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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1266

Senator BELL (7.00 p.m.) —I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this package of agricultural and veterinary chemical bills. These bills are significant. The matters that they address have been of continuing significance to the people in Australia. We have before us a series of bills which will give effect to interim cost recovery arrangements for the operation of the National Registration Authority.

  I hope senators recall that just a few weeks ago the Australian Democrats opposed legislation establishing the National Registration Authority. We opposed the bill for a number of critical reasons. It was our view that the NRA is not properly based on sound principles of ecologically sustainable development and that the NRA was not going to provide enough information to enable interested people to adequately participate in the process of the registration of chemicals.

  We were tempted to say at the time that the legislation then was a con. Support for the assessment that we made came a short while later, when this Senate extended the life of interim arrangements because the states had not passed complementary legislation. That was after the Senate and the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs had been stampeded—I use that word advisedly—into rejecting the Democrats' amendments and community concerns. They were stampeded into that because it was thought necessary that that particular set of bills be passed by 30 June so that all the start-up dates could be met and the deal that was supposed to be stitched up with the states could come into play. But it had not been, so we extended the time.

  Now that the NRA has commenced operating there is further evidence that the elaborate legislative references to public consultation and sustainability in particular are in fact nothing more than smokescreens, that there is absolutely no intention to properly involve the public or to limit chemical use. What is more, there is what amounts to denigration of people who are daily suffering the effects of ever increasing quantities and varieties of deadly chemicals in our environment.

  Since the Senate passed this legislation the NRA has provided public release summaries for metosulum and clorsulon, in our view with undue haste and contradictory to the principle that for sustainability we need fewer chemicals rather than more. In this context, I wish to object to the presentation from the chairman of the NRA charting the process and influences surrounding the registration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. When I say `charting', I mean presentation in diagrammatic form of what the process is. Without trying too much to use words to draw a picture, anybody who has seen the chart which has been prepared of this process would know that it is an octagon with ever decreasing zones and bits and pieces supposedly interacting with each other. The chart shows the NRA's task has been to rubber-stamp proposals to register chemicals from the chemical industry because it does not show any other refinements. It does not show the NRA having input from other areas. It simply shows a rubber-stamping process.

  Registration is depicted as the target, the goal, to be achieved after overcoming community concerns which are interpreted and even written down as being `chemophobic'. This term is particularly offensive and has angered hundreds of people who daily battle against the as yet unrecognised adverse effects of chemicals in their environment and in ours. To describe them in such a way I think illustrates an attitude which should not reflect the attitude of the National Registration Authority.

  The presentation that I am referring to, proudly called `The Octagon' and designed by the NRA chairman, is an unfortunate and out of place creation which has done nothing to rebuild community confidence in the NRA and in the use and legitimisation of chemicals. I take this opportunity to call on the NRA to withdraw that creation and to apologise to the community of chemical victims throughout Australia.

  Secondly, I view with concern the total absence of proper analytical standards. What we have here are summaries of data reviewed and an invitation to the public to comment before deciding whether to proceed to approve the chemical. The summaries are nothing more than a huge and expensive farce. They may well be summaries but, as far as providing a basis from which the public can offer any sensible comment, they are demonstrably useless.

  When somebody presents a report of an experiment, or writes a thesis, one is normally obliged to provide either the evidence of the processes used and the results obtained or extensive referencing to proper documentation. That is normal academic process. As we understand it in Australia, that is the proper way to present information. One does not write any sort of academic analysis without citing the references, without referring to sources and without supporting opinion or experimentation. This is an example of something without any of those supporting documentations. The idea that the NRA is being in any way helpful or open by providing totally unsubstantiated assertion is absurd and an insult to anybody who wants to find further information.

  The situation gets worse. I understand that some comments on the summaries have referred to the lack of citations to which the NRA has responded. I quote from the NRA in response to people's concerns about the lack of rigour:

Several respondents mentioned the lack of references cited in the public release summary. It therefore needs to be made clear in future PRSs that the information provided in them is a very brief version, presenting only the conclusions reached by the various expert reviewers . . . Any trial data presented for evaluation has to be of a standard publishable in a reputable reference journal. It is clearly impossible in a summary to present all the data considered . . .

This nonsense compounds the problem and suggests a fraud. There is no other word to use. What is the point of inviting comment without providing either source documentation or the results on which the conclusions are based? The results might just as well be figments of someone else's imagination. For all we know, they might be. There is no way of telling.

  Tomorrow I am travelling to Inverell, where I will give the keynote address at the Australian Chemical Trauma Alliance 1994 conference entitled `Toxic Chemicals and Human Consequences'. My message there will be simple. I will offer advice and support for the organisation and individuals to become more involved in the political process. My office has been contacted almost daily by people who have become scarred and debilitated by the gay abandon with which we as a community use and misuse chemicals. The time has come to say that enough is enough and to make that statement through the political process.