Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I am pleased to be speaking on the amendments to the Nuclear Activities (Prohibitions) Act. This piece of legislation is vital to maintaining a nuclear-free Victoria.
The commonwealth government is continually attempting to ride roughshod over the conventions of Australian federalism and impose its will on the states with scant regard for the people’s will and state sovereignty.
This bill will ensure that the people of Victoria will have a voice in the debate if the commonwealth attempts to override or ignore Victoria’s nuclear-free laws. These laws have been in place for good reason for nearly a quarter of a century. A plebiscite will allow the people of Victoria to determine if a nuclear-free future is what they want. It will also send a message to the commonwealth that it cannot dictate to the people on such important and dangerous issues. To ignore the plebiscite would not only be anti-democratic but also morally reprehensible. The debate on nuclear generation is now taking place, but there will be repercussions for generations to come.
I intend to speak on the bill on two levels.
Initially, as three of the proposed locations for the nuclear reactors are in my electorate of Western Victoria, obviously I will talk about the repercussions and effects of imposing this dangerous technology on the communities of Werribee, Avalon and Portland. These three locations have been highlighted in the Australia Institute’s report on the most likely locations for nuclear reactors — —
Mr Finn interjected.
Ms TIERNEY — Check your boundaries, Bernie! On another level I intend to outline that the nuclear debate is one where Liberal ideology has trumped common sense. There are a lot of voodoo economics and rubbery statistics going around to try to support the introduction of nuclear energy into Australia. However, on any analysis, on any basic economic modelling assumptions, it becomes clear that the introduction of a nuclear industry is an exercise in picking winners and pushing particular ideological barrows.
I will use a few examples to demonstrate that the economic case for nuclear power generation is slim at best but is more likely to be non-existent. Once the spin that the commonwealth is using to cloak the facts from the electorate is exposed, its arguments will collapse. Nuclear is an all-the-eggs-in-one-basket strategy that exposes future generations to far too much risk as rubbery figures are replaced with the facts of an operational nuclear industry.
Since the commonwealth’s location plan is cloaked in secrecy and it refuses to discuss this crucial element of the debate, we must work on the assumptions of the experts.
It raises the questions of what exactly the commonwealth is planning for the people of Victoria. I have already seen letters from concerned residents in local papers in western Victoria asking the federal member for Wannon what his stance is on having a nuclear reactor in our region. To my knowledge he has not replied to one of them. There is total silence from the commonwealth government on this issue. Secrecy is a concern as the location of the reactor is the most basic and important piece of information required for a debate. A nuclear reactor might seem — —
Mr O’Donohue — On a point of order, President, the member is reading her speech word for word. I understand that is not permitted.
The PRESIDENT — Order! Mr O’Donohue is correct, but it is also the practice of the house that leeway is given to members who want to refer to copious notes.
However, members should be aware that whilst referring regularly to those copious notes they have to be cognisant of the fact that it is not the practice of the house to read verbatim. On that basis I accept what Mr O’Donohue said when raising his concern, but I also extend some leeway to the member and ask her to be aware of the normal processes of the house.
Ms TIERNEY — I will return to the point I was making. The point is that the people in western Victoria have been told that possibly three nuclear reactors will be located in their electorates, yet the current federal government is refusing to state exactly where it is going to locate those reactors. We know from the Newspoll outcome that Jaala Pulford referred to, that the majority of Victorians do not want a nuclear reactor near their place of residence or location of work. In fact 66 per cent of the population have said that to her.
This is not some sort of nimbyism; it is about common sense; it is about a common-sense reaction to a localised danger. It is about one of the most toxic substances on this earth. It is not an issue that can be treated lightly. In fact we need to make sure that we are very conscious of, alert to and educated about all of the facts, because it is not about you and me, it is about our grandchildren, about their children and future generations.
With community opposition at such high levels it is little wonder that the commonwealth has refused to buy into the location debate. I suspect if it had dared to announce the possible locations at this point in time, there would be a distinct revolt not just in Melbourne but also in regional Victoria. With a federal election looming the commonwealth will stick to its modus operandi of plausible deniability, evasion and dissembling the facts. It is just going to continue that and hope the federal election date rolls around without its having to address this issue.
State opposition members are accomplices in this plan. Only one member spoke in the lower house. The Leader of the Opposition in the other house, Mr Baillieu, was consciously and conspicuously absent. He refused to enter the debate. The member who spoke, the member for Box Hill, called the plebiscite bill ‘a political stunt and a waste of time and money’. They were the very words used by Mr Finn only some moments ago.
This is the exact line that the former Leader of the Liberal Party in the other place, Dr Napthine, used in the Warrnambool Standard of 16 March. It is not a stunt. The government went to the electorate in November last year. This was part of its election platform, and it won that election. We have a mandate to put this plebiscite to the people, which is one little fact the opposition seems to forget. This is black and white, so they should just get used to it.
Fulfilling a mandate is not a waste of time and money, it is actually called democracy, and opposition members should get their heads around it. If the Liberals think that giving the electorate a voice on an issue that will have ramifications for generations to come is a waste of time and money, it is a very sad day for parliamentary democracy. Is it just the fact that the Liberals do not trust the Victorian public? I am grappling with this. Maybe that is just the case; they do not think Victorians have got enough wherewithal to make a decision for themselves, other people or their families and friends. It is all a bit sad.
The bill puts the Liberals in the awkward position of having to respect the will of the people and at the same time deal with their masters in Canberra, who are preparing to ignore the people. The bill puts trust in the people of Victoria to decide their future. You have to ask: what are the Liberals hiding from? The democratic will of the people is not something to be hidden from; it should be embraced. I urge the opposition to start thinking along those lines and support the bill.
