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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 1484


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (12:58): I move Greens amendment (29) on sheet 7037:

(29)   Page 33 (after line 15), after Part 6, insert:

Part 6A—Independent Commission on the Long-term Safe Storage, Transport and Management of Australia's Radioactive Waste

Division 1—Appointment and functions of Commission

34A Establishment of Commission

(1)   The Independent Commission on the Long-term Safe Storage, Transport and Management of Australia's Radioactive Waste (the Commission) is established by this section.

(2)   The Commission consists of:

   (a)   the Chair and other Commissioners appointed under section 34D; and

   (b)   staff engaged under the Public Service Act 1999.

(3)   For the purposes of the Public Service Act 1999:

   (a)   the Commissioners and staff together constitute a Statutory Agency; and

   (b)   the Chair is the Head of that Statutory Agency.

Note:   The Chair holds an office equivalent to that of a Secretary of a Department (see the definition of Agency Head in section 7 of the Public Service Act 1999).

34B Functions and powers of the Commission

(1)   The principal function of the Commission is to establish a deliberative, public and inclusive process to:

   (a)   review international best practice in radioactive waste management; and

   (b)   review international best practice in community engagement on radioactive waste issues; and

   (c)   assemble an inventory of radioactive waste management procedures relating to waste currently stored in Australia under Commonwealth and State jurisdictions; and

   (d)   undertake an audit of the volumes, activity and contractual arrangements for Australian-obligated radioactive waste currently stored outside Australia; and

   (e)   publicly canvass community, independent expert and industry recommendations on how Australia should best manage radioactive waste; and

   (f)   review existing domestic and international literature and decision-making processes relating to radioactive waste management; and

   (g)   make recommendations on the establishment of a body to provide ongoing independent scrutiny of the implementation of the proposals, plans and programmes to ensure scientific, transparent, accountable and consensual radioactive waste management, and community access to judicial review processes.

(2)   The Commission has the additional function of providing the Minister and the Parliament with independent, expert advice in relation to decisions to be made by the Minister under this Act.

(3)   The Commission has power to do all things necessary or convenient to be done to perform its functions.

(4)   In performing its functions, the Commission:

   (a)   is not required to act in a formal manner; and

   (b)   may inform itself on any matter in any way it thinks fit; and

   (c)   may consult with anyone it thinks fit; and

   (d)   may receive written or oral information or submissions; and

   (e)   may hold public seminars, conduct workshops and establish working groups and task forces; and

   (f)   must engage with the reference group convened under section 34G; and

   (g)   must reflect a variety of viewpoints and options representing alternative means of addressing the subjects of its inquiries, reports and recommendations.

   (h)   must act independently and in a way that advances a scientific, transparent, accountable and consensual strategy for the transport, management and long-term safe storage of radioactive waste ; and

      (i)   is not subject to the control or direction of the Minister.

34C Constitution of the Commission

(1)   The Commission is constituted by a Chair and four other Commissioners.

(2)   The performance of the Commission's functions and the exercise of its powers are not affected merely because of a vacancy in the office of Chair or in the membership of the Commission.

34D Appointment of Commissioners

(1)   The Chair is to be appointed by the Governor-General, by written instrument, on a full-time basis.

(2)   Commissioners, other than the Chair, are to be appointed by the Minister, in writing, after consultation with the Chair, and may be appointed on either a full-time or part-time basis.

Note:   Commissioners are eligible for reappointment: see subsection 33(4A) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.

(3)   Whenever a vacancy occurs in the membership of the Commission, an appointment must be made as soon as practicable.

(4)   Until the Parliament provides otherwise:

   (a)   Commissioners hold office on the terms and conditions determined in their instrument of appointment;

   (b)   Commissioners are to be paid the remuneration and allowances determined in their instrument of appointment, subject to the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973.

34E Operation of the Commission

      Until the Parliament provides otherwise, the Commission is to operate in accordance with procedures determined by the Commission, and a document setting out those procedures must be published on the Commission's website within 30 days of the commencement of this section.

34F Role of the Chair

(1)   The Chair is to manage the Commission andtoensure the efficient performance of its functions.

(2)   All acts and things done in the name of, or on behalf of, the Commission by the Chair are taken as having been done by the Commission.

(3)   The Chair may, in writing, delegate all or any of his or her powers and functions under this Act to another Commissioner.

Note:   Sections 34AA, 34AB and 34A of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 set out general rules governing delegation of powers and functions.

Division 2—Establishment and functions of reference group

34G Reference group

(1)   The Commission must appoint a reference group to assist the Commission in gathering evidence and undertaking informed and representative community consultation in relation to the Commission's functions.

