Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: No more public money to spruik nukes - Bill passes SA Parliament

November 1st, 2017

On the 1st of November, Mark's Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) (Public Money) Amendment Bill 2017 was passed by the Legislative Council.

Below is a transcript of second reading contributions and debate on the Bill in the Legislative Council.

On the 29th of November, the Bill was then passed in the House of Assembly with the support of the Labor Government. It it expected to become law in December 2017.


Second Reading

(Continued from 21 June 2017.)

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD: I rise to speak on the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) (Public Money) Amendment Bill and indicate that the Australian Conservatives will not be supporting the bill. I am sure that is no surprise to anyone here. I also indicate, to members' pleasure, that I will be speaking for a very brief period on this bill. I thought that would be widely supported. The Australian Conservatives believe that the findings of the royal commission are a reasonable starting point for discussion for South Australia to host a commercial spent fuel repository. We believe that at least the option for further investigation into these matters should at least remain open. I do not intend, as I said, to give a substantial contribution on this bill, as I spoke at length on the benefits of a nuclear fuel repository in South Australia in the last sitting week.

That being said, I would like to take the opportunity to refresh the chamber's memory very briefly as to the significant economic benefits the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has indicated South Australia could receive if they hosted a spent fuel repository. These figures are compelling, in our view, and should not be ignored or dismissed. The royal commission found that an interim waste storage and disposal facility had the potential to add some $5.6 billion per year in revenue to the state over the first 30 years. The extra $5 billion or thereabouts in annual revenue equates to almost one-twentieth of South Australia's gross state product of approximately $97 billion per annum.

There is currently more than 390,000 tons of spent rods and nuclear waste in temporary storage around the world, with the number of spent rods said to double over the next few years. Accordingly, the spent fuel repository has the potential to be highly profitable because of strong demand from other countries which, for various reasons, cannot store spent fuel. If these figures are not compelling, the estimated 1,500 to 4,500 jobs that can be created in the establishment phase and some 600 jobs in the operation phase once the facility operations begin certainly are, in our view.

The integrated waste storage and disposal facility has the potential to generate more than $100 billion in excess in expenditure over the life of the 120-year project. That equates to a 4.7 per cent growth to gross state product, or some $6.7 billion by 2029-30. The gross state income would increase by $3,000 per person, according to these figures, which is approximately a 5 per cent increase on current figures. In real terms, that brings a potential increase in employment of some 9,600 jobs by 2029-30. So I will say, to be fair, that I appreciate that these figures are not tested, but we are quoting directly from the report, as that is the most comprehensive work that has been done in this area.

There are some unknowns, of course, in relation to hosting a spent nuclear fuel repository, such as storage options and the price and the volume risks. We accept that these are not absolutely determined at this time. However, these concerns can be appropriately managed, we believe, which, of course, would come through further investigation and consultation. That is why we are not saying that we should definitely proceed with this project, we are merely saying that we should keep the option open. In light of the potential state benefits, these unknown situations prove why leaving the option open for further public inquiry is so important.

The Australian Conservatives believe these figures are significant and the potential benefit to South Australia is too great to be ignored. We welcome leaving the act as it is currently drafted, and that is to leave the possibility of eschewing it at least open, as we believe further inquiry into the potential for a nuclear repository should occur in the future. As such, we will not be able to support this bill tonight. Again, I would like to stress our position: we are not saying that we should proceed with a nuclear waste repository in South Australia; we are merely saying we should leave the door open to further inquiry.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I place on the record that I support the bill.

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Health, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): This bill will reverse the changes made to the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act in 2016, which will allow public moneys to be used for consultation on the merits of a nuclear waste storage facility in South Australia. Following the release of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's report, the government embarked on the biggest consultation program ever undertaken in this state. There are valuable learnings to be taken from both the report and the community consultation process.

