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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 691

Ms BURKE (7:10 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. I rise in support of the bill before the House. At the outset, though, I put on the record that I have no time for uranium mining or for the use of uranium as a form of energy source in Australia. So it is odd, in some respects, for me to be talking on a radioactive waste bill but I have been passionately opposed for a very long time to the mining and use of nuclear material because I do not think we have resolved what you do with the waste at the end of the day. This bill articulates the issues around the consequences of using nuclear material. This bill deals with safe, low-level waste. Across Australia there is a substantial amount of it stored in very vulnerable, unsafe situations. The majority of our public and private hospitals probably have some form of low-level nuclear waste sitting in storage somewhere and the people in those buildings do not even know it is there. Nuclear medicine is something that we have fostered, enhanced and utilised in Australia to great effect but the by-product of that nuclear medicine is low-level nuclear waste and at some stage we in Australia must take responsibility for that waste and put it into a storage facility.

This bill is about finally biting the bullet and saying, ‘We are going to have a sensible debate—a sensible discussion—about where that waste will be stored.’ We can procrastinate for yet more and more years. We can have more and more inquiries. We can agree with the Greens and conduct another endless inquiry—as the Senate has done on so many occasions that we are losing count—or we can finally say, ‘Yes, we accept that nuclear waste of low-level radioactive material must be placed somewhere,’ and put it into a safe depository.

Time is of the essence. In 2015-16 material that Australia has sent overseas for processing will be returned. It will be arriving on a ship on our shores sometime soon and it needs to be put somewhere safe. So I want us to have the discussion about where that ‘somewhere safe’ will be.

The act also quite clearly states that a decision that is made about a site is made on a voluntary basis with all natural justice issues being considered. We then go into a four- to five-year process of determining the environmental suitability of the site and ensuring that where the site is established there is community consultation. Once the site is approved there is then another four to five years of legislative framework to go through before a site can be established.

The previous speaker, the member for Solomon, was speaking up for her community and I commend her for that. I think that was a very brave stance. She is standing up for her community but she is a bit misled and a bit misguided, because it was the previous, Howard government that signed the deal with Muckaty Station. That was the deal that the Labor Party determined that we would not quash. We would not enter into an agreement with individuals and ignore that.

But the bill does not say Muckaty Station will become the depository site. It does not actually enact Muckaty Station. It very clearly states, ‘We will again start the process of looking for appropriate sites on a voluntary basis and we will then enter into community consultation.’ Unfortunately, I did not hear the other speakers—I was in the chair upstairs—but I am sure that other people have mentioned that the current Muckaty Station is, in fact, part of a dispute in the courts at this moment, and it would be highly inappropriate for members of parliament to influence that ongoing Federal Court dispute.

We need to at some stage say, ‘Yes, there is somewhere for the waste to go. There is somewhere sensible for the waste to be placed.’ We need to be making that decision so that we can go down the path of community consultation and environmental establishment and not put this off to the never-never on the NIMBY process.

I will be honest. As I said at the outset, I am totally opposed to uranium mining; I am totally opposed to the use of uranium as a form of energy within Australia. But I understand that we have a responsibility to the waste we already have—to manage that appropriately, to place it somewhere sensibly, and to ensure that we enter into a rational dialogue with the individuals who may be exposed to where this site is placed. We cannot put off that debate for ever and ever. I commend the bill to the House.