Contaminated Land Management Amendment Bill
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [8.37 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 provides the regulatory framework for notification, investigation, and clean-up of sites where contamination presents a significant risk to human health and the environment. It also provides for the accreditation of site auditors to ensure that contaminated land is cleaned up to appropriate standards through their independent auditing and that the land is safe to use. The proposed amendments relate, for the most part, to the provisions dealing with the accreditation and ongoing supervision of site auditors by the Environment Protection Authority [EPA] under the New South Wales site auditor scheme. The scheme forms one of the linchpins to contaminated site clean-up in the State.
Contaminated site auditors have as their primary responsibility the protection of human health and the environment. Their integrity and work quality are paramount. There can be no room for compromise in this regard. The EPA's experience with the site auditor scheme over the last five years has made the EPA aware of the need for amendments to the scheme's legislative framework. Performance reviews of auditors' work undertaken by the EPA have made it clear that the scheme as it stands has some gaps. In particular, the EPA's ability to take effective action against an underperforming auditor is constrained by disciplinary grounds that are too restrictive. This is undesirable, as users of the site auditor scheme need to have confidence in the standard of a site auditor's work and that an underperforming auditor can be dealt with decisively and appropriately.
The EPA also needs a better range of tools to be able to strategically manage a site auditor's performance. The bill will provide these tools. The possibility of making changes was first aired in mid-2002, when the EPA issued a public discussion paper on the proposed amendments. The comments received as a result of that paper and subsequent consultation with stakeholders have been considered in the preparation of the bill before the House. The Government's aim through the proposed amendments to part 4 of the Act is to ensure that accredited site auditors are of the highest calibre, and that they maintain a high professional standard during the term of their appointment. The amendments provide the EPA with better means with which to enforce this standard. This will strengthen the community's confidence in the site auditors' work and their conclusions about the suitability of land use.
The amendments will enhance the EPA's discretion to grant and renew accreditation. The EPA will be able to place comprehensive requirements on a site auditor to ensure that his or her attention is focused on crucial aspects of the audit process. The amendments also make it an offence for site auditors to indicate that they can undertake certain types of audits if the conditions of their accreditation exclude them from this work. The EPA will have discretion to refuse an application for accreditation as a site auditor if the auditor's accreditation was revoked in the past two years.
The power for the EPA to issue binding directions to site auditors will now be an express power in the Contaminated Land Management Act. Any conditions or directions made by the EPA can be applied to both statutory audits—those that are required for the purposes of a legislative requirement—and to non-statutory audits—those that are carried out for other purposes. Those provisions can be used to ensure that auditors focus on improving specific areas of their performance in conducting site audits. The proposed amendments make the grounds for revoking or suspending a site auditor's accreditation consistent with the grounds for refusing to renew accreditation.
The existing grounds for EPA action are expanded to include a number of new matters. These new matters include: if a site auditor contravenes a condition of accreditation or a direction; if a site auditor provides false or misleading information in connection with an application for accreditation or renewal of accreditation; if a site auditor's work is of an unacceptable standard; or if there are other relevant matters that make the auditor unsuitable for accreditation. I note that, to ensure procedural fairness, the proposed amendments require the EPA to give notice to site auditors of its intention to revoke, suspend or decide not to renew an auditor's accreditation, specifying reasons and giving the auditor an opportunity to respond to the EPA's decision. The response must be taken into account by the EPA.
The amendments have also given the Government an opportunity to clarify the position in relation to conflicts of interest for site auditors. The clarification will provide clearer guidance for the auditor by more closely defining "conflict of interest". In particular, it prohibits a site auditor carrying out a site audit if it involves the auditor reviewing any aspect of work carried out by the auditor or a person who is related to the auditor. This amendment will assist the users of site auditors, such as land-holders and councils, to have confidence in the independence of the advice provided by the site auditor.
The amendments also make it clear that a corporation may be convicted of the offence of knowingly providing false or misleading information in connection with a site audit. The maximum penalty for the offence is increased to $137,500 in the case of a corporation, and to $66,000 or imprisonment for two years, or both, in the case of an individual. This will standardise penalties for offences that apply to the scheme. Another amendment relates to the site auditor panel. Its role will now focus on advising the EPA about the suitability of new applicants only. The amendment brings the function of the panel into line with the role of the accreditation panel that is used for a similar auditor scheme in Victoria.
