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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 684

Mr ZAPPIA (6:37 PM) —I also take the opportunity to speak on and support the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. As Chair of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts, this morning I presented an advisory report on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 to this House. I will take the opportunity to very quickly summarise some of the points I made when I presented that report, and in doing so I also hope to respond to some of the comments made by the member for Melbourne.

This morning I pointed out to the House that this bill in fact replaces the 2005 act introduced by the previous, coalition government—the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005. It is also a bill that was redrafted after having been presented to a Senate select committee early in 2010. Having been redrafted, it was presented to the House on 21 October last year at which time it was then referred to the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts for consideration. There were no terms of reference for the inquiry, as is the case when a bill is referred to a committee, and so the committee determined the basis on which it would conduct its inquiry. In doing so, it looked at the very long history associated with the management of nuclear matters in this country. It ultimately made a report to the House.

The member for Melbourne was appointed as a supplementary member to the committee for the purpose of the inquiry into this bill. He in turn submitted a dissenting report. I say to the member for Melbourne: I respect his right to disagree with the work and findings of the committee. He is entitled to do that, but I believe he is wrong in attacking the members of the committee, who, I should point out, were unanimous in their recommendation to the House of the report that I presented this morning. In my view, the members of that committee did their work very diligently and took the matter very seriously. The fact that the committee was able to conclude its work within a four-week time frame in no way belittles the commitment of the committee or the work that was carried out.

The committee carefully analysed the matters that had taken place up to the point where this bill had been referred to the committee. Amongst those matters was the fact that since 2005 there had previously been on four occasions matters referred to a Senate committee associated with this very issue. On all of those occasions reports were brought back. I have done a quick count of the number of public submissions that were made in the course of those four reports alone, and there were something like 637 public submissions on this issue made prior to the committee making its decision.

Prior to that, there had also been a long-running history of public debate, public discussions and public consultations on a whole range of matters, again, very much associated with the matter that is before us. Having taken all of those matters into account, the committee determined that it would conduct its inquiry on the basis of three key areas. One was in terms of the very last report of the Senate select committee, which reported in May of last year, only some five or six months before the bill was reintroduced to the House. The committee determined to consider, firstly, to what extent the minister had taken into account the recommendations of that committee; secondly, the principle matters of concern raised in the dissenting report of the Senate select committee by Senator Scott Ludlam; and, thirdly, the critical issues associated with the differences of opinion with respect to the nomination of Muckaty Station as a site to be considered. On the basis of those three matters, the committee proceeded with its inquiry. I will take each of those matters separately.

In respect of Muckaty Station, the government was prepared to honour an agreement with the traditional owners of Muckaty in 2007; in fact, a nomination deed had already been signed with the traditional owners of Muckaty Station at the time. That deed still stands, and my understanding is that the minister met with a delegation of the Ngapa clan and executive members of the Northern Land Council in Darwin on 3 March 2010. At that meeting they confirmed their continuing support of their nomination. On that basis, it would seem clear to me that it would be in breach of an agreement properly entered into with a group of people for the government to do anything other than honour that nomination and agreement. Furthermore, the minister has made it quite clear that, should the matter of the Muckaty Station nomination being currently challenged in the Federal Court result in anything different, then the minister would honour the court’s decision.

I also stress the point that the nomination with respect to Muckaty Station is currently before the Federal Court. It was taken to court by an Indigenous person who claims that he was not properly consulted and not in agreement with the nomination. The committee considered that and the seriousness of that statement. In doing so, it felt that the appropriate place for such a matter to be resolved is in fact in the courts and not by a public inquiry of the committee.

I repeat what I said a moment ago: the minister has made it clear that the government will respect whatever the court’s decision is. Again I stress that whilst the committee in no way implied or intended to suggest that the nomination process was not being questioned, the committee also felt that the proper place for that to be resolved was in the courts and not by the committee, and that is exactly what is happening.

With respect to the other matters raised by Senator Scott Ludlam in his dissenting report, which have essentially been raised again by the member for Melbourne in his dissenting report to the report by the standing committee of this House that I presented this morning, they essentially come down to questions of safety matters associated with both the nuclear industry and the environment. Again, the committee quite rightly accepts that those are legitimate matters of concern. The committee, however, is also very conscious of the fact that this is essentially a three-step process: a site is nominated; the minister makes a determination as to whether the nominated site becomes selected after a process has been gone through; and then, if the relevant hurdles are overcome, a site is chosen for the development of a radioactive nuclear waste facility.

For the selection process, there are three critical acts that will come into play before a final decision is made. Nomination of a site does not imply, nor does it guarantee, that the site will in fact be chosen to establish such a facility. Prior to that occurring, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act will apply with respect to protection of the environment, therefore any procedural aspects associated with public consultation, public submissions and environment protection matters are covered in the framework of that act. Secondly, with respect to radioactive matters and nuclear safety, both the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 also apply and both need to be complied with prior to a decision being made. If there are concerns about this site being suitable or that it may not meet international standards, then those concerns need to be addressed by implementing changes to those two acts, because they create the framework under which the approval will ultimately be granted. If there is a deficiency, the deficiency lies in those two acts, not in the act that we are currently debating. Therefore, again, the committee was satisfied that matters of nuclear safety and environmental protection were adequately covered in the process which follows the nomination process, because those acts are still relevant.

The third matter raised in the dissenting reports relates to judicial review and procedural fairness. In the revised bill that we are now debating, those matters have in fact been embraced by the minister. Certainly the procedural fairness does not apply retrospectively to the nomination of the Muckaty site. That matter has been dealt with and an agreement or deed has been entered into with the Ngapa people. With respect to any future nomination or any other nomination, judicial review and procedural fairness will apply. And judicial review and procedural fairness will apply once a nomination is made even with respect to the Muckaty Station site.

So the process from here on in provides for all of those matters to be taken into account. That is certainly my understanding. On that basis the committee felt that the bill as it currently stands should not only come to parliament but should be supported because the government has responded quite responsibly to the matters that were raised in the course of the public inquiries. In essence, we—the committee—accept that ultimately there will be differences of opinion about a range of matters and we accept that there will be ideological differences between people throughout the community and between members within this parliament. We also accept, however, that this matter has been ongoing for almost 11 years now, under the previous bill and now this bill.

We have some 4,000 cubic metres of low-level and short-lived intermediate-level-radiation material, which has accumulated over the last 50 years and is currently housed in various places around the nation. It is my view, as it has been the view of several other speakers here tonight, that it makes much more sense to have a properly constructed facility to store that material. That is exactly what this bill hopes to do. If the particular site that has been nominated falls through, then the process from here on in is that, firstly, it will be on the basis of a voluntary nomination, so a site has to be volunteered by a community. Secondly, anyone throughout Australia can nominate a site, whereas the previous act restricted it to the Northern Territory. Thirdly, once a site has been nominated, matters of judicial review and procedural fairness will entirely apply.

In his second reading speech the Minister for Resources and Energy went through, I believe quite thoroughly, each of the matters associated with this bill and why we need to proceed with it. We certainly will continue to accumulate nuclear waste. We certainly have had the debate about where it is best located—and, again, I accept comments by a previous speaker that nobody ever wants to have the nuclear waste in their backyard. The reality, however, is that it needs to be stored somewhere. It is my view that if you go through a thorough process, which this bill certainly does, both of complying with all the relevant acts and of ensuring you have a site that is best suited geologically for the storage of waste material, you should then proceed to develop a facility. That is what this bill does. It is my view that we should support the bill.