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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 105

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(9.08) —I believe that Senator Mason, perhaps in the absence of some clear statement from the Government, has misconceived what this advisory council is being set up to do. It is not being set up to look at questions relating to the siting or functions of ANSTO and the reactor in a purely physical sense.

Senator Mason —Well, it should be.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It exists for that purpose to the extent of anything happening on that site which could possibly affect the local community. I think that such an occurrence is extremely unlikely because, as I have said, the chances of anyone being affected by the very small research reactor at Lucas Heights having a catastrophic failure are about the same as the chance of someone being electrocuted by a torch battery. We are not talking here about Three Mile Island; we are not talking here about a major energy producing power station of the kind to which Senator Mason was referring in describing advisory bodies elsewhere; we are talking about quite a different exercise altogether. To the extent that there may be local community concern-there is local community concern, as I am well aware from the endless representations that I have from the Shire of Sutherland group-we have a local liaison forum, a deliberately established body that has been set up involving many representatives of the local community and local interest groups who come together and discuss these things, as the vehicle through which information is imparted and through which views are sought.

By contrast, the advisory council will not be just some little gaggle of nuclear physicists-professionals, academics and so on, as Senator Mason says-who will gather at the authority's expense for the occasional cup of tea and chat about the arcane matters which preoccupy them all, to the exclusion of the rest of us who are not initiated into those mysteries. We are talking about a body which will be largely commercial and user oriented in character and which will help wrench this Organisation-I do not want to be rude about what it has done in the past-back towards a focus which is outward looking towards the practical, industrial, medical, scientific, agricultural, environmental and other applications of the technology which has been there developed. We are concerned to get out beyond the range of that narrow band of nuclear physicists who have been preoccupied, perhaps excessively, with the inward looking character of the Organisation, feeding off each other rather than the needs of the wider community, and get that external input. We are concerned with user groups, industry bodies, representatives of non-nuclear technological areas where nonetheless, if carefully thought through, there may well be proper nuclear applications. That is essentially what I have in mind about establishing this body.

We could load it up with the local policeman or ambulance driver, who would be involved under proposed sub-clause (d) of Senator Mason's amendment, or the local government bodies or community organisations which at present are amply accessed to the Organisation through the liaison forum or a person nominated by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. At the moment it is envisaged that staff related matters that may come up will be coped with either by way of the expressly designated staff representative on the advisory council or the ACTU representative whom I am presently contemplating appointing to the board, the governing body, of the Organisation. The composition of that body has not yet been finally determined. It is still a matter for further consideration and discussion within the Government. But that is another way, at a much higher level in terms of the functioning of the Organisation, in which that representative function could perhaps better be embodied.

We are talking about a user group oriented body. I am not proposing to move immediately to the appointment of it. I am contemplating that after this legislation is passed the body will come into formal operation some time during April, with a board appointed at about that time. I am not contemplating appointing the advisory council until at least a couple of months later-perhaps 1 July-to enable full discussion among all relevant interest groups and so on as to what the most appropriate balance of representation would be. It may be that some further thought could be given to the representation of at least one of the categories to which Senator Mason referred, but certainly the Government and I do not believe it makes any particular sense to tie our hands in the way that has been identified here. To do so is simply not necessary because, to the extent that those sorts of interests that Senator Mason has identified are involved, we believe that those interests can have their voices heard and their inputs made in other, more appropriate ways.