Finally, I draw attention to an amendment to part 3 of the Act that does not pertain directly to the site auditor scheme. It will clarify that landowners who are partially responsible for contamination can recover a proportion of their clean-up costs from any other contaminations. The proposed amendments will give the EPA improved power to regulate the site auditor scheme to ensure it continues to be robust and effective. Amendments to the Act will ensure a stronger basis for trust in the site auditor's scheme, and in the processes used to evaluate and manage contaminated land. Local government can remain confident that its reliance on site auditors in the planning process has a firm foundation. Industry will be able to make commercial decisions with greater certainty, and the community will have greater assurance that the environment is being protected. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE [8.37 p.m.]: The object of this bill is to amend the Contaminated Land Management Act as it relates to the site auditors scheme. The Opposition will not oppose the bill. The Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 was a key plank of the Government's contaminated land reform package. It specifies who is responsible for investigating and remediating contaminated land and gives the Environmental Protection Authority [EPA] the power to ensure that contaminated sites are cleaned up. It also provides for the accreditation of site auditors. Last year the Government published a discussion paper on the system of accrediting site auditors and more recently it has released a general discussion paper on other aspects of the legislation.
Key provisions of the bill update the procedure by which the EPA grants and renews accreditation as a site auditor. The bill also updates and expands the EPA's monitoring powers in relation to site auditors and gives it the power to suspend or revoke a site auditor's accreditation. It allows landowners who are partially responsible for contamination to recover a proportion of their clean-up costs from other contaminators. The legislation will also assist the EPA to discipline and deregister underperforming auditors. The legislation contains a minor drawback. Some problems have emerged as a result of the manner in which local government authorities have introduced policies dealing with contaminated and potentially contaminated land. The site auditing system is cumbersome and some auditors have left the field. As a result, the State has insufficient site auditors. Apparently 23 site auditors, including eight headquartered interstate, are registered to undertake the current workload and, given that virtually all local government areas are introducing contaminated land policies, obviously more are required to deal with the pressure on the system.
The existing legislation contains no right of appeal against a decision of the EPA to deregister a site auditor, and this bill does not correct that situation. That is a potential issue in terms of denial of natural justice for auditors who are bound by this system. Notwithstanding that, the Opposition will not oppose the bill, which, generally speaking, seeks to improve the situation.
Mr IAN COHEN [8.39 p.m.]: Contamination occurs where hazardous substances are at concentrations above background levels and assessment indicates that it poses, or is likely to pose, an immediate or long-term hazard to human health or the environment. Contamination is usually caused by previous land uses, such as the establishment of airports, chemical manufacture and industrial plants, gas, iron and steelworks, service stations, waste storage and treatment, agriculture and horticulture, power stations and dry-cleaning establishments. Such land uses contaminate land through the storage, transportation, use, spillage and leakage of metals; inorganic compounds such as cyanide; organic chemicals; oils and tars; toxic, explosive and asphyxiant gases; combustible substances; putrescible material; and hazardous wastes.
Contaminated land does not simply pose a danger to the environment; it also poses a grave danger to human health. It often involves chemicals that persist for long periods and therefore will affect future generations. Another problem with land contamination is that it is often found only when a site is to be rezoned for a different land use. Of course, this means that more and more contaminated land is likely to be uncovered in the future, especially in light of the fact that in order to make cities more compact and reduce urban sprawl, governments are encouraging the rezoning of disused urban industrial sites for housing.
The potential for many of these industrial sites to be contaminated is high, and consent authorities therefore need to be made well aware of the risks of contamination. The Rhodes Peninsula development is a case in point. That development used Australian's most notorious contaminated site, the old Union Carbide chemical factory at Homebush Bay, as the centrepiece of a major urban development for more than 5,000 people and more than 3,000 units. As we all now know, Union Carbide, which sold out and left Australia in 1988, contaminated neighbouring land earmarked for redevelopment, the bay itself and parts of the nearby Olympic site.
