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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 101

Senator PUPLICK(8.46) —The Opposition will not support the Australian Democrats' amendment on this matter. This is yet another of those wet, trendy amendments that one gets from the Democrats on these matters.

Senator Gareth Evans —Talk about pots and kettles.

Senator PUPLICK —I warn Senator Evans that that is the second occasion this evening on which he has been provocative; otherwise he is doing extremely well. Nevertheless, there are a couple of matters I want to respond to and on which I seek some assurances from the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans). I was intrigued to hear Senator Vallentine use the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission as an example of what should be followed. If one has followed the debate in the United States, I think that one of the things that has most clearly emerged over time has been the criticisms made of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for its failure to deal adequately with a number of matters within the nuclear industry in that country. I am intrigued at the belief that this body will be substantially strengthened provided that it has female participation and non-expert participation. In the United States, for instance, if one had followed that basis undoubtedly one would have picked as a member of the Commission the former Governor of the State of Washington, Dixie Lee Ray. In those circumstances one could not think of a more wholehearted proponent of just about everything to do with the nuclear industry. The fact that Dixie Lee Ray happened to be a female, and, I think, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would hardly by simple definition have added to the strength of this body. The idea that automatically by having non-experts on a panel one somehow substantially increases its capacity to perform its monitoring role is somewhat intriguing.

Nevertheless, I wish to address a substantive point to the Minister and I know that legal opinions and commitments from Ministers are worth precisely what one pays for them. I wonder whether the Minister can envisage a situation in which if people wanted access to the reports which might have been prepared under proposed new clause 24A(5) those reports could not have been discoverable under a freedom of information request. If the Minister has a view that these reports would always be within the public domain one way or the other, I think that a number of the points put forward by the Australian Democrats lose some of their substance. The Minister as one of the great pro- ponents of freedom of information legislation, at least when he was on this side of the aisle, would be prepared to give that sort of assurance. On that basis the Opposition will be ad idem with the Government in rejecting the Democrats' amendments to propose clause 24A.