However, there is no pathway forward to pursue a nuclear waste storage and disposal facility, as bipartisan support was withdrawn by the opposition. The government will support this bill subject to an amendment that I will move and speak to during the committee stage.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS : I rise on behalf of Liberal members to speak to the second reading. I wanted to speak after the Hon. Mr Malinauskas because we have only today seen the amendment that he has proposed on behalf of the government to the legislation. I have to say that our party room has not had an opportunity to debate or discuss the amendment that is going to be moved by the honourable minister on behalf of the government members.

As I outlined in an earlier debate today, there is a stark difference in South Australia that has just been confirmed by minister Malinauskas between the Labor government and the Liberal opposition in relation to a toxic nuclear waste dump in South Australia. As I said in that earlier contribution, Premier Weatherill has been the strongest advocate but, not too far behind him, minister Malinauskas, minister Hunter and minister Maher in this chamber have all been outspoken and public advocates for having a toxic nuclear waste dump here in South Australia.

That is not a future that I support or the Liberal Party supports. We will be campaigning on this issue between now and March next year. Minister Malinauskas, and I thank him for this, has just confirmed what Premier Weatherill has been saying; that is, the government still, the Labor Party still, have a view that we should have a toxic nuclear waste dump in South Australia. The only reason they are not proceeding with it is that there is a lack of 'bipartisan support', to quote the minister, for the proposal proceeding.

Minister Malinauskas's position, as he just outlined it, Premier Weatherill's position, is quite clear: if at any stage the Liberal Party in South Australia was to come on board with Premier Weatherill, minister Malinauskas, minister Hunter and minister Maher and support a toxic nuclear waste dump future for the state, then they will be off to the races. They will be wanting to proceed down that particular path.

Our position is starkly different. We just do not support a toxic nuclear waste dump future for South Australia. As I outlined earlier, we believe the fool's gold of the claimed economic and financial nirvana that Premier Weatherill and minister Malinauskas, minister Maher and others have been trying to sell to the people of South Australia in relation to a toxic nuclear waste dump in South Australia has been exposed. The work of the select committee, the work of the Nuclear Economics Consulting Group that did detailed work for the committee, as I outlined earlier, has demonstrated that the numbers that the Premier and others have been using are indeed rubbery. Our position is that it does not make financial or economic sense to say that the future of South Australia should be a future with a toxic nuclear waste dump somewhere in South Australia.

As I indicated earlier, as the paired member in the electorate of Colton, where there are a large number of people who are environmentally conscious, we put to them Premier Weatherill and minister Malinauskas's position: 'Do you realise that they actually want a nuclear waste dump in South Australia? The only thing that is holding them back is that they cannot get bipartisan support.'

They do not say, 'We do not think this is a goer.' They do not say, 'We are not going to do it, whether or not there is support from the other party.' What they say is, 'We would like to do this, but the only reason we will not do it is because of a lack of bipartisan support.' I thank minister Malinauskas for nailing his colours again to the mast as a person who sees himself as a future mover and shaker within the Labor Party in South Australia; that he is, together with his Premier, a fearless and outspoken advocate for a toxic nuclear waste dump in South Australia as a future for South Australia.

Our vision for South Australia does not go down that particular path. We do not see a future for South Australia that is relying on the spruiking and political salesmanship of the financial and economic figures that have been put together to try to convince South Australians that there is some future in having a toxic nuclear waste dump in South Australia.

Our position is that we are quite happy to lock the doors in relation to a toxic nuclear waste dump. The minister did not really explain his amendment, but, to be fair to him, he said he would explain it in the committee stages. I read it very quickly and it appears to be to allow some limited future consultation with other jurisdictions, which I assume principally might be the federal jurisdiction, but the minister can explain that. It may well be that it relates to whatever cooperation needs to be done in relation to a federal low-level waste dump. As the citizens' forum, or whatever it was called, demonstrated—

An honourable member: Jury.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: —the citizens' jury, I should say, that the Premier conducted, most people in South Australia are really appalled at the prospect of South Australia having a toxic nuclear waste dump, taking every other country's nuclear waste, transporting it to South Australia and us being a garbage dump for nuclear waste in South Australia. But I think most people do accept that in most of our big hospitals we have very low-level nuclear waste—radioactive gloves and those sorts of things of a health and research nature—which are buried in basements, underneath stairwells, etc., in our big hospitals and some of our research institutions.