(2)   The membership of that reference group must include, but is not limited to, representatives of the following:

   (a)   Commonwealth Departments with the functions of science, environment and health;

   (b)   State and Territory governments;

   (c)   local government;

   (d)   Aboriginal communities;

   (e)   non-government organisations and experts;

   (f)   radiation safety specialists;

   (g)   community engagement specialists.

Division 3—Reporting requirements

34H Reports of the Commission

(1)   The Commission must, at the end of 15 months after its establishment, give to the Minister an initial report relating to the short-, medium- and long-term management of radioactive waste, including an assessment of the domestic application of best international practice, to promote public confidence and consent.

(2)   The Commission may report to the Minister on any matter related to its functions.

(3)   The Minister must cause a copy of each report received under this section to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 9 sitting days of that House after the Minister receives the report.

In my opening comments some time ago I foreshadowed that the Greens would be moving not simply to oppose the bill and not simply, failing that, to improve the bill but also, failing even that, to propose alternatives to the bill. As I have said before, the only aspect of this debate with which I strongly agree with the minister is that this is an extremely difficult and vexed issue that has plagued governments of both of the old persuasions for many years. We thought that the government was on the right track in the comments it made before the election and that some sense would be restored to the debate—but no such luck; the government failed to implement its election promise and its own policy platform to establish a consensual process for site selection based on science and based on consultation on the basis that the Australian Greens would attempt to implement the government's policy. That is what this amendment addresses. We propose an independent commission on the long-term safe storage, transport and management of Australia's radioactive waste. That is how we should responsibly deal with the 4,020 cubic metres of so-called low-level and short-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste and the approximately 600 cubic metres of long-lived waste in this country. The Greens take very seriously the responsibility of dealing with the 32 cubic metres of spent research reactor fuel which is returning to Australia in 2015-16 after reprocessing in France and the UK, although I do note that the government is well within its legal rights to seek an extension of time should the establishment of processes here in Australia for the disposal or storage of that waste not be concluded by then.

An independent commission is the best way to go about this—to actually learn from international best practice. The phrase 'international best practice' has been flipped around relentlessly in this debate so far. So let us put on the public record exactly what best practice on radioactive waste management is. There has been 60 years of case history, of the experience of countries dealing with far more of this material than Australia. From that case history we can actually get a reasonably good idea as to who is doing it well and, more importantly, who is doing it badly. The roles of the commission, therefore, would be to establish this best practice, to establish an inventory of the waste which needs to be stored and of the waste management procedures currently used by the state and the Commonwealth, and to undertake a proper audit of the volumes, activity and contractual arrangements. I think the first two of those are reasonably well understood, but there is some ambiguity around the contractual arrangements. The government has been hopping up and down saying that that was the urgency and then we later found out that there is in fact no such urgency since the material can safely be stored at Lucas Heights—so we are told by the government—or we can renegotiate with our overseas partners for a deferral for a short period of time. The commission should also publicly canvass the community, it should hear independent expert views and it should also hear from the industry. From all that, the commission should make recommendations on how we can provide ongoing scrutiny of the implementation of the decisions arrived at through this proper independent process.

Hansard will not record whether or not the minister and the government advisers are collectively rolling their eyes down at the other end of the chamber over the proposal to establish yet another commission, another inquiry, another working party or another look at the issue. I want to go into some detail about why we would do that. The reason we need to have this debate is that Australia has never had it before. Every single process which has been attempted in Australia over the last two decades for the storage and the management of radioactive waste has started with the assumption that it needs to be on a remote dump somewhere and that it needs to be on Aboriginal land—perhaps on a site that has been volunteered or perhaps just dumped on a site the government has settled on coercively. The common theme has been that it needs to be a remote store somewhere in the outback of Australia. We need to start a different conversation without a predetermined outcome. That is the key thing here—that a process with some genuine independence would not automatically assume that we need to chase up a disadvantaged Aboriginal community to host this material. But that is where these processes inevitably seem to run when they are guided by politics. As I was told by ANSTO officials more than two years ago now, this is just politics—there is no engineering reason for dumping it; this is being guided by the urgent perceived need to get it the hell away from the cities. That is an appalling way to deal with this material.

