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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 993


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:45): I just make the point to Senator Ludlam: I intend debating the amendments before the chamber. Senator Ludlam, this debate has been going on for quite a few hours already. You have made it clear that you do not want the bill passed. That is fine. Quite frankly, if it is your intention to just continue to use the time of the Senate for the motive of talking it out, or what have you, then I will move that we report progress at some stage and will look to get the support of the Senate to manage the bill in a more effective way. That is not meant as a threat, but, clearly—

Senator Ludlam interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator, if you want to filibuster, you invite me to respond. I am just making it clear that I am trying to be cooperative and positive, but if you intend speaking for days and days, preventing the Senate from getting on with other business and not seriously debating the bill, then we will obviously have to look at other available options. I am happy to answer serious questions and I am happy to deal with your amendments, but equally, so far, in three or four hours, we have dealt with one amendment about the objects of the act and now you again go back to a general discussion: your history in the dispute when you were a wide-eyed boy. All of this is fascinating stuff and if I had more time I would really enjoy it, but this place costs us tens of thousands of dollars to keep open to legislate and we ought to actually focus on doing that. I guess I will not be responding to wide-ranging discussions about your views, which I know are opposed to the bill, and I respect that, but my job is to deal with the legislation on behalf of the government. If we are not going to use the Senate's time effectively—and that is not in any sense to try to limit contributions—then we will have to see how we might manage this better.

In terms of your amendment, it is the case that successive Australian governments have had the policy—and you make it clear that the current minister has reiterated this—that we will not accept other countries' radioactive waste. The government is strongly committed to this policy. I share your concern about the proposition that was floated in Western Australia a few years ago. I was very strongly opposed to that. Of course, one of the major drawbacks to the nuclear industry is the question of waste management and waste disposal. There is no question about that. That is one of the reasons why this government is not supportive of the development of a nuclear industry in Australia. As you know, most of this is medical waste from medical procedures that are important for the health of Australians. This is something we have to deal with and we are trying to deal with it in the best possible way.

We will maintain the current prescription on the acceptance of high-level waste at any facility established for that purpose, so no international radioactive waste will be managed. I am not prepared to support your amendment, because the amendment does not define radioactive waste of domestic origin, whatever that means. We think there is enough protection currently in the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956, in which radioactive waste is a prohibited import, but of course there is ministerial discretion to allow bringing back Australian waste generated using Australian resources, as you are well aware. So we will not be supporting the amendment.

In terms of the argument on 'remote', the simple answer is that the arrangements under this bill provide for a voluntary approach at a suitable site. That is the main criterion. The fact is that remote sites have been offered. The arguments around getting this sort of development up have been longstanding, very difficult and very contentious. We have gone for a policy that supports seeking a volunteer approach for the site. That is the basis of the bill. As you understand, any offer of a site will then be subject to the EPBC Act, ANSTO and ARPANSA requirements before a site is approved. All of those safeguards will be in place. We are dealing with sites that are made available for this purpose and all those processes will be followed once a site is identified.