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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 570

Mr BANDT (10:13 AM) —We are dealing here with a report into a very important bill—one which will establish Australia’s first nuclear waste dump—and one might expect a rigorous engagement process with full public hearings. Instead, this report—one of the first of its kind presented to this House in the life of this parliament—has not lived up to provisions in the standing orders given to standing committees or to the spirit of open debate and a more collegiate approach to legislation with which this parliament began.

The standing committee had the opportunity to scrutinise the bill, to address its serious deficiencies, to invite public submissions and to recommend improvements. It had until the end of the autumn sittings to do any of these things. It has chosen to do none and deliver an astonishingly brief report three months earlier than required. The extent to which the report has failed to assist members in their decision making is evident in that the committee has left us with no more information with which to proceed than when the bill was referred to the committee in October.

It is worth briefly revisiting the reasons why this bill needed to be referred to the standing committee in the first place. Despite an inquiry being held into an earlier iteration of the bill—an inquiry conducted by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee—it did not sufficiently scrutinise the bill on environmental and scientific grounds. It was narrowly premised and flawed, and despite taking evidence from sources outside of government, which is more than can be said for the House standing committee, serious questions remained. First, the framework for managing radioactive waste, most notably the lack of procedural fairness or avenues for judicial review, and a lack of sound science being used to inform it. Second, the heavy-handed wholesale overriding of state and territory laws. The suspension of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, the exclusion of the Native Title Act and the suspension of the Judicial Review Act have not been justified. Third, there is a complete failure to uphold international best practice, particularly in relation to securing social licence and community acceptance of a radioactive waste facility. And, last, the bill still gives excessive discretionary power to the minister, who will be able to operate with a minimum of transparency.

The siting decision for the nation’s first radioactive waste dump will be subject to less oversight than we would consider appropriate for a shopping centre car park. The House standing committee has resolved none of these questions. In failing to call for submissions, it has based its findings on a single briefing from officials of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

If we were to be true to our commitments to more robust and consultative legislative debate, the House would resolve to return the bill to the standing committee with the clear instruction that it does not expect to see the bill again until its provisions and its consequences have been properly scrutinised. The committee could then take evidence from those Aboriginal custodians who have found themselves on the front line of this long-running battle to have the government listen to their concerns.

The Senate inquiry into the bill had, after all, a recommendation—recommendation No. 1—that

... as soon as possible the Minister for Resources Energy and Tourism undertake consultations with all parties with an interest in or who would be affected by a decision to select the Muckaty Station site as the location for the national radioactive waste facility.

The minister is yet to do so, and the standing committee has failed to properly explain why this is the case.

Members in this place received a letter from the traditional owners of the relevant land trust, the Manuwangku/Warlmanpa Land Trust, late last year, which read:

The last two governments didn’t listen to us—you must be different. We have been fighting for the last five years to say we don’t want the waste dump in the land. We are again inviting Minister Martin Ferguson and all members of the new parliament to come down and face us in our own country. Come and sit with us and hear the stories from the land.

This committee report was an opportunity to take up that invitation and to date, despite the committee report, there has not been a meeting with the relevant traditional owners, who do not want this waste dump on their land.

Every member in this place has a duty to ensure that their decisions are informed by the best information available, and are made in the best interests of the people of Australia. Members, therefore, have every right to be disappointed in the lack of information they now have before them with which to proceed to a debate on this bill. I sincerely hope that the rushed process chosen by the standing committee does not set a precedent for future reports.

Finally, I would like to pay special thanks to the secretary, Julia Morris, and other staff of this committee, all of whom served the committee professionally.