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Out at Roseworthy campus.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Out at Roseworthy campus, my colleague says. We accept that there are a significant number of sites where that occurs in South Australia and it does make sense to sensibly dispose of that in one well-managed and secure location. There is no way of conducting a well-run hospital and a well-run research institution without having some low-level radioactive waste.

The concern we did have with the drafting of the Hon. Mr Parnell's proposal was whether or not it actually might, in essence, even prevent sensible discussion and work that might need to be done in cooperation with the federal government in that particular area. As I read the Minister for Health's amendment, it would appear that it is seeking to address that, and if it does that then that would make sense from our viewpoint.

I can only speak personally. I had a very quick conversation with the shadow minister, Dan van Holst Pellekaan. I hasten to say that our party room has not discussed the minister's amendment, but I suspect that there are good prospects for the minister's amendment getting up, and, if the minister's amendment gets up, therefore the bill getting up as well.

We will observe that. We will not be dividing and voting against the amendment if it is as we read it. It would seem to go closer to the position that the Liberal parliamentary party room outlined, and so we will stay politically agnostic in relation to it, but it does seem, on the surface, to make sense. If it is as I suspect the minister will outline, personally I will be comfortable with that but I cannot commit my party to it without, obviously, having had a party room discussion on it. We are prepared to support the second reading to see where this amendment goes, listen to the minister's argument on it and then see where the bill goes to the third reading.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I would like to thank the Hon. Dennis Hood, the Hon. Kelly Vincent, the Hon. Rob Lucas and the Hon. Peter Malinauskas for their contributions. I am pleased that it is looking as if this bill will pass. I will address the government's proposed amendment briefly when we get to it in committee, but I will say, in relation to the Hon. Rob Lucas's contribution, that I think his understanding is pretty well right as to the effect of the amendment and what it is intended to do.

The honourable member referred to what was, I think, unfortunately a parallel debate about a very different type of nuclear waste facility. I say unfortunately because those of us who were involved with the high-level international used fuel nuclear waste debate often found that the people we were talking to were confused in relation to the parallel process of the federal government trying to find somewhere to put intermediate and low-level waste that is of domestic origin—and it was confusing for many people. I am glad that, having dumped the major dump, having dumped the international dump, there is now only really the one project that is on the book.

This bill does draw a line under the spending of money for the purposes of public consultation—some might say spruiking—of the international nuclear waste dump. We do not know the final figure. I have seen various guesses and it is probably at least $14 million but it is hard to tell; we do not have all the figures in. However, it was certainly well over $10 million and it could even be pushing $20 million. The Greens' view is that that is money down the drain.

We knew from day one, we knew from the day that the royal commission was announced, that this was all about the dump. It was always about it. The government tried valiantly to convince South Australians that it was the best thing since sliced bread and that it would be the salvation of the state economy and it would make us all fabulously wealthy beyond measure—and the public did not buy it. The joint committee did not buy it either and, as a result, the project is now dead in the water.

So, restoring the act to the position that it was in before 2016 makes a lot of sense, and it does give some comfort to the public who are worried that it might come back; that in the next term of parliament or the one after it might come back. Well, it might and, if it does, let it come back to parliament first. Let it come back to parliament and parliament can decide if this is a worthwhile use of public funds to again advocate for an international nuclear waste dump. I do not see it coming back at all in the near future or even the medium future. The dump is dead in the water. We are drawing a line under it in relation to public funding but certainly we do now have the prospect of a commonwealth-sponsored radioactive waste dump. It has different characteristics and there are also serious concerns about it.

The only thing I would say, again in response to the Hon. Rob Lucas, is that whilst all the talk is about the gloves and the masks in hospitals, there are two things that the member missed out on. Firstly, that is not the main game; the main game is processed used fuel rods from Lucas Heights—that is the main game. It is the intermediate-level waste currently stored at Lucas Heights. That is what this is really about.

