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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1277


Mr HAND(5.48) —Mr Chairman, I understand that time is against us, so I will make my comments short. My comments tonight are prompted by the answer to a question I asked today regarding industrial health and safety at the Ranger plant in the Northern Territory. I think the question of industrial health and safety in the uranium area is an issue that we ought to give consideration to as a parliament. We had an incident at Ranger in recent times where workers on this job were forced to drink water which was affected by substances which were very harmful. It was interesting that when the Minister for Science and Technology ( Mr Barry Jones) gave his answer there was loud laughter in the chamber. I am astounded that honourable members elected to this Parliament could laugh about the fact that people were drinking contaminated water on that site. I think it is appalling. I condemn those members of this Parliament who in fact laughed.


Mr O'Keefe —They were on your side.


Mr HAND —They were not; they were on the honourable member's side. If he wants me to name some of them, I will. Last week the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh) visited the plant. He is reported in a Press interview in the Australian Financial Review of today as saying:

There is a belief among the workers that neither the company nor the Territory Mines Department is able to assess health protection procedures objectively.

It is little wonder that that is the case because the same article states that the mining company in a letter concerning a report it had commissioned:

This report is expected to be somewhat criticial of our current safety program and will recommend certain actions.

The company will implement these actions as soon as possible . . .

What an admission of guilt that the company is aware that it is in breach of regulations and that it is putting workers' health at risk! I believe that the Government has a responsibility to examine what is happening at the Ranger mine. We should be asking questions such as: Why is there worker distrust of the Northern Territory supervising authorities? Why do the workers see these authorities as aligned with management and lacking objectivity? What are the implications of this distrust with regard to the operations and activities of the Northern Territory supervising authorities in their monitoring and supervisory role in the total environment of the Alligator Rivers Region? How long after the discovery of the contamination of the drinking and washing water supply were the workers tested? What was the time lag between contamination and the discovery of contamination?


Mr McGauran —Mr Chairman, I take a point of order. I am at a loss to know how this ideological ranting relates to the estimates that are presently under discussion.


The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member for Melbourne is relating his remarks to the Department of Resources and Energy. As such I think they are appropriate.


Mr McGauran —Mr Chairman, we are discussing the estimates of the Department of Trade and the Department of Resources and Energy. There has been no mention by the honourable member of estimates funding of any type whatsoever. Rather he is engaged in an ideological pandering to the left wing of his Party.


The CHAIRMAN —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr Shipton —Do you want to bet-


Mr HAND —If the honourable member is a punter he might follow my lead. The honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) is typical of honourable members in the National Party. They have an absolute lack of concern for people who are working in risk environments making big bucks for their National Party mates. The honourable member for Gippsland should have listened to his leader when he came into this chamber singing the praises of the uranium industry and the employers in that industry, not talking about the estimates as the honourable member wants them talked about. I think I am entitled to talk about the effects of the mining industry on workers.

In 1981, under the former Government, a series of events took place at Ranger which put workers' health at risk. Honourable members opposite cannot deny that. What did the former Government do about that? It did absolutely nothing. At Roxby Downs certain aspects of the mining operation are currently putting at risk the health of workers engaged in a feasibility study. I ask the Government and the Minister for Resources and Energy to take up the suggestions put to the Minister by the trade unions and other people when he was in the Northern Territory and examine closely the industrial health and safety aspects of this industry. I hope it will not be long before legislation is introduced into this place by this Government which will go a long way towards bringing about a proper health and safety program for this country. Mention was also made of the Ringwood paper and the synroc project. Whilst one must commend people working in this area I think it is irresponsible for people to suggest that the synroc project is anywhere near the point of being able safely to handle nuclear waste.

In conclusion, I remind people what this place did in its last week of sitting. We asked the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs to examine the effects of asbestos mining on the Baryulgil community. This is an example of miners' treatment of people engaged in industry. At this point in time all I am saying is that we have seen over the years, in a whole range of mining industries, the total lack of regard that the miners have had for workers engaged in those industries. If honourable members go to Baryulgil and talk to the people there they will see the effects of the blatant disregard of people's health and welfare. When people are allowed to drink contaminated water I think it is about time that honourable members opposite stopped laughing about it, showed some concern about it, and showed some concern for the people involved.