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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 9 Hansard (31 August) . . Page.. 2653 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

(5) The Authority shall remove an entry from the register for an order under subsection 91C(1) within 60 days after receipt of an audit of assessment under section 91C in relation to that entry unless the Authority has, within that period, made an order under subsection 91D(1) or 125(1A).".

These two amendments address the key part of this Bill, which is the establishment of the register of contaminated sites. At present the Bill only includes on the register those sites for which an assessment, remediation or environment protection order is currently in place. However, once the order has been completed or revoked, then the site is removed from the register. This approach is much less comprehensive than the New South Wales and Queensland contaminated sites registers, which include details of former or released contaminated sites as well.

The point was made by the Environmental Defenders Office in its submission to the committee that the public has a legitimate concern about contamination of land and a right to know where it may have occurred and to be involved in its management. As the ACT is bordered by New South Wales, if contamination were to be found in a border area, the New South Wales public would have greater rights to notification and involvement than the ACT public. As I have already said, it is a fundamental application of the precautionary principle. We know from experience that, as scientific understanding of contaminates increases, we find out after the fact that a particular contaminant has a particular impact. It is for that reason that it is very important that there be some record of where contamination has occurred. If we do not have that record, then it puts a greater burden on the future citizens of the ACT to try to track where contaminates have been.

The argument from government is that this is going to stigmatise the land. Once again, this is about saying clearly that the ACT believes that we have to have a very high regard for basic principles. Mr Smyth has publicly stated on several occasions that he does support the precautionary principle. In response to the argument that I put at the in-principle stage, he said that the Government does not agree; that that is not an argument. He needs to explain why the precautionary principle should not be applied here. It is not good enough just to say that he does not agree.

The government response to the committee inquiry was that a balance needs to be struck between the community's right to know and the potential for unjustified stigmatisation of land that has been assessed as not contaminated. As I said, I believe that our register should be more consistent with registers in other States. I believe that even if a site has been cleaned up to current standards there is always the possibility that these standards may change in the future as more information on the impacts of toxic chemicals comes to light. It is important that we have a consistent and ongoing register of all current and former contaminated sites so that we do not lose track of the history of these sites in the future.

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