I was a member of the committee that inquired into the contamination of that land and the foreshores of Homebush Bay, and it was a sobering investigation indeed. There has been ongoing debate about whether dredging of the bay would be an appropriate remedial process or whether the sediments underlying the bay are so contaminated that removal could cause massive impacts downstream. Therefore the decision was made to leave the land in situ. These are the sorts of problems that continually arise. So often, with the drive for development on sites such as the Homebush Bay site, too little attention is paid to the issues that are the legacies of past industrial use.
The Greens have had significant interaction with local communities on the issue. Indeed, people who live in these areas have told us that they are fearful about allowing their children to play in their backyards because the contaminants are rising through the topsoil. They certainly cannot grow vegetables or other produce. We will not know the final impact of the contamination for some years to come. Hopefully, it will not be the case that serious diseases will result from it. It is not just disused urban industrial sites, however, that are being used for housing redevelopment. Market gardens and horticultural-agricultural areas on the outskirts of cities and towns are also now being targeted.
Another contaminated area is the old ICI site, the present Orica site, in the Botany area, where a plume of chemical contaminant in the water table is slowly and inexorably moving towards Botany Bay. The residents of the area are rightly concerned about contamination of the surrounding environment and the wetland habitat of migrating bird species. The authorities have never thoroughly investigated the site. Orica needs to investigate it; otherwise we will have an environmental calamity—indeed, I think it is happening right now. I visited the site some 15 years ago, when I demonstrated against the contaminants on the site. There are signs on a car park that read "Do not pierce the asphalt". The asphalt is covering like a capping a mountain of toxic waste that is piled up over a plastic liner with a rising water table. It is disconcerting to see the sorts of legacies that these chemical industries leave for society to clean up.
Areas targeted for housing redevelopment are also often contaminated with toxic chemical residues and therefore need careful assessment before rezoning takes place. This is the responsibility of both the State Government and local councils. The fundamental goal of contaminated site clean-up should be to render a site acceptable and safe for long-term continuation of its existing use, and to maximise, to the extent practicable, the potential future uses of the site. Wherever human health or the off-site environment is at risk, a contaminated site should be cleaned up to the extent necessary in order to minimise such risks in the short and long term.
A contaminated site may, however, cost millions of dollars to clean up and it may take many years to accomplish. The cost of disposing of contaminated soil to licensed landfills, for example, ranges from $30 per cubic metre for lightly contaminated soil to $250 per cubic metre for heavily contaminated soil. On-site remediation is likely to cost up to $300 per cubic metre, depending on the extent and type of contamination and the required treatment technology. With regard to the Orica site at Homebush, there has been much debate about the appropriate treatment technology to be used. There is the direct desorption method, which is effectively incineration, and the indirect desorption method, which is a much higher level of treatment. However, the indirect desorption method requires off-site removal of the material. When we investigated the situation, the material had to be moved off site to Queensland to be further processed. Added to these costs is the expense of development delays due to the remediation of contaminated land.
Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes: What about the contaminants in the aquifers?
Mr IAN COHEN: I am pleased that Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes has raised that matter. I referred to this in relation to the Orica site at Botany. A contaminated aquifer is slowly moving from the site, and the local community has expressed the significant and appropriate concern that they have not been properly looked after, that they are left with a toxic legacy. It is the responsibility of authorities at both local and State level, and of course the company itself, to adequately remediate the contaminated area. Frankly, I think we are dealing with a rather impossible task. The result could be sterilisation of those areas in terms of any other development or human usage. It is a serious toxic issue.
It is crucial that we ensure that our legislative framework for the management of contaminated land is effective, particularly in light of the fact that in 1997 it was estimated that New South Wales has approximately 60,000 contaminated sites, with some 7,000 sites possibly requiring remediation at a cost of $2 billion. This bill amends the site auditor scheme provisions of the Contaminated Land Management Act. Environmental consultants are accredited by the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority as site auditors under part 4 of the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997.
The consultants are widely used by planning authorities, landowners, developers and other stakeholders, and are meant to provide certainty in the process of assessing and managing contaminated land. They are expected to do this by independently reviewing consultant reports and preparing site audit statements giving expert opinion about the suitability of land for various uses. More specifically, they are expected to review the adequacy of the investigation, remediation and validation works of actual or possible contamination of land conducted by contaminated land consultants. In doing so, site auditors are meant to provide greater certainty for the community and planning authorities that land is, or can be, remediated so that it is suitable for its current or proposed use.
