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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7892

Mr SULLIVAN (10:35 AM) —As has been indicated by a number of speakers, this bill repeals the Road Transport Reform (Dangerous Goods) Act 1995 so that the ACT can implement the updated Australian Dangerous Goods Code and the associated model legislation into its own legislative arrangements in the same way as other states and territories. Let me say at the outset that I believe it is somewhat ‘Big Brotherish’ that the federal government does have the capacity to legislate or overturn legislation in relation to the territory assemblies. Therefore, I very much welcome the fact that the territory is going to be able to, at least in name, be the architect of its own destiny in relation to this because, as we know, this comes about through a national scheme of legislation. The Australian Dangerous Goods Code sets out detailed instructions for the safe transport of dangerous goods by road and rail. It is based on model regulations set out by the United Nations which harmonise with existing regulations in sea and air transport. Until the Road Transport Reform (Dangerous Goods) Act 1995 is repealed, the ACT remains powerless to move on its own.

Dangerous goods are around us in every aspect of our daily lives and yet I expect people do not pay as much attention to them as they perhaps ought. Dangerous goods and materials can cause or accelerate combustion, have acute toxic effects, have the ability to corrode skin or other materials, or have a capacity to harm the environment, cause asphyxiation, present temperature or pressure hazards or react with other materials that can then do any of the above. I indicated that people are generally unaware of them. I will relate a couple of examples from my own experience, firstly as an employee of a national airline where I was engaged in transporting dangerous goods by air and discovered, I guess somewhat to my amusement, that there is an internationally known brand of cola beverage who very jealously guard their recipe and ship it to countries where it is going to be made in part A and part B, and one of the parts—I cannot remember whether it is part A or B now—is too dangerous to be transported by air. Yet we quaff this material by the hundreds of thousands of litres a day, I suspect. But one of those two parts, on its own, is too dangerous to be transported by air.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—I suspect the honourable member is not going to name the product.

Mr SULLIVAN —The honourable member is not going to name the product but will suggest to people that Pepsi Max is okay; there is no sugar. The other experience that I had—and the member for Fisher, were he in the chamber, would remember this—was the kerfuffle, I will call it, that we had in the early 1990s in the area that we share about the storage of spent radioactive waste material. There was quite a large community opposition to that. As it turned out, the argument was ultimately won and the storage facility was build elsewhere. But those same people were not at all aware of active radioactive sources bouncing around in the back of council utes through their community every day. Yes, if it is spent, we cannot store it. If it is live, well, we really do not care. It was an interesting insight into people’s view of dangerous goods.

It is important, particularly to me as the member for Longman, that the safe transport of dangerous goods is something that is well regulated and well policed. Running through the entirety of my electorate are the Bruce Highway—the main road corridor north from Brisbane to the major regional centres—and the north coast rail line. These transport corridors carry all of the freight from Brisbane port heading north and a number of things heading south.

My eastern boundary is the port of Brisbane, and we all saw what happened recently there with the oil spill, for which it looks likely that the Swire company may well be about to pay adequate compensation, but our council is a million dollars out of pocket because of that. So I understand that safety is necessary and I understand that safety in the carriage of dangerous goods is important for my constituents, the people I am here to represent and to look out for their interest.

A report in the Australian Journal of Emergency Management identified a number of the types of goods that travel up and down the highway, including petrol, liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied ammonia, molten sulphur, liquefied chlorine, concentrated hydrochloric acid, compressed hydrogen, sodium cyanide and liquid fuels coming south from Gladstone. So there are a number of very volatile materials running past major population centres in my electorate, including North Lakes and Caboolture. Over the years there have been a number of incidents. Most of them have, fortunately, been relatively minor. But in September 1992, for example, a minor incident that had the potential to be much more than that occurred near Nambour. Fortunately, nobody was injured as a result of the collision between an LPG tanker and an ethanol tanker, neither of which ruptured, but had either or both of them done so then we could have had a really serious incident on the highway. So we need to be very clear about how important it is that the transport of dangerous goods is, as I said, well regulated and well policed.

Mr Slipper —I thought the honourable member was going to mention the D’Aguilar Highway.

Mr SULLIVAN —Well, the honourable member will mention the D’Aguilar Highway on another occasion! That highway is important in serving the west and the south Burnett parts of South-East Queensland—so an important road in itself.

It is important for us to have a national approach to these matters, simply because there is trade across Australia for goods moving from Victoria to New South Wales to Queensland. If different regimes are in place then you have compliance costs. The national code is a springboard from which we can have advantages when we trade overseas, and consistency across the jurisdictions is important.

As I indicated, we have road, rail and sea lines running through or adjacent to my electorate and it is very important to me and to my constituents that there are clear and safe guidelines. Internationally, it is important that we are doing exactly what the rest of the world is doing, for much the same reasons. There is an ever-increasing amount of international trade. In fact, this country depends on international trade. Although we tend to send out some volatile materials, a lot of them are benign, but it is important that regulations are consistent across the world.

The Australian Dangerous Goods Code incorporates the UN guidelines but retains some Australia-specific requirements which are updated periodically to make sure that they meet our guidelines. This bill, as previous speakers have said, meets our obligation under the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Road, Rail and Intermodal Transport. It is a national scheme of legislation of the type that has been coming very much more into vogue in Australia in the last two decades. It is an example of cooperative government. The state and territory governments and National Transport Commission developed the framework so that there can be consistency. The National Transport Commission has established a set of national guidelines which each state and territory has then adopted or is about to adopt into its own legislation.

In conclusion, this bill firstly repeals the Road Transport Reform (Dangerous Goods) Act 1995 so that the ACT can pass its own legislation, and I applaud the move that gives the ACT the opportunity to look after its own interests. The code itself is valuable because having a single national code makes the transport of hazardous goods more efficient and safer. It is a great example of government cooperation across state and territory boundaries. Finally, the matters relating to the carriage of dangerous goods are something about which I am particularly aware and in which I have a particular interest with regard to my electorate. I commend this bill to the House.