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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2093

Senator Gareth Evans —On 16 December 1983 (Hansard, page 3973) Senator Elstob asked Senator Button, as the Minister representing the Attorney-General, the following question without notice:

My question, which is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate who is representing the Attorney-General, concerns the Human Rights Commission education course entitled 'Teaching Human Rights-Activities for Schools'. Can the Minister say when the course will be taught in schools on a national level? Can he also advise whether non-government schools are likely to include the course in their curriculum?

The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

The Human Rights Commission has informed me that its proposed education course, 'Teaching for Human Rights', has had successful trials in six schools, government and non-government, in Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. The trials were supervised and evaluated by professional consultants and following their favourable reports the Commission hopes to be able to proceed with a curriculum development project with the goal of making a set of the materials available for any interested school in Australia.

The trial course, which is one of the first of its kind anywhere in the world, has been revised and is now being published. the published material will become available shortly and the Commission will be looking at on-going currriculum development activities to refine the course even further in the future.

It is intended that this material will be commercially available for schools and it is hoped that all schools in Australia, both government and non- government, will begin using it in their school programs. The Human Rights Commission will be working together with the Curriculum Development Centre to liaise with State education departments and authorities, with non-government education groups, with union associations and specialist groups to co-ordinate the curriculum development process. An initiative of this sort will hopefully help inform not only teachers and students about human rights, but will also reach through schools into the community at large.


Senator Button —On 29 February 1984 (Hansard, page 136) Senator Jack Evans asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, the following question without notice concerning owner-drivers:

What steps is the government taking to preserve the livelihoods and lives of owner-drivers who currently have no protection under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and are at the mercy of transport contractors, big business and organised labour? Is the Government willing to follow the New South Wales Government initiative and legislate under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to enable owner-drivers to form themselves into an association with rights under that Act in order to protect their common interests, their solvency and their very lives, which are all at risk in the present transport sub-contracting jungle?

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following information in response to the honourable senator's question:

The Government is conscious of the considerable difficulties which exist in relation to the position of owner-drivers in the transport industry. However this is part of a wider question concerning the position of non-employees in industries generally.

As the honourable senator is no doubt aware, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 makes limited provision for the membership by non-employees of organizations of employees registered under that Act. Basically this is done to overcome the type of problems which were illustrated in the Moore v. Doyle case by providing that the eligibility of non-employees for membership of federally registered unions corresponds with their eligibility for membership of state registered unions. In addition, the Act prohibits discrimination against independent contractors based on their non-membership of a federally registered organization.

A number of unions, especially in the building and transport industry, have made representations to both this Government and its predecessor about the situation of non-employees in their industries. In addition the Australian Council of Trade Unions has made representations on the matter.

The Government is currently examining this question, not in respect of any particular industry but across the board. It is expected that there will be detailed consultations with the ACTU and other interested parties including representatives of employers and independent contractors and the States. There are of course complex issues involved in determining the best way of dealing with the problems that exist in this area. The Government is giving the matter the closest attention to see if more satisfactory arrangements can be provided for at the federal level.


Senator Button —On 2 March 1984 (Hansard, page 328) Senator Crowley asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, a question concerning a report in the Australian Financial Review headed ' Australia has third worst work safety record says NSC'. It reported that according to recent assessments by the National Safety Council in New South Wales alone, 300 people die each year through industrial accidents and diseases and each year there are 145,000 accidents from which workers are incapacitated for more than three days. In my reply, I undertook to refer the honourable senator's question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations for any further comment he might wish to make.

The Minister has provided the following additional information:

The nation as a whole incurs enormous costs from occupational injuries and diseases. Employees suffer the hardship of pain, disabilities and loss of income . Employers bear losses through payments of higher workers compensation premiums and lost productivity.

Australia's occupational health and safety record has been described as deplorable and is poor compared with other Western countries. The often quoted Australia wide figure of 300 Australian workers killed each year is an assessment of national work related deaths. Unlike the figures quoted for New South Wales it excludes death by disease and on journeys to and from work. Similar comments apply to work related injuries. The fact is that there are no reliable national statistics-this itself highlights the neglect in this important area.

The situation in Australia is that the major responsibility for occupational health and safety lies with the State Governments. Commonwealth jurisdiction is limited to its own employees and to the Australian Capital Territory and external territories.

The Government, however, is now addressing this situation and is taking several new initiatives. In my statement to the House of Representatives on 10 November 1983 (Hansard, pages 2587-2593), I enunciated the Commonwealth Government's policy on occupational health and safety. The policy calls for a concerted and co-ordinated effort to address the five major issues in occupational health and safety-legislation, research, information collection and dissemination, training and human resource development and administration.

At that time I also announced the establishment of an Interim National Occupational Health and Safety Commission which was requested to report to the Government within six months. The report of the Interim Commission has now been received. It will be tabled in the Parliament and its recommendations considered by the Government as a matter of urgency.


Senator Walsh —On 3 April 1984 (Hansard, page 1092) Senator Guilfoyle asked me, as the Minister representing the Treasurer, the following question without notice:

My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer, follows a question asked earlier today by Senator Richardson about the prescribed payments tax system. I understand that the Australian Taxation Office experienced some difficulties in regard to the collection and administration of tax. I wonder whether the advice from the Treasurer to the Minister indicated whether the system was operating smoothly. If not, will the Minister obtain that advice for me and provide it later?