While the site auditing approach has become an important component of the land use planning and development control process, there are a number of deficiencies in its legal framework. At present the EPA does not, for example, have an explicit power to attach and vary the conditions of a site auditor's accreditation or impose limitations or requirements when suspending or revoking accreditation. It is also not clear whether the EPA has the power to take the standard of work and other relevant considerations into account when deciding whether to grant, renew, revoke or suspend an auditor's accreditation or to ensure that auditors whose accreditation has been revoked cannot be reaccredited for any period of time.
While the current Contaminated Land Management Regulation implies that the EPA can issue directions to auditors, it does not make it clear that this is the case, or that they are binding. This is unacceptable and it is severely hindering the EPA in its oversight and management of site auditors in New South Wales. While all of these matters need to be, and will be, rectified by the amendments proposed in this bill—and the bill is therefore supported by the Greens—the Greens and the peak environment groups in New South Wales also feel that the bill provides an ideal opportunity to rectify a couple of anomalies within the Act. Those anomalies are that members of the accreditation panel hold office for an unlimited period of time and that the accreditation panel only provides for generic representation of community environmental groups.
As the House would be aware, it is now standard practice for terms of office to be limited. The House would also be aware that it is now standard practice for community environmental group representatives to be appointed on the nomination of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales. This is because the Nature Conservation Council is the State's peak environmental organisation, with over 130 member groups and individual supporters from across New South Wales, and it has played a leading role in the New South Wales conservation movement since 1995. I will therefore move amendments in Committee that limit the term of office for members of the accreditation panel to five years and provide for the community environmental group representative on the panel to be appointed on the nomination of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales.
I understand that the Government will support these amendments, and I thank it for that support. However, I also point out that while the introduction of the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 has improved the general situation across New South Wales, further improvements can and should be made. The Contaminated Land Management Act is, in effect, managing less than 5 per cent of contaminated sites within New South Wales. The majority of contaminated land in this State is being managed through other Acts such as the Protection of the Environment Operations Act and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. This is because the Act provides no guidance regarding sites that are not declared to be a significant risk by the EPA but which are contaminated.
Of course this means that the management of the site falls to local councils and is dealt with under land use planning processes. This is less than ideal as councils often lack the expertise and/or resources to properly deal with the sites, and suitable remediation measures are therefore not undertaken. The major issue not addressed by the Contaminated Land Management Act is therefore the role of councils regarding contaminated land that does not qualify as having a significant risk of harm. Another concern is what happens to contaminated land that does not trigger local council development control through changes in land use? Such sites may be old abandoned mines and mines that are operating under old mining leases. These types of sites, in effect, remain dormant. This is unacceptable and needs to be and can be rectified by giving either the EPA or councils the power to investigate and remediate these sites. Specific guidelines should also be developed for the management of non-significant sites for councils.
Another solution may be provided by establishing a three-tiered system for dealing with contaminated land—the top tier being those sites that pose a significant risk of harm and should therefore be dealt with by the EPA; the second tier being those sites that pose medium to low risk of harm and could therefore be dealt with by councils and/or referred to or called in by the EPA if need be; and the third tier being those sites that pose no risk and could therefore be dealt with under planning processes. Another major issue is that the EPA is reactive. That is, the EPA investigates only in response to notification. As a direct result, there have been relatively low levels of regulatory action undertaken by the EPA through investigation and remediation orders.
For example, since 1998 only two investigation orders and three remediation orders have been made. There have also been only seven declarations of investigation areas and 23 declarations of remediation sites. While these figures are supplemented by the number of voluntary investigation proposals and voluntary remediation proposals, there have been only 12 and 25 of those, respectively, since 1998. In order to rectify this, the EPA needs to be far more proactive, and to be able to do that it needs to be given power to instigate investigation. Other improvements needed include the establishment of a public register identifying former land uses. As some councils are already identifying former uses of land, such a register needs to be developed in collaboration with local councils.
