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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 103

Senator MASON(9.05) —I move:

Page 17, clause 38, after sub-clause (3), insert the following sub-clause:

``(3A) Of the persons appointed under sub-section (3)-

(a) one shall be a person nominated by the Australian Council of Trade Unions;

(b) one shall be a person representative of the interests of persons residing in the vicinity of nuclear reactors;

(c) one shall be a member of a local government body which has responsibility for an area in which or near to which a nuclear reactor is located; and

(d) one shall be a person nominated by an authority of a State having responsibility for the provision of emergency services.''.

As a senator for New South Wales I move this amendment at the request of the people of Sutherland. I was somewhat concerned by statements made earlier in the debate that the people of Sutherland were not interested in, or concerned about, the fact that Lucas Heights was there. One could produce whole books of newspaper clippings from the local area and statements from local interest groups to indicate that that is absolutely untrue. The people of Sutherland are very interested in, and concerned-with good reason-about, the presence of a nuclear research establishment in their area. That is not totally unreasonable and I do not think the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), or anyone else could believe that it was unreasonable. The people perceive that this establishment has the potential to be dangerous and harmful and naturally enough they wish to consult their own interests on this matter. One hears a lot of rubbish about Lucas Heights being there first and people coming to live in the area afterwards, which is completely crazy. It is crazy that a research establishment such as Lucas Heights should continue to exist in the midst of what is virtually a southern suburb of Sydney.

Clause 38 establishes an advisory council to advise the Minister and the Executive Council on matters relating to the functions of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. I would have thought that this organisation, of all organisations, should be one in which there is some reasonable representation of interest groups and semi-professional groups. Our amendment even suggests the inclusion of a member of the local State Emergency Services Authority. Surely the Government would agree that this is one place where an advisory council should have a genuine, sensible and useful community representation, not for any nitpicking reason but because it would make it a more useful body. After all, this is the Minister's link to the community. It seems to me that the Bill, in a sort of fuzzy way, tries to set up the advisory council for that reason.

As the Bill stands, the advisory council would consist of up to 11 members, all but one of whom would be appointed by the Minister. The advisory council would include at least one staff member of the Organisation to be elected by the staff. The majority of the members must be drawn from outside the staff of the Organisation. I should hope so! The Australian Democrats feel that the rest of the members of the advisory council, appointed by the Minister, will almost inevitably be members of the `nuclear club'-that is, academics and professionals in the field of nuclear physics-all of whom will be in favour of nuclear energy and the continued existence, if not expansion, of the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor on its present site. If that happens, the advisory body will have no sympathy with the local community and the local community will have no sympathy with it.

The Minister has made no statement on the proposed composition of the ANSTO advisory board and even at this stage I would be most interested to have one. His department naturally assumes that it will be made up purely of nuclear physicists and the token member of ANSTO's staff. In Sweden and France and at Three Mile Island in the United States advisory boards exist-parallel organisations to the one we are considering in this Bill-and these bodies actually recommend to governments courses of action in relation to nuclear reactor siting and functions. They do so with good reason, because of the experience of those countries. I remind the Minister that even in France these advisory committees exist and have the power, among other things, to veto proposed siting and waste disposal methods. These committees include members of the so-called `nuclear club', but they also, very sensibly, include trade union representatives, local residents and sometimes local council appointees. This is world experience. This is what is being done elsewhere; our amendment merely proposes that it should be done here, and I can see no reason against it.

Our amendment would considerably enlarge the scope of the membership of the ANSTO advisory board to include one person to represent the interests of local residents, which is not an unfair proposition; one member of a local government body responsible for the area in which the nuclear reactor is located, and there again there are very strong reasons why this could be useful purely as a machinery measure; a member of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, because that represents the trade unions and the workers; and a member of a local State emergency services authority who can advise on civil defence and other emergency procedures in the vicinity of the reactor. I would have thought that that again was a useful addition. The board would be constituted purely in an advisory capacity; it has no teeth in that sense, of course, but we believe that the views and the wide range of knowledge that those people have and the information and viewpoints that they could bring forward would be of immense value to the Minister. They would provide him with an advisory board which would be of use rather than being a tame pussycat. Any Minister with a conscience would of course seek the views of residents when making a decision concerning their local nuclear reactor. This amendment would make that process much simpler and would provide machinery for it. It would also give the Minister the benefit of a wide range of views and knowledge not otherwise available.

In a way I can sympathise with what the Minister said earlier about committees and boards such as the safety committee that we have mentioned, and I suppose that I can sympathise to an extent with his political desire not to support our amendments, but I do say to the Opposition that, if it turns this amendment down, it is turning down something which is eminently reasonable. If the Opposition does turn down the amendment, I would like to hear its reasons for doing so.