The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The Government introduced the prescribed payments system to deal with a significant tax evasion problem involving the non-reporting of income in certain industries. As indicated by Senator Walsh on 3 April 1984 (Hansard, page 1086) it has been extremely successful in that regard.

As is often the case with new tax procedures, there were some difficulties encountered in the early days of the system's implementation by both taxpayers and the Australian Taxation Office. These difficulties were overcome by the co- operation and goodwill of all parties concerned.

While the Government has been pleased with the early results of the system, it has always appreciated that some adjustments could be required in the light of experience. For this reason the Government acted swiftly to place on the statute books the changes to the system recommended by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations late last year.

Since then, the Government has continued to monitor the system's operation and the Acting Treasurer recently announced a further change in the law which, when enacted, will reduce the paperwork burdens associated with the system in connection with the preparation and lodgment of income tax returns.

A comprehensive review of the first six months operation of the system is currently proceeding in the Australian Taxation Office. The Government will, of course, consider other aspects of the system's operation following completion of that review.


Senator Gareth Evans —On 4 April 1984 (Hansard, page 1196) Senator Missen asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the following question without notice:

Firstly, what information has the Government received from its various diplomatic missions in respect to the arrest two months ago of 30 alleged supporters of the Melanesian underground who included the Curator of Cendrawasih University's Anthropology Museum, Mr Arnold Ap? Secondly, will the Australian Government use its good offices with the Indonesian Government to make inquiries about the safety of Mr Ap and his co-detainees and to make every possible effort to ensure that they all receive proper trials or are released without delay?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Information available to the Government is that Mr Ap and about 20 other persons were arrested in Jayapura late in November 1983 for alleged involvement with the Free West Papua Movement (OPM).

Since all the detainees are Indonesian citizens, the Australian Government has no consular standing in the matter. It is reported that the 20 are still in detention.

Firm information on the whereabouts of Mr Ap is not available but we are continuing to pursue our enquiries. Enquiries were made about Mr Ap for example during the recent visit to Irian Jaya by our Ambassador in Jakarta.

We are aware of Press reports that Mr Ap has been killed, but these reports have yet to be confirmed.


Senator Walsh —On 4 April 1984 (Hansard, page 1196) Senator Sir John Carrick asked me a question without notice concerning the status of current radioactive waste management techniques and I undertook to provide a written answer:

The disposal concept most widely accepted at present as suitable for the long term isolation of conditioned high level nuclear waste or spent fuel is emplacement in deep, stable geological formations in engineered repositories.

As yet, no final permanent repository has been developed although research on identification of suitable sites, and construction of test facilities, is in progress in various countries. High level waste (HLW) from reprocessing of spent fuel is in liquid form which requires immobilisation before disposal and various such disposal forms have been proposed. These include borosilicate glass, high silica glass, various ceramics (for example, Synroc) and metal-matrix forms.

Of these various HLW immobilisation forms proposed, only borosilicate glass ( vitrification) is currently in commercial production. At present, the only plant producing borosilicate glass is at Marcoule in France, although similar technology has been chosen for demonstration plants under construction in the United Kingdom and United States of America.

It should be noted, however, that only gas-graphite reactor fuel has been vitrified at Marcoule; no wastes from reprocessed spent oxide nuclear fuel have as yet been vitrified on a commercial basis. Vitrification of reprocessed oxide fuels in France is expected to begin at La Hague in 1988.

Accordingly, while at technical and government levels in countries producing energy from nuclear sources it is generally accepted that the required technology is available for management of HLW from reprocessed spent fuel, further research and development into alternative waste forms is proceeding, for their possible future application as 'second generation technologies'.

Among these alternatives is the synroc process, presently being developed in Australia, which results in a waste form with a high degree of resistance to leaching by groundwater particularly at elevated temperatures, and may enable permanent disposal to take place without the need for long periods of storage and cooling.

Disposal of spent fuel without reprocessing has received less attention than the concept of geological disposal of solidified HLW from reprocessing. However, Sweden is presently developing a technique for the direct disposal of spent fuel without reprocessing, which involves encapsulating spent fuel rods in copper prior to disposal in granitic geological repositories.

The Swedish report 'Final Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel' (KBS-3, May 1983) describes how a spent fuel disposal system can be designed using present day knowledge. The report has been subject to both Swedish and international peer review, and to date most reviewers have endorsed the plan as set out in the report.

Further, research currently under way at the Stripa Waste Management Facility in Sweden is directed towards producing techniques suitable for evaluating other granitic rock sites as storage/disposal sites for nuclear waste.

The KBS-3 strategy envisages holding the spent fuel in intermediate storage in water-filled pools for 40 years before encapsulation and final disposal.

The present policies of countries with nuclear power programs do not require final repositories to be available before the year 2000, and in the meantime research on identification of suitable sites and construction of demonstration facilities is in progress in various countries.

In summary: While the vitrification form of high level nuclear waste immobilisation is in use for a limited form of reprocessed spent fuel, alternative immobilisation forms (including synroc) which offer some potential advantages as second generation technologies are in the research and development stages.

Further, while there are necessarily elements of judgment involved, I am personally satisfied that the HLW disposal plan proposed by Sweden offers a satisfactory resolution of this problem. Nevertheless, as current policies do not require, and the vitrification technology does not allow, HLW to be buried permanently for several decades, promising alternative approaches do need to be researched and developed, both for technical reasons and to ensure that the methods adopted conform to the high standards required by government and by public opinion.