To be as effective as it could be, the register also needs to be made easily accessible through the EPA web site. Any such register should also make public declarations, as declarations published in the Government Gazette do not make it to the public arena because the gazette does not have a wide readership. Broader education is also needed on what constitutes significant risk of harm and what happens as a result of notification. At present the term "significant risk of harm" is not defined. Rather, it is determined, at least in part, by reference to the general definitions of "risk" and "harm". As a result, private-sector auditors, local councils and State regulatory bodies such as Sydney Water have expressed strong concerns about the lack of guidance as to what "significant harm" actually is. These concerns could be alleviated by the provision of anonymous case studies sites that have been investigated and either declared a significant risk or not, and the reasons.
Another outstanding issue is that of liability, especially in relation to old approvals or permits for mines. In such circumstances, controlling directors of sister or parent companies should be made responsible for remediation if they benefited in any way and/or had some control over the activities. I understand, of course, that the Contaminated Land Management Act is currently under review, as required under section 116 of the Act, and a report of the review is expected to be tabled in Parliament in December 2003. However, I place on notice my expectation that the outstanding matters that I have just raised will be addressed in further amendments to the Act immediately after the tabling of that report.
In light of these conditions, and certainly on the understanding that the Government will support the amendments that I will move in Committee, the Greens are keen to support the Contaminated Land Management Bill, but also hope that we see further appropriate assessment and greater and more forensic investigation of the many contaminated lands in New South Wales, both industrial and city sites. There are many contaminated land sites in country areas. An issue that comes to mind that is often not noticed is dip sites throughout the country areas, particularly in my home area in the north of New South Wales. Dip sites are significantly contaminated and they need to be properly mapped and assessed. In country areas people are moving onto sites and living on them without proper knowledge that they are in fact on contaminated land.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [8.57 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the Contaminated Land Management Amendment Bill. This bill will amend the site auditor scheme provisions of the Contaminated Land Management Act to ensure that the Environment Protection Authority [EPA] has sufficient power to ensure that the scheme works satisfactorily and that it has the ability to force auditors to operate at the highest, most efficient level. I gather from the briefing material that we have been supplied that over the past five years the EPA has become aware that the system of accredited site auditors is not working as it should be. In particular, the lack of ability of the EPA to take effective action against an underperforming auditor is constrained by disciplinary grounds that are too restrictive. Therefore, these amendments will allow the EPA to deal effectively with an underperforming auditor.
There has been a trend in the State towards appointing site auditors who are not employed by the EPA to examine contaminated land. In the building industry people who are not employed by councils have authority to inspect buildings, developments and so on. One wonders whether we are moving away from the practice of using inspectors employed by councils or by the EPA who are controlled in regard to discipline and their level of efficiency.
Perhaps self-regulation is developing more and more, but the fact that the EPA has acknowledged that over the past five years the system has not worked properly highlights the problem. The bill seeks to tighten the discretion of the EPA to grant and renew accreditation. Also, the Contaminated Land Management Act will now have express powers with regard to the EPA issuing binding directions to site auditors. We are not opposed to giving these powers to the EPA, but perhaps they should have been clearly spelt out when the legislation was introduced five years ago.
Indeed, because the EPA has admitted that the auditing procedures were inefficient, one wonders what has happened with some of the sites and whether auditor certificates were issued to permit housing on sites that were unsuitable. The Government made a recent announcement that will affect the operation of Sydney Harbour. The land has been used for industrial purposes, such as container wharves and heavy industry, and the danger is that it is contaminated. More auditors will be required in the future and they will need to be more efficient. We support the bill.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [9.01 p.m.]: The Government should be congratulated on introducing the Contaminated Land Management Bill. The bill is deficient in certain respects but it is a step in the right direction. Although the framework is not perfect, it is better than nothing. To some extent this area relates to my expertise in occupational medicine. Indeed, my Master of Applied Science was in this area. The main question with contaminated lands is the level of toxicity, but often the substance is not known because records have not been kept. The next question is whether the land contains toxic chemicals, how they were stored and, if they have leached, how deep they are, having regard to the porosity of the soil and the binding to the substances. One must also ascertain the level of bioavailability of the contaminants and whether those substances will harm people at a later time.
