Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Amendment Bill 2015

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (09:22): Mr Speaker, I think this is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate you on your elevation to the Speaker's chair. Well done. I am sure you will do an outstanding job.

This bill concerns radiation protection and nuclear safety. When I first attended a political protest in 1983, I never imagined that I would be standing here in the Parliament of Australia speaking as a shadow minister on a bill which concerned the regulation of nuclear safety. That is not because becoming a member of parliament was a remote, if not unattainable, aspiration for someone of my background but because the protest I was attending actually concerned the question of nuclear weapons.

Back in those days, there was a very real concern that an accelerated arms race in nuclear weapons and the heightened Cold War tensions posed a near and present danger to our national security and the security of the entire globe. By 1986, just three years after I attended that protest, it was estimated that throughout the world there were 40,000 nuclear warheads, the equivalent of one million Hiroshima bombs. The prospect of a Dr Strangelove scenario was the stuff of nightmares, but, to many of us, it was also very real. Many people in this chamber will remember what it felt like to grow up with the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe within our lifetime.

I was reminded of those early political experiences last week when we marked the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remain opposed to nuclear weapons and share the concerns of all members of this House that the technology of fissile materials developed for peaceful purposes can be diverted for other reasons.

Australia has always been a responsible and proactive member of the international community when it comes to nuclear nonproliferation. We have made a substantial contribution, including through capacity-building programs, to strengthening nuclear safeguards and safety and security regimes. We have been particularly active in the Asia-Pacific region and we will continue to strongly support international efforts, including the imposition of a UN and autonomous sanction to confront proliferation threats posed by North Korea and Iran.

But we should never forget that nuclear technology can do a great deal of good. Australia has operated a research reactor since 1958, and it produces, amongst other things, medical isotopes that are used in hospitals and for treatments around the country. Literally thousands of people are alive today because of, or have had their lives enhanced by, this technology, and we must never forget that.

In 1973, the Australian Radiation Laboratory was established. It was responsible for providing advice to the government of the day and the community on the effects of radiation on health; undertaking groundbreaking research; and providing services in this area. It was in 1997 that ARPANSA was formed, when the Australian Radiation Laboratory and the Nuclear Safety Bureau were merged, and that body continues to play a vital role. It is critical to scientific research, it regulates nuclear medicines and it advises governments and industry. It is also responsible for protecting the Australian people from the harmful effects of radiation.

During Labor's most recent time in government, ARPANSA made a great deal of progress and was very active. For example, in 2010 the Australian National Radiation Dose Register was established to provide an electronic database for workers exposed to radiation. This ensures that records of workers radiation doses are maintained in a centralised register, regardless of where the individual is working. Once again, Labor put the safety of workers first. It is no good conducting scientific research or protecting the Australian public if we are not protecting those people who are working directly with radioactive material. We have looked after them and we will continue to do that, and that is what this bill, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Amendment Bill, is about. So we take the issue of radiation and nuclear safety very seriously.

In our view, the bill strengthens the powers of ARPANSA, our nuclear safety agency. There are a number of changes to the licensing arrangements administered by ARPANSA, which will have the effect of improving safety and efficiency, and closing a number of loopholes identified in an audit conducted by the ANAO.

I note the recent submissions received by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for its inquiry on this bill—the committee has not yet reported. I thank the Senate and, in particular, the expert contributors to this process.

We will be supporting the bill in the House. We will look closely at any recommendations that are made by the Senate committee. This is an important part of public policy; a belt-and-braces approach is warranted. But, on the face of it, we believe this is a bill that Labor will be able to offer bipartisanship support for. Having a strong regulatory body for radiation protection and nuclear safety here in this country is something that should rise above the fray of partisan politics. With those comments, I commend the bill to the House.