Radiation Protection and Control Bill

Second Reading

I rise to speak on the Radiation Protection and Control Bill 2019, and I start by commending the minister for supervising and initiating the enormous body of work that is necessary to undertake a review of legislation by the advance of this bill, which will significantly update and modernise the Radiation Protection and Control Act. It is an exercise that has not been undertaken since 1982, and clearly the world has changed; in fact, there are even a few people in our parliament who were born after that, including the minister. I think it is a commendable achievement. Even before he was a sparkle in his mother's eye, this project was being worked on. That is to be commended.

I would also like to say that because historically in South Australia we are a very significant miner, extractor and exporter of uranium, which is a very significant income-producing product for this state, the question of the protection, security and transportation regulations surrounding any radioactive product is one that we need to be acutely aware of. I think we have a responsibility to make sure that we are a voice in leadership in relation to the management of products stemming from a core product such as uranium.

We are a proud producer of this product. It serves in science, medicine and industry across the world. We should be proud of that, but we have a responsibility to be part of the regulation of it. In relation to the development of that industry, I am particularly aware of the transportation of uranium out of South Australia, which of course comes down to Port Adelaide and is exported. I do not think there is any uranium at present that goes out of Australia via Darwin, but I might be wrong. I think all of it goes through our own port. Again, we have a responsibility to make sure that whatever measures are in place are adequate and necessary to protect the interests of those who may be at risk.

Whilst my parents' era was in that category of watching the Hiroshima bomb and being afraid in relation to nuclear armament, warfare and human destruction as a result of it, I think most of us in this chamber are pleased that we live in a time when there has largely been disarmament around the world. That is not to say there has not been threat in our lifetime, but I think there has been a much more mature approach, particularly since Hiroshima. Full credit to the scientists who have learned how to split atoms but, at the end of the day, we need to responsibly manage it.

Nothing is more important than the safety of those who live in South Australia. We have come from an era when my mother would say that radioactive products caused her great concern and any kind of nuclear development would cause babies to be born disfigured and all sorts of things of that nature. My father used to go around saying that, for cattle that eat grass in these areas, it is likely to make their eyes glow in the dark. The point is that it is a different era. We understand the benefit of these products, properly secure and properly protected in those circumstances.

It brings me to the many hospital sites around South Australia, even in the metropolitan area, where there has been significant storage of radioactive waste. It is largely from very important medical procedures, X-rays and things of this nature, where there is an accumulated product that needs to be stored. For a long time, when I first came into the parliament, I asked the former government about their relocation of products, particularly as they had announced the build of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital and the basement of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital was a major approved regulated repository of this waste. I asked what was going to happen to it.

For a long time, the former government promised that they were going to build a centre in South Australia for the storage of waste. Meanwhile, they were highly derisive and critical of the then federal government and their intention to look at a suitable radioactive waste repository for Australia's waste from the work that they were doing. It never transpired, they never did it—they promised it—but nevertheless it still needs to be managed. The repository has not been built. There is no single waste place. We still need to do this if we are going to have the benefits of medical advances. Of course, I am reminded in looking at you, sir, Acting Deputy Speaker—is that what you actually are?

The ACTING SPEAKER (Dr Harvey): I think so.

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: Anyway, you are an important scientist in your other life, and you would understand probably more than most people in this chamber the significance of the advances from research and the benefits of these products. But they still need to be securely stored and they still need to be safely disposed of. So I again thank the minister for undertaking this review.

I do note there are significant offences, in our obligation under the national directory commitments, for a registered owner to cause, suffer or permit an unlicensed person to operate radiation apparatus, and an offence for a responsible person to cause, suffer or permit an unlicensed person to use or handle radioactive substances. As Attorney-General, obviously I take some interest when we are introducing new offences. There are obligations under this act that we will take note of and obviously need to supervise, to the extent that it may call upon the Crown Solicitor's Office to be involved in the prosecution, as they often are in relation to other environmental breaches.

I am also reminded in this legislation of the upgrade to the whistleblower law, as it was known, the public interest disclosure legislation we passed on coming into government. That needed some major repair and upgrade as well. I remind members that, although we have strengthened that very strongly to ensure that people who wish to report a breach of conduct, whether that is at the criminal level or otherwise, secure immunity in whistleblowing—in the sense of reporting it to the relevant body—that whole legislation, that whole level of protection, was born out of that need of a person who was going to speak up about an environmental or health circumstance that was going to create a public risk to others. That was really the trigger for establishing that legislation.

That is why it is so important that under public health we have a process to protect those who speak up, and that, in tandem with this type of legislation, is critical to being able to ensure that we are doing everything we can not only to enjoy the benefits of these products and processes but also to ensure that we deal with those—mostly by enforcement through civil penalties—in an appropriate and effective way; so I thank the minister for that upgrade.