Secondly, he said that it (and I am paraphrasing) makes sense to have a central repository for the medical waste. Well, I do not accept that, actually. The jury is not out. They have not actually done the work. What we know is that with most medical waste, the radioactive isotopes are short-lived. I mean, you do not want to be pumping things into people's bodies, for example, that are long-lived, They are short-lived radioactive isotopes. Most of the medical nuclear waste goes to the tip. It is stored for a short period and then it is taken to the tip. That is where most of it ends up.

The government has not made the case for a central repository; they have not made a case for the Flinders Ranges being the right location, or for Kimba. Certainly, I want to make sure the government can participate fully in that debate, and I will have a bit more to say when we actually get to the government's amendment, but for now I am pleased that the bill looks like progressing through parliament tonight.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

In committee.

Clauses 1 and 2 passed.

Clause 3.

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Health–1]—

Page 2, line 13—After 'subsection (2)' insert 'and substitute:'

(2) Subsection (1) does not prohibit the appropriation, expenditure or advancement to a person of public money for the purpose of financing the maintenance or sharing of information or to enable the State to engage with other jurisdictions.

The amendment replaces current section 13(2) and states that the ban in section 13(1) on public money being appropriated, expended or advanced will 'not prohibit the appropriation, expenditure or advancement to a person of public money for the purpose of financing the maintenance or sharing of information or to enable the State to engage with other jurisdictions'.

The amendment ensures that integrity of information is maintained over time and that records are accessible; that government is able to share information and be responsive to the community and stakeholders, including in other jurisdictions; that consideration is given to the diversity of perspectives within the community and their needs; and that public value will continue to be delivered from the nuclear fuel cycle royal commission and community consultation process and outcomes.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I rise to say that the Greens will support the amendment. I just need to expand a little more on what the minister said, because at face value people could look at these words and think that these are tricky words and that these words could be a different way of saying 'public consultation', which is what was in the original provision that I am seeking to strike out, so we do need to explore those words a little bit.

The words are 'that public money for the purpose of financing the maintenance or sharing of information'. The way it was put to me by the Deputy Premier was similar to the terms in which the minister has just put it now, that there is information that has been collected over many years, it is stored, there is a requirement to make it accessible to the community under freedom of information and under various other mechanisms, and inevitably some money will need to be spent keeping that information, making it accessible, and that was the intent, as it was put to me, of the government's amendment.

The second part refers to enabling the state to engage with other jurisdictions. As the Hon. Rob Lucas said, the idea of a national intermediate and low-level nuclear waste dump is a matter that involves discussion between jurisdictions, and it would not make sense to say that, by virtue of South Australia's law, it is not possible for South Australia to engage in those conversations—of course you need to.

My hope is that the courage will return to the government that former Premier Mike Rann had, where his version of engaging with other jurisdictions on nuclear waste dumps was to take them to court and to rail in the community about how South Australia was not going to be the nation's nuclear waste dumping ground. That is a fine form of engagement, and it is a form of engagement I would hate to see banned by my bill, so this amendment does in fact allow for this engagement. I can see that you can interpret these words to say that the government could take a different position; I am happy to take the government at its word on this.

I have always said, from day one, that the nation's domestic nuclear waste is our responsibility—I have never shirked from that fact. That does not mean that a central repository is the answer, and it does not mean that the Flinders Ranges is the answer or that Kimba is the answer. It just means that it is our responsibility and we need to work very hard to get the best outcome. It does not mean a central repository, but the state government will need to engage in that debate on behalf of South Australian citizens.

It seems to me that this form of words is fit for that purpose, but at the end of the day what this parliament is doing overall is ruling a line under the wasteful spending that has been conducted to date and making sure that the government cannot come back with a project like this international nuclear waste dump and spruik it to the community, in my view under the guise of consultation, without first coming back to parliament. We have drawn that line. This minor modification of the Greens' bill is for other purposes, and I am happy to accept the government at its word that that is what it needs these amendments for.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Title passed.

Bill reported with amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.

For more information see a copy of Mark's second reading speech and the Bill

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