If the contaminated material binds to the soil and is not available—which is often the case—or if it is a heavy material that does not become dust in the topsoil, it may be all right. I remember a disturbing program on Four Corners about harmful heavy metals in sewage. That television scare campaign caused me considerable inconvenience. Molten metals are harmful if they are inhaled but they are not harmful in sewage. Because the sludge at the bottom did not penetrate the skin and was not eaten by workers it was only a mild hazard. The assessment must be balanced. The word "chemical" often leads to fear that may not be justified. However, if a developer wants quick action and council is unaware of contaminants, the situation may still be dangerous, despite EPA expertise and appropriate processes.
The Government must be willing to resource the EPA to enable it to examine various sites and ensure that even unreported sites are covered under the regulatory system. Many experiments must be undertaken with regard to treatment. Even the awareness of the presence of contaminants can be a problem because it is expensive to test everything, and tests must be conducted according to a grid pattern, using a large number of samples that include various depths. Also, unless specific tests are carried out, certain contaminants may not show up in the samples. If contaminants are present, the next question is how they should be treated, such as removing soil, capping or heating to make the contaminants volatile and thus chemically destroy them. The level of heating is important.
One clever idea in the past was to use sewage sludge and fly-ash from coke ovens of the former Electricity Commission to make bricks. The sludge and fly-ash were heated in the new designer bricks, but they were not heated to the right temperature. The smell that emanated from the sludge was appalling and the entire building and the project were abandoned. One chemist told me that if the bricks had been heated a few more degrees the volatile material would have been destroyed and the process would have worked. It may be far less toxic to heat large amounts of soil than to leave the substance there because the treatment phase will have an adverse effect on surrounding residents. The solution is not simple.
I well remember a contaminated site in Mortlake where upper middle managers directed that everything be tested. That task was almost impossible because it is necessary for some testing to be undertaken immediately after exposure because of the short time it takes for organic volatiles to go through the body, and inorganic material is expensive to test in large numbers. These men were supervisors who occasionally visited the site to obtain samples. The blue-collar workers, who drove the bulldozers for days on end, were not tested because they were subcontractors. Workers on contaminated sites must take extreme care and use their expertise.
I read the report on the Union Carbide chemical site at Rhodes. Rhodes Peninsula is in close proximity to the railway line and would be a valuable asset for developers. The sites have different contaminants because of their varying industrial history. There were also numerous contaminated sites in Botany, and I know that the Greens have referred to the movement of aquifers in response to contaminants. Obviously, organic volatiles remain a significant problem because they leach into the environment, that is, petroleum derivatives that turn into gases.
Capping is all very well but it assumes that the contaminants will not get through the gap, a matter of long-term concern. They should be carefully regulated and adequately supervised. I well remember the fiasco of the oil spillage at the terminal at Greenwich. I asked about the level of benzene because the company had been inundated with thousands of phone calls about the smell. I was assured that there was no benzene in the environment. However, I was told that the level had been measured at Rozelle, but the wind had been blowing in a southerly direction, which means it had been measured from upwind. I was then assured that the benzene level had been measured thoroughly, but that was four days after the spill, by which time all the gases had blown away.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Did you live near there? That would account for the smell of fuel.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: Yes, I lived only a few hundred metres, as the crow flies, from the oil spill. I noticed it and was one of the many people who rang up about it. Long-term studies must be undertaken to determine the effect of toxicity on people and whether it is cumulative. The best research in this case usually comes from Scandinavia, which has cards that allow work histories to be compared with long-term medical histories. I was in favour of the protections provided by an Australian card because such a card would allow people to follow the long-term effects of certain contaminants and the level of their toxicity. Usually, if the clusters of diseases are not short term, the people have scattered to the four winds—
The Hon. Michael Egan: You would not support a computer chip in our necks, would you?
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: In your neck, perhaps. The need for good epidemiological data is a strong argument in favour of following health systematically with adequate privacy considerations, but that is not an issue for today. Another important issue is that often developments must be on stilts with a carpark underneath so that any volatiles coming off can disperse into the air. So the EPA needs the resources to identify and supervise. Rather than hear Government members making cynical remarks about microchipping—which usually only happens to dogs, but treasurers might fit in—it would be nice to hear them say, "We promise to adequately resource the EPA so that it does not have only one site measuring benzene levels", as happened when the oil spilt.
