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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 7988

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (12:45): I rise to speak on the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Amendment Bill 2012 and indicate that the coalition will not be opposing this bill. This bill amends the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989. This act set up the regulatory framework for the use of industrial chemicals used within Australia and assesses their health and environmental impacts before they are released for use. The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme, NICNAS, also assesses chemicals that were already in use in Australia prior to the scheme's implementation on a priority basis. This bill amends that scheme by making a number of changes to the registration structure, to charges and fees and making other minor consequential amendments.

I would like in my contribution today to pick up on two of these changes: firstly, the change to the registration structure, which is the main amendment in this bill. NICNAS operates as a full cost recovery structure This means that the costs of administering the industrial chemical scheme are recovered through charges imposed on entities that introduce industrial chemicals into Australia. NICNAS recently reviewed its cost recovery arrangements in accordance with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines. These guidelines were originally introduced in 2002 with the objective of improving transparency and accountability of cost recovery arrangements. The review has resulted in the NICNAS Cost Recovery Impact Statement 2012-13 to 2015-16 which was released earlier this year and agreed to by the government in July. The proposed changes to the NICNAS registration structure were foreshadowed in the NICNAS Cost Recovery Impact Statement. The annual registration charges fund the bulk of the regulatory activities undertaken under NICNAS. The bill amends the current three-tier registration structure for NICNAS into a four-tier structure which will commence in the 2013-14 financial year. There were a number of alternative fee structures canvassed during the development of the NICNAS Cost Recovery Impact Statement process. However, the four-tier option was deemed the most appropriate during the review. As a consequence of this amendment, some 2,500 low-value introducers will pay a lower registration fee. This will lower the barrier for entry for those small businesses, with the top 400 or so chemical introducers paying more.

As we have seen frequently with this government, the accompanying changes to the regulations which will amend the registration fees associated with the changed tiers will come in later. The coalition will be ensuring that these amendments to the registration fees will receive proper scrutiny when they are introduced into the parliament.

Secondly, the bill also introduces a small fee to recover the cost of importing hazardous chemicals listed under the Rotterdam convention. Previously this cost was levied across all chargeable organisations, but it will now be recovered directly from the applicants. The coalition understands that there are fewer than 10 of these applications each year.

There are also some other consequential amendments. The bill contains a number of minor amendments to remove redundant fees that are no longer applicable. The bill also seeks to improve consistency with other regulations by standardising language. For example, 'material safety data sheets' have been renamed 'safety data sheets', with changes in this bill reflecting that. These changes do not impact on the industrial chemicals industry but go to improving regulatory consistency.

I would also like to refer to the Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership announced on 8 September 2011 by the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. This partnership was set up with the dual objective of reviewing and evaluating the operation of NICNAS to improve competitiveness of the Australian chemicals industry and to examine health and environmental outcomes. This will be a wide-ranging review, with many stakeholders keenly awaiting its outcomes. The current Cost Recovery Impact Statement that this bill implements states that if there are material changes to the NICNAS cost recovery arrangements as a result of the partnership recommendations, the current Cost Recovery Impact Statement will be amended or a new one developed. A number of industry stakeholders expect that the partnership will recommend changes to the cost recovery arrangements of NICNAS as part of broader NICNAS regulatory reforms.

Considering the possibility, or rather apparent likelihood, of further changes to the Cost Recovery Impact Statement, the coalition questions the benefit of implementing the Cost Recovery Impact Statement through this legislation only months before the better regulation ministerial partnership review is released and responded to. As indicated, whilst the coalition will not be opposing this bill, we do question the benefit of implementing the Cost Recovery Impact Statement before the Better Regulation Ministerial Partnership process is concluded. In the interim, we await the response from the partnership review later this year and the recommendations on the broader review of the current structure of the NICNAS scheme.