Nov 29, 2006

Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2006


Second Reading Speech

29 November 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.51 a.m.)—I am pleased to speak in this debate on the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 and, in particular, to support the amendment moved by the member for Jagajaga. With regard to the member for O’Connor’s comments, I think the great tragedy of the Switkowski report is that it is a narrow report which looked at just nuclear energy. If the government were fair dinkum it would have looked at renewable options, including tidal energy. I say to him that I have been to the Energetech operation off Port Kembla near Wollongong in New South Wales, and it is a very effective example of Australian innovation. We should be exploring these options, including tidal energy, geothermal generation, solar, wind and all the options that are available to us.

Yet the government is clouded by its ideological approach when it comes to nuclear issues. It is clouded by the fact that it is stuck in the last century and it is unable to embrace the change that we need if we are going to address climate change by adopting this century’s technology and by moving forward into the future not only in our interests, the interests of the environment and the economy but also in the interests of future generations.

When the government introduced the original Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Bill last year I described it as one of the most draconian pieces of legislation that has been brought before this chamber. I underestimated how extreme the Howard government could be. Since then the government has announced its plans to build 25 nuclear reactors across Australia and has introduced this extreme bill. The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005, which this bill amends, was rammed through both houses of parliament. It is an extreme piece of legislation. It imposes a toxic nuclear waste dump on the people of the Northern Territory and it overrides the Howard government’s own environment and heritage protection laws. It overrides the Native Title Act and the Land Acquisition Act. It removes procedural fairness. It allows the Commonwealth government to do whatever it deems necessary to establish or operate a nuclear waste dump and whatever it pleases to ensure the nuclear waste gets transported to the nuclear waste site. In other words, the act brushes aside critical environmental protection, community safety and Aboriginal rights laws to ensure that Territorians get dumped with a toxic nuclear waste dump.

Having enjoyed the taste of extreme laws, the Howard government has gone a step further with this bill. It has gone further down the extreme road by introducing these changes. The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Legislation Bill 2006 goes a step further by introducing three additional measures. Firstly, it removes the right to appeal the nomination of nuclear waste dump sites through the courts. Secondly, it provides that failure to comply with the site nomination rules in the act will not affect the validity of the minister’s approval of a nomination. Thirdly, it removes any entitlement to procedural fairness in relation to nomination of a site.

Before outlining Labor’s concerns about these measures I remind the House of the Howard government’s track record of broken promises and extreme behaviour when it comes to nuclear waste dumps. Australia should remember this track record when they consider John Howard’s determination to impose 25 nuclear reactors across Australia. For years the Howard government tried to impose a nuclear waste dump on South Australians. This was opposed by the South Australian government and the South Australian public. A poll in the Adelaide Advertiser of 2003 showed 87 per cent of South Australians opposed a nuclear waste dump in their state. Nevertheless, the Howard government wasted more than $17.5 million, including an extraordinary $620,000 on public relations consultants, trying to impose the dump on South Australians. In the end, the Howard government gave up on that exercise. Why? Because the polls showed the government would lose seats in South Australia. That is why the government turned its attention to the Northern Territory. Just prior to the federal election the Minister for the Environment and Heritage ruled out the Northern Territory as a site for a nuclear waste dump. He said:

The Commonwealth is not pursuing any options anywhere on the mainland, so we can be quite categorical about that, because the Northern Territory is on the mainland.

A promise from the minister has as much credibility as an AWB executive appearing before the Cole inquiry or as much credibility as the member for Solomon who, in June, 2005, infamously said:

There’s not going to be a national nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory… That was the commitment undertaken in the lead-up to the federal election and 1 haven’t heard anything apart from that view expressed since that election.

The member for Solomon must not listen to his caucus colleagues in the government. Broken promise after broken promise has occurred from a government which now wants to impose 25 nuclear reactors on Australians at unspecified locations. The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005 gave effect to that broken promise, forcing a nuclear waste dump on the people of the Northern Territory. It should be remembered that the current dump sites in the Northern Territory were not chosen on the basis of any objective scientific criteria.

As the Australian Conservation Foundation has pointed out, none of the sites under consideration were shortlisted when scientific and environmental criteria were used to assess alternative sites around Australia in the 1990s. This is a government that ignores science, ignores economics, ignores the environment and listens only to pollsters.

The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management (Related Amendments) Act 2005 excludes application of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 to the minister’s decision on the location of a site. That was all about stopping local individuals and communities and state and territory governments from legally objecting to decisions. These measures destroyed any recourse to procedural fairness.

The bill goes a step further by removing the right to judicial review in relation to relevant decisions of Northern Territory land councils. The bill makes an absolute mockery of the original amendments introduced by the member for Solomon and passed by this House last year. Members of this House may recall that the member for Solomon’s amendments had the effect of allowing Aboriginal land councils to nominate a site in the Northern Territory, provided that the land council demonstrated evidence of consultation with traditional owners, that the traditional owners understood the nomination, that they had consented as a group, that any community or group that may be affected had been consulted and had had an opportunity to express its view.

The bill currently before the House provides that a failure to comply with these conditions does not affect the validity of a nomination. That effectively removes those conditions, gutting the member for Solomon’s credibility even further. The member for Solomon has failed to stand up for the people of the Northern Territory and has failed to stand up to the Howard government. He may think he is a lion in Darwin, but he is a kitten in Canberra. He has set the Northern Territory up to be the site for a global nuclear waste dump and a nuclear reactor. Australian should be under no illusion that the Howard government will do whatever it takes to build those 25 nuclear reactors. The environment minister made this absolutely clear on 22 November, when he said:

The Federal Government will do what’s required to ensure Australia has a secure energy future.

