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States lag on fertiliser licensing -

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States lag on fertiliser licensing

AM - Friday, 1 July , 2005 08:10:00

Reporter: Michael Vincent

TONY EASTLEY: The widely available fertiliser, ammonium nitrate, has been used in bombs from
Ireland to Indonesia to Oklahoma City.

So concerning was its "over-the-counter" availability to potential terrorists in this country that
it was put at the top of the nation's agenda for restricted sale last year.

The date set for that restricted sale of ammonium nitrate was to be today.

But only one State has its licensing up and running, and some States won't be fully compliant until
January next year.

Michael Vincent reports.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Australia's biggest bomb was detonated on a Saturday morning in January last year,
in the Sydney suburb of Doonside.

Built by a 28-year-old electrician "for his own self-gratification", it was made from 100 kilos of
ammonium nitrate and other over-the-counter-products.

Australian Chapter Director of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators,
Don Williams:

DON WILLIAMS: The 100-kilogram blast, which is not large by international standards, was heard up
to 35 kilometres away. It certainly has the ability, a bomb of that size, to demolish buildings if
it's close enough, and depending on how they're constructed.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The Council of Australian Governments had been discussing restricting products
like ammonium nitrate since December 2002.

After the Doonside bomb, it was in June last year that Canberra and the States agreed to change
laws so ammonium nitrate can only be bought with a license.

They set July 1st this year as their deadline, but only one State is ready.

Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock:

PHILIP RUDDOCK: It is disappointing that we have, in relation to the licensing regime, only
Queensland in place on the agreed date for commencement, the 1st of July. And I hope that the
others will recognise that it is important in the broader national interest that these matters be
resolved as quickly as possible.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Mr Ruddock says Western Australia's licensing regime is expected soon.

But other States like Victoria and New South Wales aren't expected to be ready until January next
year.

AM understands at least one reason for the delay was "extensive industry consultation" which led to
the fertiliser being declared a precursor, not an explosive, as it has been in Queensland.

Queensland, which is now operating its licensing regime, says it's working well.

Noel Erichsen is a principal inspector of explosives at Queensland's Department of Natural
Resources and Mines.

NOEL ERICHSEN: There have been complaints about the whole regime, but very, very few. And we have
been absolutely amazed that the amount of good work that industry's put in to coming onboard with
the new requirements, and in fact we just finished a workshop - it was generally very positive.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Without waiting for all States to become compliant, the fertiliser industry has
been self-regulating since last year. Its members only sell ammonium nitrate to people who provide
a driver's license, details of the transactions are recorded, and suspicious behaviour is reported.

Security commentators disagree on whether restricting ammonium nitrate sales will reduce the threat
of it being used in a terrorist attack.

But bomb disposal experts like Don Williams would like to see it licensed, and soon.

DON WILLIAMS: I think we'd certainly like to see it happen more quickly. Certainly our members are
the ones who have to deal with bombs and post-blast the investigators, so the less explosive
components that are out there the safer our members are and the safer society is as a whole.

TONY EASTLEY: Australian Chapter Director of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and
Investigators, Don Williams. Michael Vincent with that report.