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Thursday, 12 September 1985
Page: 511

(Question No. 273)


Senator Missen asked the Minister representing the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, upon notice, on 8 May 1985:

(a) when will the Government introduce comprehensive legislation governing the testing, use, storage and disposal of chemicals;

(b) when will the Government legislate to make chemical manufacturers and importers legally liable for human and environmental injury caused by inadequately tested chemicals;

(c) has the Government considered adopting the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Text Guidelines for chemicals or the OECD Principles of Good Laboratory Practice; if not, why not; if so, what conclusions were reached;

(d) does the Government support the concept of an internationally funded chemical testing laboratory, and what action, if any, has it taken in this regard;

(e) does the Government regard chemical testing facilities in Australia as adequate;

(f) in light of the fact that 4 scientists from a respected United States (US) chemical testing laboratory face fraud charges for declaring 200 dangerous chemicals as safe, what degree of reliance does the Australian Government place on US chemical test data;

(g) when will the Government honour its 1983 election pledge to create an Environmental Contaminants Authority;

(h) in light of recent allegations that no information existed about the storage of hazardous chemicals in Victoria, the potential catastrophe of the recent fire in a chemical warehouse in Melbourne and the running sore of hazardous waste disposal, what measures does the Government intend to take in order to alleviate these problems in the short and long term;

(i) when will the Government legislate to control persistent organochlorine pesticides as well as organophos and carbamate pesticides; and

(j) will the Government introduce incentives for pesticide manufacturers to market pesticides which are completely degraded into inocuous compounds after one growing season.


Senator Ryan —The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(a) The Government is committed to introducing a national chemicals notification and assessment scheme. The development of drafting instructions for this legislation is well advanced. The States, industry, the union movement and other interested parties are being consulted in this process. Under the scheme, recommendations will be formulated on all aspects of the production, storage, handling, use and disposal of chemicals; however, application of control measures will continue to be primarily the responsibility of State and Territory Governments.

(b) Through the chemicals notification and assessment legislation, manufacturers and importers will be required to provide sufficient information on all new chemicals and upon selected existing chemicals to allow adequate assessment of the health and environmental hazards which these chemicals may present. Manufacturers and importers will continue to bear responsibility for the safety of chemicals which they produce and market.

(c) Yes; wherever appropriate OECD chemicals test guidelines, OECD principles of good laboratory practice and other OECD-developed procedures will be incorporated so that the Australian chemicals notification and assessment scheme is harmonised with those operating in other OECD member countries.

(d) The Government has not considered the concept of an internationally-funded chemical testing laboratory, and is unaware of any such proposal. Consistent with the practice of other OECD countries, the Australian chemicals notification and assessment scheme will assign to manufacturers and importers the responsibility for and costs of generating and providing chemicals testing data. Producers and traders of chemicals have a responsibility to be aware of the potential hazards of commodities in which they deal.

(e) It is anticipated that much of the chemicals testing required to generate data to meet chemicals notification requirements in Australia (and in other OECD countries) will continue to be performed in the major chemical producing countries. However, the Government will be monitoring the availability of testing facilities in Australia and will take appropriate steps in response to identified needs.

(f) Australian authorities have monitored the discovery of fraudulent practices in the laboratory testing of chemicals in the United States. Steps have been taken to remedy the deficiencies. Data provided under the Australian chemicals notification and assessment scheme will be required to meet the quality standards of the OECD good laboratory practice principles.

(g) An Environment contaminants Division has been established within the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment to carry out the function of the proposed Environmental Contaminants Authority. Funding in this area has been significantly increased by the Government.

(h) The regulation of storage of hazardous chemicals and of disposal of hazardous wastes are principally the responsibility of State and Territory Governments. Commonwealth and State environment authorities are developing a national strategy on hazardous wastes. The Australian Environment Council is initiating a national consultative process on management and disposal of hazardous wastes to facilitate the introduction of appropriate measures for hazardous waste management.

(i) Regulation of the availability, labelling and approved uses of all pesticides, including organochlorine, organophosphorus and carbamate types, is effected through State legislation. Clearance of pesticides is co-ordinated nationally through the Australian Agricultural Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

(j) The Government does not plan to introduce an incentive arrangement relating to degradability of pesticides. Degradability is taken into account in the clearance of pesticides. Most modern-day pesticides have a short residual life in the environment. Some pesticides because of their end-use need to be stable in the environment.