There is all sorts of talk about the new technologies coming on stream to deal with waste that has a half-life of several million years. That is all well and good, but the plain fact of the matter is that the disposal of nuclear waste is still primarily performed by storing it on site. It also raises the issue of just how the commonwealth and the nuclear industry can guarantee that any of their proposed technologies will remain safe for the required three-quarters of a million years.
There just seems to be absolute silence from that side of politics about the possible safety or otherwise of what they are proposing.
There is also a time scale associated with it. To get an idea of that time scale we need to remember that in terms of the human habitation of Australia, it has only been about 200 000 years since humankind was well and truly in the Stone Age, agriculture was yet to be discovered and even cave art had not been invented. At that time the Western District was alight with volcanic activity — the entire Western District has been volcanically active for most of the last million years. Even indigenous stories talk about the western area of Victoria being on fire.
The current seismological information rates Portland as a medium earthquake risk. Who in their right mind could possibly think about even proposing in the most rudimentary sense that a reactor should be built around Portland?
It does not make sense to make any construct of that argument, and taking into account the fact that Portland has already had several recorded earthquakes during its brief time of white settlement, it is quite an extraordinary proposition indeed. That is atop four fault lines as well — not one, two or three but four — right on Portland. It has been geographically active for the best part of a million years.
I really believe the people in western Victoria will not want to risk the economic certainty that the 6 per cent of jobs supplied by tourism along the western section of the Great Ocean Road delivers. Over 150 000 international visitors arrive every year, over 4 million daytrippers take advantage of an environment of amazing beauty about which we heard earlier today. There are outstanding parks, and it is also the home of at least 56 nationally endangered and threatened species.
How can anyone possibly think about risking a major source of these sorts of natural wonders by contemplating putting a reactor near the Great Ocean Road, near Portland, near Werribee, near Avalon, or indeed Geelong?
Mr Vogels — What about Kyneton? You missed Kyneton.
Ms TIERNEY — That has not actually been proposed by the federal government, but if Mr Vogels wants to suggest to his party that Kyneton be included, I am sure there will be some difficulties with respect to the primary industry people who are working hard in those areas.
In terms of the waste, we are expected to say it is all right to store noxious and toxic materials in an area that has no adequate population buffers — that is in respect of the Werribee and Avalon scenario. Those interface areas are obviously growing and are home to over 270 000 people.
It is an area that has also been one of the real success stories of the Bracks government in its revitalising regional Victoria. The Werribee-Avalon area is home to 36 endangered species.
This bill will give people a chance to make clear how they stand. It will give Victorians, and especially Victorians in my electorate, a chance to stand up to the commonwealth government and tell it they will not accept nuclear reactors in western Victoria because they have a real interest and a real stake in maintaining their livelihoods, not just for themselves but for future generations.
It is no wonder that the Liberals will not support the bill. This plebiscite will let the people of Victoria have a say, as the state confronts the challenge of moving into a low-carbon economy.
The opposition cannot take the chance of listening to the people because its plan is for a nuclear Victoria and it will be refuted. It just does not meet the basic risk tests on any level. It does not stack up against the more balanced suite of options that the Bracks government is formulating to handle the challenge of a low-carbon future. That is why the Liberals are scared of the democratic will of the Victorian population.
Adopting a nuclear energy approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is short sighted. Even the Switkowski report acknowledges that over the life span of the nuclear cycle the greenhouse gas emissions are higher than all but one renewable technology — that is, photovoltaic generation, and the report acknowledges that technological advances are likely to be made which will reduce the figure in that case.
At the quickest it will be another 20 years before the nuclear industry can be established, and I think that was highlighted by Mr Barber. In that time investment money will be likely to be diverted from renewable technologies and nothing will be done about lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Investment in nuclear generation, potentially crowding out investment opportunities for renewable and near-zero emission technology will rob the state of this opportunity. That is a very important point that needs to be directed to the opposition party, because, as I said at the beginning, this is about trying to pick winners and to manipulate a situation where we end up with a restricted number of technologies that will dictate our future and the futures of generations to come.
We are wanting to encourage a diverse array of technologies in Victoria. We are not about picking winners. Imposing nuclear technology is picking winners to the detriment of competing industries.
I just want to draw attention to what is happening in western Victoria in respect of wind farms. The crowding-out-of-investment scenario is likely to affect the economy in western Victoria. Western Victoria is booming with respect to the energy sector. There are two operating wind farms in western Victoria, with six more approved but not yet operational. In summary we have 8, and a further 10 are pending for western Victoria.
The community deserves a response to a federally imposed nuclear industry that will be receiving massive amounts of government support, threatening independent operators and competing businesses in the region — —
Mr O’Donohue — On a point of order, President, I do not want to take the point lightly, but the member continues to read verbatim from her notes.
The PRESIDENT — Order!
I have been watching the member, and I think she has made a reasonable effort to ensure she is not reading verbatim, word for word. However, given Mr O’Donohue’s point of order and the fact that I have already ruled that it is a reasonable one to raise, I will pay closer attention.
Ms TIERNEY — In short, the government believes that having a suite of technologies in respect of energy is a much superior solution to greenhouse gas emissions and the whole issue of climate change. It is not an all-eggs-in-one-basket scenario which the federal government is trying to urge us towards. It will not bequeath to our children and grandchildren a litany of health and safety issues now and into the future. In short, I urge members of the chamber to vote for the bill. It is a democratic bill which amplifies people’s vision and enhances human rights for people in Victoria.
I clearly state that the opposition should not be worried about Victorian people having a vote on an issue that directly affects them on a day-to-day issue or for future generations in this great state.