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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 1108

Senator CROSSIN (1:52 PM) —I rise in my contribution to this debate on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. I will not be able to finish my contribution before we get to question time. Let me start with a few preliminary comments. Some of Senator Scullion’s contribution is accurate, the last few minutes of diatribe are totally inaccurate. If I get a chance, I will try and place some facts and figures on the record.

There is no doubt that this piece of legislation is immensely difficult and has been so for decades for this country and this parliament successively—for previous Labor governments and then a federal coalition Liberal government and now back again to a Labor government. It has been a very difficult and very hard process to manage. Some of the history that Senator Scullion outlined is accurate. Some of that history has been recorded time and time again in not only House of Representatives reports but also Senate committee reports. But what we have before us today is fundamentally a different bill to the one which the Howard government sought and succeeded in getting through this parliament. Thank goodness that following the 2007 election, when we were elected into government, this bill delivers 100 per on part of the promise leading into that election. This bill delivers on our 2007 election promise and if it did not—

Senator Scullion —Where is the science?

Senator CROSSIN —I will go to what our election promise was and that is part of it. That is why I thought I would take the opportunity to provide you with some facts about this debate. If this bill did not deliver on our election commitments, I would be reluctant to get out there publicly and talk about this in the Northern Territory or federally or with my colleagues.

Let me tell you that what we did in the lead-up to the election. I welcome the arrival of Senator Kim Carr because he was the shadow minister at the time. Senator Carr and Minister Snowdon now and myself went to the election saying that we would repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 and replace it with something else. This legislation does that. We said that we would restore transparency, accountability and procedural fairness. This bill does that because it ensures that the decision to select a site for a national facility will be guided by procedural fairness. The Howard government bill—your bill, Senator Scullion—never did that, never went anywhere near that. The Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act—the AD(JR) Act of 1977—will ensure a higher level of accountability for decisions than is currently available. Transparency in this process will be important. So we have delivered on that.

We said that we would ensure that any proposal for the siting of a nuclear waste facility on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory would adhere to the requirements that exist under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act—the LRA act. This bill reinstates that act. This bill reinstates those rights. The other thing we said was that we would restore the balance and, pending contractual obligations, we would not proceed with the establishment of a nuclear waste facility on or off Aboriginal land until the rights removed by the Howard government were restored and a proper and agreed site selection process was followed out.

What does that mean? There was a pending contractual obligation. As you well know, that obligation is between the Lauder family and the Northern Land Council and your then current Minister for Science which was Minister Julie Bishop. We have said that we would honour that contract. We know that the contract is the subject now of a federal court case and I am not going anywhere near the claims of that case—as a politician, as a member of the Senate, as a member of the federal parliament, as a chair of a constitutional committee, even as a member of the executive government. It is not up to us to decide whether or not the right people have signed that contract. That is a matter for the courts and that is where it now lies.

We also said that we would ensure that the site is based on science. You cannot have science unless you choose the site. You have to choose the site first. And, as you well know Senator Scullion, your government contracted Parsons Brinckerhoff to undertake an extensive assessment of the four sites that you had nominated. In my further contributions to the debate, I will talk about those other three sites. But you well know that the initial science assessment has been undertaken. The Parsons Brinckerhoff report is available publicly. It was released publicly by the Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson. That is a transparent process. That is an accountability process. That document did not have to be released. That could have sat on Minister Ferguson’s desk ad infinitum.

This government is responsible and accountable, and has released those documents. I imagine, Senator Scullion, you have not had time to read them all. There are many and varied appendices of the Parsons Brinckerhoff report. I think the largest one of the eight or nine volumes is about 1,200 pages. That initial site assessment, in terms of the suitability for selection, has been done. Is that the only science process that will be undertaken in the course of building this facility? The answer is no. Of course it will not be. This site selection will be subject to the EPBC Act and a whole other lot of contingencies that are now in this new piece of legislation—and I will continue my remarks on this in the next sitting week.

Let me just state again before I need to end for question time: Senator Scullion, this is a vastly different piece of legislation. This is a piece of legislation that ticks the boxes for our election in 2007, provides judicial review, provides fairness, reinstates the Land Rights Act and ensures that other contingencies such as a regional consultative committee will be established to guide us and the communities concerned and the government during this process. I shall continue my remarks when we resume the second reading debate on this bill.

Debate interrupted.