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Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management (Repeal and Consequential Amendment) Bill 2008

CHAIR —Mr Tutty, can you hear us?

Mr Tutty —Hello. Yes, I can hear you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for coming along to talk to us today, Mr Tutty.

Mr Tutty —Thank you for the opportunity.

CHAIR —That is all right. The committee has received your submission as submission No. 83. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to that submission?

Mr Tutty —No, thank you.

CHAIR —Would you like to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Mr Tutty —Yes.

CHAIR —Please do so.

Mr Tutty —I just want to say that I really appreciate the committee coming to Alice Springs and I am sorry that I cannot be there. It is a little bit awkward talking to a room of you on the telephone, so I am quite happy if you want to make it short and sweet. I thought it was important to get on, though, and make the point that this is still an issue that speaks to people across the Territory. It is still an issue of great concern to people in the suburbs of Darwin. I wanted to be sure that you had the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have had. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thanks, Mr Tutty. Can you just explain before we go to questions from other senators who the No Waste Alliance represents, and of what groups or individuals is your organisation an alliance?

Mr Tutty —It was formed very early on in response to the announcement by the then Minister Brendan Nelson. At the time it was an alliance of community groups in Darwin, then it quickly became useful as a network of the groups in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and, later on, Tennant Creek.

CHAIR —Is there a list of the community groups, or can you tell us who they are?

Mr Tutty —I guess that networking function would include the groups that I image you are aware of, such as Alice Action in Alice Springs, the Katherine Nuclear Waste Dump Action Group, a community based action group in Darwin, and we were also bringing in under that ‘No Waste’ umbrella the environment centre and TEACA and NTCOS.

CHAIR —That is fine. Thanks very much.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Mr Tutty, thanks for your submission and your time today. How would you propose the Australian government go about managing its nuclear waste?

Mr Tutty —I think that is a really good question. It is really important that we realise that the end point is not getting rid of this act; we have to work out a way forward. Obviously Australia does have a significant quantity of nuclear waste which has to be managed well into the future. I suppose what we have witnessed since 2005 is definitely not the way to go about it. We need to make decisions that can stand the test of time, and an ingredient of that is community concern, social licence. I would also add into the mix the obvious strategy of waste minimisation, and that means turning off the taps, cutting it off at the starting point, closing the reactor program.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —I am not saying that it does by any means, but if all of the best scientific evidence in the world suggested that storing it in the Northern Territory somewhere was appropriate, would you accept that decision?

Mr Tutty —I think it is great that you are referring to the best science. I think it is very important that the best science is a significant ingredient for finding a solution. But I think that solution must also have roots in community engagement. Communities must be a part of making that decision. If the best science tells us to dump it on a community that will not stand for it, that is not a workable solution because it will not last.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Except that it is not easy to find a community, to use your words, that will ‘stand for it’.

Mr Tutty —I can tell you for sure that this sort of heavy-handed, prescriptive, coercive legislation is definitely not the way to find a community.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Have you made representations to the government since the election last year in relation to their promises about the repeal of this piece of legislation?

Mr Tutty —I have spoken to a couple of government members. I have had a couple of meetings with members of parliament.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Have they provided any assurances to you with regards to the timelines of the repeal of the act or any other information that has assured you they will act to honour their promises?

Mr Tutty —I have heard a number of times that one about Kevin Rudd will keep every election promise. That is about it.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Okay. Have your meetings or discussions been with any of the relevant ministers with responsibility for this issue?

Mr Tutty —No, not me.

Senator LUDLAM —Thanks for joining us, Mr Tutty. In your submission, you have urged the committee to consider international best practice in the processes that define our decision making on these issues. Can you just sketch for us what you would consider international best practice to be?

Mr Tutty —Yes. Actually we were looking at a particular model, which is that recent UK committee on radioactive waste management.

Senator LUDLAM —How is what they are doing in the UK any different from the way this is being pursued in Australia?

Mr Tutty —Just very generally, building a decision from the ground up, starting with the community.

Senator LUDLAM —Okay. If the government were to repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act once it had locked in one of the sites that had been nominated under the Howard government, would you consider that to be the fulfilment of the government’s election commitment?

Mr Tutty —I think it would be very disappointing to go through it that way. I can understand that, if then the act is repealed, perhaps any decision may be tested in court. But if the act is repealed, perhaps any bad decision may be subject to appropriate review. I would think it would be unfortunate to put people through that unnecessary process.

Senator LUDLAM —Have you ever been approached by anybody in the course of the work that you are doing who is supportive of the waste dump at one of the sites that has been nominated?

Mr Tutty —Do you mean people from the impacted communities? I have met people in the street who have told me that they would support it, but I have not met people from the impacted communities.

Senator LUDLAM —Thanks. I have no other questions.

CHAIR —Thanks, Senator Ludlam. Senator Pratt?

Senator PRATT —I do not have any questions.

CHAIR —I have one question. You say in your submission that Australia should shut down the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. If the reactor program was shut down, what do you think Australia should do for nuclear medicine that is used to treat cancers and things?

Mr Tutty —I would hope that you would have some good information about that already, but just briefly, I do not see that Australia needs to have a reactor program to have good medicine. Up here in Darwin, we had a visit from a number of doctors who work in the field, who explained to us that for most instances of their application of nuclear medicine, they could turn to radionuclides which are produced in cyclotrons. In other cases they could import the isotopes that they need. They convinced me that Australia can have world-class quality medicine without our own reactor program, as do many other nations.

CHAIR —All right. Are there any further questions? If not, thank you very much, Mr Tutty, for your submission and for taking the time to appear before the committee today by teleconference. We appreciate it very much.

Mr Tutty —I appreciate it, and good luck with your work.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mr Tutty —Goodbye.

[4.28 pm]