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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 1490

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (13:10): I thank Senator Ludlam for his contribution, although he knows I will not be supporting the amendment. The first thing to say is that it is very easy to talk about these processes as though somehow there is a unanimity of view and a consensus is going to be able to be reached. This is a highly controversial subject matter. Quite frankly, Senator, I suspect I could spend 10 years searching for social licence and you would still be opposing the dump, because that is your strongly held view. I respect that view. You somehow think that we are going to be able to get to a position where everyone is in total support of a view. Part of what you do is to try and undermine confidence in the process, because you raise your serious concerns about it. So I am not sure that it is therefore fair to say, if you have not got there, if you have not convinced everyone, you cannot do anything. We have gone through a very long process, a long gestation, with this legislation to try and get to a landing point, and there is a long way to go yet, once the bill is agreed, if it is agreed, by the Senate.

From what we can see, the amendment seeks to establish a commission whose principal functions are largely already performed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, ARPANSA. ARPANSA incorporates international best practice in its approach to radiation protection and nuclear safety. From its inception, ARPANSA established the Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council, the Radiation Health Committee and the Nuclear Safety Committee, whose functions are—and I note—'to represent the interests of the general public, to advise on matters relating to nuclear safety and the safety of control facilities and to identify emerging issues relating to radiation protection and nuclear safety'. So I think in broad terms the answer to your main query is ARPANSA. In deciding to issue a licence, ARPANSA must take into account specified regulations and international best practice in relation to radiation protection and nuclear safety. Thus, if you like, ARPANSA is the arbiter of international best practice in the Australian context.

We think the commission proposed in the Greens' amendment is pretty woolly, pretty vague. The only thing it is actually mandated to do is prepare a report. We think the current regime provides a better answer than that proposed by the Greens. As I said, it is largely already performed by ARPANSA and we do not think the commission adds to the overall architecture we are putting in place. As I said, I understand the concerns and issues you raise, Senator Ludlam, but I do not think anyone could suggest that this has not been a long and involved process in which many people have put their views. But, in the end, this parliament has to decide on a piece of legislation. I think we have had five major inquiries. It has been a long and detailed process. As I said, the government will not be supporting the amendment. We think the current architecture is a preferable one.