Senator Ian Campbell was asked repeatedly by journalists to rule out using the government’s corporations powers to impose nuclear reactors and refused to do so. In the Senate on 27 November, Senator Campbell again refused to rule out using these powers. There is no doubt that, with the outcome of the recent High Court decision in the Work Choices case, the Howard government will be seeking to trample on community objections and state and territory laws to impose nuclear reactors and high-level nuclear waste dumps on local communities across Australia.

The Switkowski report has been seen by some as a vindication of nuclear power’s role as the silver bullet answer to climate change. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. John Howard’s plan to build 25 nuclear reactors is not a plan to avoid dangerous climate change; it is a plan to avoid taking action on climate change. With incredible optimism, Switkowski has suggested that Australia could have its first nuclear reactors within 10 years. The only way that could happen is through the use of the extreme measures in this and related bills: overriding state and territory laws banning nuclear power, overriding critical environmental protection and safety laws, and denying natural justice and the application of democratic principles. Even if the first nuclear reactor were built within 20 years, that still means 20 more years of inaction. We have already wasted the last decade. Our children and grandchildren cannot afford to see us waste another 20 years in the critical fight to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Stern review makes it very clear that we have 10 years in which to act. We are already at about 430 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That is increasing at a rate of about two parts per million per year. If that continues, we will hit 450 parts per million in the next decade. The scientists agree that that means a two degree Celsius increase in our temperature. Scientists agree that somewhere between two and three degrees Celsius is when you hit dangerous climate change. The fact is that we need action immediately—we need it now.

What is lacking is national leadership. Australia needs to go on a low carbon diet, not on a nuclear binge. Independent experts are telling us that we need to cut our greenhouse pollution by 60 per cent by 2050. That is exactly what Labor will do, and we have a plan to achieve that: ratifying Kyoto, having a national emissions trading scheme, significantly increasing the mandatory renewable energy target, having a climate change trigger in the EPBC Act and supporting renewable energy and clean coal technology as the way forward to achieve that objective.

The Switkowski report, however, makes it very clear that the Howard government has no plan in place to cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution below year 2000 levels. Australia’s greenhouse pollution, according to the draft report, will increase by 29 per cent by the year 2050. That is taking into account all existing measures, including the low emissions technology fund, and the impact of the 25 nuclear power plants. What we will have is Australia’s greenhouse emissions soaring from 558 megatonnes in the year 2000 to 718 megatonnes in the year 2050, according to page 81 of the Switkowski report.

John Howard’s nuclear plan will take Australia further down the path towards dangerous climate change. If global greenhouse pollution were to rise 29 per cent by 2050, the world would probably experience a four degree rise in global temperatures. What does that mean for Australia? It means no more Great Barrier Reef. It means no more Kakadu National Park. It means a 48 per cent cut in water flow to cities and the Murray-Darling Basin. It means increasing the bushfire danger across Australia. It means moving the dengue fever transmission zone down to Brisbane and possibly all the way to Sydney. This is all according to the CSIRO. The government has had this scientific advice.

The CSIRO and the Stern review make it very clear that global emissions must be cut by 60 per cent by 2050 if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, but John Howard’s nuclear power plan will lead to a 29 per cent increase in our greenhouse gas emissions over that period. What is more, Stern has said the economic cost of action will be substantially more if we choose to delay the transition to the carbon constrained economy that is necessary.

Stern has spoken about the need to take action in the next 10 years if we are going to avoid a decrease of perhaps 20 per cent in the size of the global economy and a recession equivalent to both world wars and the Great Depression. It will be the Great Depression but with much worse weather. That is what we can expect if we continue to refuse to take action to move to a carbon-constrained economy. Climate change is a serious threat, but posturing about expensive and toxic nuclear energy, which is more than 10 years away, is a distraction that Australia simply cannot afford. Nuclear power is more expensive than energy efficiency and renewable technology, which is available right here, right now, today. Australia needs to cut our greenhouse pollution now, not in 10 or 20 year’s time.

The Switkowski report purports to be an economic analysis of the cost of 25 nuclear reactors, without looking at where those reactors will go and where the waste dumps will go. It is like asking a real estate agent for the cost of a house without looking at where it will be and how many rooms it has. It is absurd. Location is a prime determinant of the cost of any facility, let alone a nuclear power facility. If you think about having 25 nuclear reactors then that means sites in Cairns, Townsville, Gladstone, the Sunshine Coast, Tweed Heads, Port Stephens, the Illawarra, Lithgow and the Hunter Valley, just in Queensland and New South Wales alone—as well as having nuclear reactors around Adelaide, Perth, Tasmania and Melbourne. It is a disastrous plan for Australia and it is dishonest to be out there promoting the Prime Minister’s nuclear fantasy without looking at where the reactors will go.

I have had a question on notice now for months asking the Prime Minister to rule out specific locations in each of the 150 electorates around Australia. The Prime Minister defies the Speaker and the standing orders of this House, and indeed has contempt for this House and for the parliament, by refusing to provide an answer to what is a very simple question. At the next election this will be a major issue. It will be a referendum on nuclear power—do you have John Howard’s fantasy for nuclear power, with laws which override state and territory laws, which override appeal rights, as this bill does? Or do we move down the clean coal technology and renewables road? It is quite clear what is necessary if we are going to avoid dangerous climate change and it is quite clear that this bill has given us yet another reminder that this is an arrogant government, out of control, prepared to impose draconian laws in order to pursue its ideological objectives. (Time expired)