relating to specific incidents which the Committee has investigated need only be tabled at the Minister's discretion and in his or her own time. We feel it is important that the information be made available when the incident is going on-hopefully, when it has just been contained-and certainly within 15 sitting days of having received the information.

Clearly, if the Government were allowed to continue on its present course, it would be a recipe for selective suppression of information on safety issues. The Parliament should have prompt and guaranteed access to all such reports, free of ministerial interference. The information should not be filtered through political expediency. One of the amendments ensures that the majority of Committee members are not, and have not been, members of ANSTO or the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. The Government's amendments require only that the majority of members are not current members of ANSTO. Without our amendment, it would be possible to appoint an `old boys' committee, containing only past and present members of ANSTO and the AAEC. This would destroy the Committee's appearance of independence, thus eroding confidence in its integrity.

The next amendment we offer would reserve a place for a community representative on the Committee, to give those on the front line a say in what is investigated, and how thoroughly. Our next amendment ensures that the Committee is chaired by a person who is not, and has not been, a member of ANSTO or the AAEC. The staff of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) assured me that the Minister intended to appoint an independent chairperson, but declined to explain why this was not provided for in the Government's amendments. The integrity of the Committee requires it to be independent. An independent chairperson is essential. We urge honourable senators to vote for our amendments.