The proposed commission will obviously not work unless it is genuinely independent and unless the people conducting the study bring an open mind and a willingness to listen to a variety of views. The amendment we have proposed is complex and I will just sketch out briefly what it does. We have proposed that the commission be genuinely independent; that it can inform itself in any way it sees fit; that it can consult with whomever it sees fit; that it can receive written and oral information; that it can hold public seminars, conduct workshops and establish other taskforces or working groups; that it must reflect a variety of viewpoints representing alternative approaches to addressing the subject; and, perhaps most importantly, that it is not subject to control or direction by the minister—that is, that it is truly independent. That means that its findings will enjoy authority and confidence. These qualities are the best ingredients for social licence. We envisage the commission being made up of five people, appointed by the Governor-General, on a full-time basis for 15 months. After that period of time, the commission would have to deliver an initial report to the minister. That is a reasonable period of time, I think, to do this sort of process well.

The government keep on saying that there is an urgency to resolve this matter, but they waited two years before acting to repeal the Howard legislation. The government then tried to hold an inquiry of only 11 working days—and here we are, two years later. By not going about this properly, by attempting to perpetuate the ram-raid that the Howard government began, the government has wasted years. By ignoring the experience of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the British government, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and, most recently, that of the United States at Yucca Mountain, the government have wasted a great deal of time. We should take the time to do this properly. There is no compelling reason for us to be suddenly in a huge hurry to do this badly. Establishing the commission is how to do it properly.

The International Atomic Energy Agency told the government in 2007 that governments, having used undemocratic methods lacking public involvement and acceptance, 'have had to reconsider their programs'. That sounds familiar, does it not? That is exactly the path we are on here. One of the conclusions of the study was that reassessment can become necessary because past decisions were not reached through socially acceptable processes. Does that sound familiar to anyone down that end of the chamber? It is very rarely that I would come in here and quote the IAEA in shades of anything approaching approval, but they say:

… there is a need for public involvement in the decision-making process, adequate financial provisions, clear integrated plans on how spent fuel and radioactive waste will be managed to ensure continued safety into the future—

this could be for decades—

to avoid creating a legacy situation that would impose undue burden on future generations.

That—a situation which imposes undue burden on future generations—is precisely the sort of set-up being put forward right here in this chamber this afternoon. After 20 years of failing with this kind of approach, somehow the government believes it is now going to succeed. In a statement, the UK Committee on Radioactive Waste Management said:

There is growing recognition that it is not ethically acceptable to impose a radioactive waste facility on an unwilling community.

This is of course precisely what the government proposes to do with this legislation. The minister might still be harbouring some kind of strange delusion—from his office down in Melbourne or cocooned away here in Canberra—that he does have social licence, that he does have a willing community, that he has a signature on a piece of paper and that therefore everybody is happy with the process. He can perhaps maintain that fiction because he has refused to meet with anybody with a different point of view. He has not met with them at his office. He does not return correspondence anymore. Therefore, perhaps he still believes that it is simply going to sail through just because he has got his bill.

The UN Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, to which Australia is a party, notes that public consultation on radioactive waste management strategies was not only a good practice to follow but also essential for the development of a successful and sustainable policy. So it is very difficult to miss the emphasis placed by the IAEA, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the EU, the UK and the Japanese government on winning public confidence and obtaining social licence and community consent for the siting of radioactive waste facilities. Minister, I put to you that you do not have any of those things. You do not have public confidence, you do not have social licence and you do not have community consent. It has been demonstrated all the way through the passage of this bill. Once the bill passes—and I believe it will, perhaps even later on this afternoon—you will realise just how much you lack those essential things.

Australia is either a member of these institutions and treaties or we have strong relationships with those countries considered to be like-minded on many fronts—for example, considered to be democracies—which makes it all the more regrettable that Australia lags behind on this aspect of international best practice: the obtaining and securing of community consent. To do that you need to build confidence that you are not simply going to kick down the front door and dump waste somewhere whether people are happy with that or not. We need to learn from the understandings of principles on transparency, community participation and stakeholder involvement in decision making around nuclear waste. Instead, in the inquiry into this bill, a good long while ago now—the minister may not have this quote in front of him—ANSTO claimed, 'We are not experts on these matters'. I had asked them: who is in charge of consent; who do I talk to about consultation, building of social licence and building of confidence in the community? ANSTO claimed at that point, 'Hmm, we're not experts on these matters in the areas of public consultation that relate to this.' Of course they are not; they are engineers. They build stuff. They look after the waste. It must be somebody else's job.

Despite ANSTO's CEO being charged with the responsibility to take into account best international practice, the answer effectively is that it is nobody's job. I am interested to know who is responsible for making sure that when the words 'world's best practice' are again uttered in this chamber or in the minister's press release—and I will put this question to you directly, Minister—if it is not ANSTO's job to ensure that social licence is created and that confidence is built in the community around the siting of these materials, whose job is it? It would be helpful if it were the responsibility of either a ministerial portfolio or the Public Service—anybody at all. Whose job is it to ensure that consent is obtained for a dump such as this?