The idea of a site auditor is good. However, to reduce the potential for corruption, it may be good to have a reservoir of public servants with expertise who can keep the process and the resources of the tests—in other words, what tests are done and where they are done—entirely transparent. That would enable independent industrial hygienists from local activist groups or local resident groups with valid concerns to look at the data, see what has been done and compare that to what they might think is world's best practice and the history of the sites as they know them. The Waste Management Authority has been in the business of taking wastes and burying them, rather than having a preventive approach to the creation of waste. That unsophisticated approach, which has involved large amounts of landfill, especially around the Sutherland area, may create problems for the future. We need a preventive component to contaminating lands, as well as old industrial sites along the harbour, which are getting all the attention at present. Another point is that we need a whole-of-life register for chemicals. A chemical would be registered from the time it is produced and the data would include how it is used and how it is disposed off.
The Hon. Michael Egan: Not every chemical, surely?
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: No, not every chemical but the ones that are toxic. I remember that when I worked for Sydney Water a large number of water board workers became quite ill after digging a trench in the northern beaches area; more than a decade previously the land had been sprayed heavily against mosquitoes with organochlorine pesticides. However, there was no register of that spraying. So chemicals persist in the environment for a very long time. That is a simple, practical example of what can happen. As I said, this bill is a step in the right direction but I have some caveats on the way things need to be managed. The bill can be improved. I hope that in the future the Minister, rather than talk to someone else, will listen and look at what changes can be made.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [9.13 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. It is important to clarify that this bill is not in response to laxity or any problems with the auditors scheme. It is simply the case that during the period of operation of these provisions of the Act the Environment Protection Authority [EPA] has observed that there are areas where the provisions could potentially be tightened. I should stress that the EPA advice is that to date it is not aware of any of the frightening circumstances raised by the Opposition, and that the operation of the site auditors scheme has been successful. I thank the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans for his contribution. He noted that the investigation and identification of contamination can be very expensive. It also goes to the issues raised by the Opposition, which evidently believes that the EPA should be bearing the costs of investigating and certifying contamination. The Government embraces the polluter pays principle. Is the Treasurer happy with that?
The Hon. Michael Egan: Yes.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: The site auditors scheme is designed to ensure that the polluter, not the community of New South Wales, bears the cost of investigating and certifying remediation. I think most citizens agree with the Government on this point. Once again I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Mr IAN COHEN [9.16 p.m.]: I move Greens amendment No. 1:
No. 1 Page 4, schedule 1 , line 29. Insert "appointed on the nomination of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW Incorporated" after "groups".
This amendment corrects an anomaly in the Act. The Act as it currently stands only provides for generic representation of community environmental groups on the accreditation panel. However, it is now standard practice for community environmental group representatives to be appointed on the nomination of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales. This is because the Nature Conservation Council is the State's peak environmental organisation with more than 130 member groups and individual supporters from across New South Wales, and it has played a leading role in the New South Wales conservation movement since 1995. This amendment therefore ensures that the community environmental group representative on the Contaminated Sites Auditor Accreditation Panel is appointed on the nomination of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [9.17 p.m.]: The Government does not oppose the amendment.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE [9.17 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr IAN COHEN [9.18 p.m.]: I move Greens amendment No. 2:
No. 2 Page 5, schedule 1 , lines 11 and 12. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(5) A member of the accreditation panel holds office for such period (not exceeding 5 years) as is specified in the member's instrument of appointment, but is eligible (if otherwise qualified) for re-appointment.
This amendment corrects another anomaly in the Act—that is, that members of the Contaminated Site Auditor Accreditation Panel hold office for an unlimited period of time. As it is now standard practice for terms of office to be limited, this amendment will therefore limit the term of office for members of the accreditation panel to five years. However, the amendment is not meant to, and does not, preclude people from serving on the panel for more than five years. The EPA will be able to reappoint members for further terms if they are eligible and qualified. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Minister for Justice, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [9.18 p.m.]: The Government does not oppose the amendment.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE [9.19 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 1 as amended agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported from Committee with amendments and passed through remaining stages.