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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 550

Senator CHILDS —Is the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services aware that halon has significant harmful effects on the ozone layer? Can the Minister inform the Senate what contribution his department is making to Australia's commitment to withdraw halon from general use by the end of 1995 in accordance with the terms of the Montreal Protocol to which Australia is a signatory?

Senator McMULLAN —This issue, which Senator Childs has raised, is very important. Halon gas has been widely used in Australia in fire suppression systems. Although it has been very effective in that regard, more recent concerns about the ozone layer have drawn to people's attention the serious concern that halons are extremely aggressive in ozone depletion. My scientific knowledge about halon gas is not the world's most profound but my understanding is that it is the same process which makes it effective in fire suppression that also makes it dangerous to the ozone in terms of its impact on oxygen. However, I am reliably advised that in normal usage halon is not harmful to people.

  As Senator Childs has said, Australia is a signatory to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. To meet our obligations under that protocol, and to act as a responsible international citizen, we have decided to withdraw halon from use by the end of 1995. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 tonnes of halon in current use in Australia—70 per cent is held by the Commonwealth and State governments, 15 per cent by major corporations and 15 per cent by small business and the community. The Prime Minister announced previously that we would be setting up a halon bank on a commercial basis through the DAS centre for environmental management. The funding for that, as Senator Parer would know, is in the supplementary estimates which we discussed the other night.

  Major users—that is, the Commonwealth and State governments, and the major corporations—will be expected to meet the costs of collection, storage and destruction. Money is to be set aside—$4.6 million over the next four years—to subsidise small business and community organisations and individuals who have small holdings of halon and would otherwise not be likely to come forward and make it available for destruction. It seems appropriate that we should not make those people bear the cost of what is a decision in the national interest rather than in the interest of any particular individual. So there will be a $4.6 million subsidy for that. Activity on the halon bank is proceeding now and it will get under way apace with the passage of the supplementary estimates and the money becoming available to fund the small holders.