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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2876

Senator McINTOSH —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. My question follows from an answer that the Minister gave in the Senate yesterday concerning the signing of the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific. Does the Convention's protocol on nuclear waste dumping adopt a definition of radioactive material similar to the definition proposed in the sea dumping legislation currently before the Senate? Did the Government promote the adoption of this standard? If the protocol did not adopt this standard, what was the standard adopted and why?

The PRESIDENT —The Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Lewis.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Mr President, please withdraw that remark.

The PRESIDENT —I withdraw and apologise to both honourable senators.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I think we could ask you for a personal explanation afterwards, too. The protocol does not deal with the dumping in the region of radioactive wastes or other radioactive matter and does not, therefore, contain any definition of radioactive material. It deals in detail with a wide range of other hazardous substances. The dumping of radioactive wastes and other radioactive matter in the area covered by the SPREP Convention is dealt with in the Convention itself rather than in the protocol because of the political and environmental importance of this type of dumping.

Article 10 of the Convention contains an unqualified prohibition of the dumping of radioactive wastes or other radioactive matter in the Convention area. The approach embodied in Article 10 was supported by Australia as a fully effective way of giving effect to the aim, already expressed by Australia and other South Pacific states in the Rarotonga treaty, of precluding dumping at sea of radioactive wastes and other radioactive matter by anyone anywhere in the South Pacific region. I have just had some further information handed to me from the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment which also bears upon this question. Under the circumstances, Mr President, I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard, if that is acceptable, rather than burdening the Senate by reading it out. I am not sure how relevant it is.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Article 10 of the convention for the protection and development of the natural resources and environment of the South Pacific Region (The S.P.R.E.P. convention) inter alia prohibits the dumping of radioactive wastes or other matter at Sea. Similarly article 7 of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty has the same effect.

Since all matter is to some extent radioactive, it is necessary to make a definition of radioactive waste and other material, the dumping of which is prohibited. In the development of the SPREP convention a definition of ``Non-Radioactive'' was agreed, and is incorporated in the text of the convention. This definition proceeds by exempting certain materials (e.g., sewerage sludge and fly ash from power stations), and by subjecting other materials to the test of guidelines developed and promulgated by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Australian Government would, as a party to the SPREP convention, accept this definition. However the definition cannot be used conveniently except with respect to the list of exempted materials. That is because the I.A.E.A. guidelines (so-called ``general principles'') are complicated and cannot readily be used to determine whether a particular substance is not ``radioactive''.

Accordingly in the amendment of the environment protection (sea dumping) Act which is currently before the Senate in order to bring Australia's legislation into line with the Treaty and convention requirements, the Government has adopted a definition which is fully consistent with the Treaty definition but against which any dumping proposal can readily be assessed. The definition in effect defines radioactive material by specifying a threshold level of radioactivity of 35 becquerels per gram which is marginally above the radioactivity of the common element, Potassium and well below the activity of materials conventionally regarded as radioactive waste.

The Australian Government did not press this latter definition in the course of negotiations of the convention for the reason that other negotiating countries were largely agreed upon the definition, originated by the Cook Islands, which is now incorporated in the convention.