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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 219

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training, upon notice, on 18 November 2004:

(1)   Will the Minister provide a statement on Mr Alan Parkinson’s exact involvement in the Maralinga cleanup project which Dr Perkins of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) undertook to provide during hearings of the Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee when considering estimates on 4 June 2003.

(2)   Will the Minister provide a copy of the department’s Health Physics Management document that was to have been attached to the Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee (MARTAC) report which Dr Loy of ARPANSA undertook to provide during the hearings of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee when considering estimates on 3 June 2003.

(3)   With reference to the Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee consideration of estimates on 4 June 2003 in which Dr Perkins advised that she could recall no formal request being made by members of MARTAC for Mr Alan Parkinson to be involved in writing the report: Were there requests in writing from members of MARTAC for Mr Parkinson’s involvement in writing the report; if so: (a) from whom and to whom; and (b) what were the reasons for refusing the request.

(4)   With reference to the answer to question no. 25 taken on notice by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources during the supplementary hearings of the Economics Legislation Committee additional estimates on 3 May 2000: (a) is it not the case that, according to the minutes of the MARTAC meeting of June 1998, as reported in the MARTAC report of 29 April 1999, Mr Chamberlain of GHD Pty Ltd suggested, that once the in situ vitrification (ISV) work on the first 14 pits had been completed, the remainder be exhumed and buried rather than ISV treated; and (b) why is the answer provided to question no. 25 incorrect.

(5)   Is it the case that the MARTAC report notes the reason given by GHD Pty Ltd suggesting burial rather than ISV as the increase in cost from ‘the original estimate of $9.2 million to, as a worst case estimate, $26.7 million’.

(6)   Why has the Government consistently denied that cost was a factor in the decision not to proceed with ISV for all the plutonium-contaminated material in the Taranaki pits.

Senator Vanstone (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —The Minister for Education, Science and Training has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   Mr Alan Parkinson’s role on the Maralinga Rehabilitation Project was described by the Department of Education, Science and Training in response to Senate Estimates Question E497_03 of 21 November 2002 and Senate Estimates Question No. E712_03 of 3 February 2003. The responses are also provided below:

The former Department of Primary Industries and Energy had a contract with Mr Parkinson’s company, Kylwind Pty Ltd, to secure his services as engineering adviser to the Maralinga Rehabilitation Project and as the Department’s representative in relation to the Department’s contracts. Mr Parkinson reported to the Department on work associated with the project and, on the Department’s behalf, communicated to the project manager, Gutteridge, Haskins and Davey Pty Ltd (GHD), decisions on changes to the scope of work. Until the termination of his contract in December 1997, Mr Parkinson was one of six members of the Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee (MARTAC).

Mr Parkinson’s role was defined in the contract between the Commonwealth and Kylwind Pty Ltd, entered into on 1 August 1993, as follows:

“The services to be provided by Kylwind Pty Ltd under this contract shall include but not be limited to the following

1.   Professional engineering advisory services to the Department relating to the execution of the Maralinga Rehabilitation Project.

2.   The preparation of documentation, working and background papers relating to the Project, as required by the Department.

3.   The preparation of all documentation relating to the call of registrations of interest by others in providing detailed engineering and management services, assessment of responses and advising the Department as to a short list of Contractors to be invited to tender for the management contract.

4.   The preparation of all documents constituting the request for tender (RFT), and then to call tenders from the selected short list and assess those tenders in order to make recommendations to the Department as to the award of the management contract.

5.   Assist in the briefing of the Contractor appointed by the Department to provide detailed engineering and project management services, and agree with the Contractor the scope of work to be undertaken under the management contract.

6.   Liaise with the management contractor and supervise the progress of that contractor in the execution of the project.

7.   Receive regular reports from the management contractor addressing progress on the project, problems encountered and solutions either recommended or adopted, actual expenditure to date and the estimated expenditure to completion, and submit those reports to the Department with recommendations for payment of claims and further expenditure.

8.   Review documentation prepared by the management contractor in relation to the award of sub-contractors for the execution of field work associated with the project.

9.   Review documentation prepared by the management contractor or his subcontractors relating to the execution of the project.

10.   Prepare reports for the information of the Technical Advisory Committee to be established by the Department to provide advice to the Department as necessary.

11.   Provide such other services in relation to the project as may be agreed between the Department and the Adviser.”

The document ‘Policy on Radiation Protection Practices in the Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Weapons Test Sites at Maralinga’ was the Department’s master health physics safety document for the Maralinga Rehabilitation Project.   It is Attachment 5.1 to the report Rehabilitation of Former Nuclear Test Sites at Emu and Maralinga (Australia) (the MARTAC Report) and is on the compact disc which is included in the report.

The Department has no record of a request in writing from members of MARTAC for Mr Parkinson’s involvement in writing the report.  

(a) As the Project Manager for the Maralinga Rehabilitation Project, one of GHD’s tasks was to supply information and propose options for MARTAC and the Department to consider.   Accordingly, one of a number of options for treating debris pits that GHD advised on was exhuming and burying the pit contents.

(b) The answer provided to question 25 of the Senate Estimates Hearings of 3 May 2000 is correct.  

The MARTAC report of 29 April 1999 “Review of ‘Hybrid’ treatment of the buried plutonium wastes at Taranaki” was prepared by the committee to inform the former Department of Industry, Science and Resources of the details, advantages and disadvantages of the different treatment options for the Taranaki debris pits.   Accordingly, it contained all pertinent information, including costs of different options as well as consideration of other key issues, notably safety.

The Government has consistently indicated that the fundamental issue leading to the decision to abandon the use of ISV was the operational challenge encountered in applying the technology at Maralinga, including the sub-surface explosion which occurred during the treatment of the eleventh debris pit.  

The reasons why various methods were adopted for the treatment of the contaminated soil and debris are provided in the MARTAC report. The issue of cost is mentioned in the report in the context of the discovery that a much larger volume of material was contained in the outer pits at Taranaki than had originally been anticipated. The fact that most of this material was clean or lightly contaminated soil backfill, which could safely be treated by burial under 5 metres of clean fill in a manner acceptable to the regulator, coupled with the difficulties encountered in the use of ISV, was relevant to the decision to exhume and re-bury the debris from the outer pits.