Wednesday 19 October 2011 - Economics Committee
Senator LUDLAM: I have a bunch of questions, and I might put some of them on notice. Regarding COMCARE investigation 4245, which I guess you are reasonably familiar with, ANSTO alleged a denial of procedural fairness. The COMCARE review found that not to be the case. What were ANSTO's grounds for alleging a denial of procedural fairness?
Dr Paterson : COMCARE case 4245 denied ANSTO procedural fairness on a number of grounds. First of all, during the course of that investigation, from its beginning to its conclusion, 22 ANSTO staff members were named in the report. None of those staff members were afforded the opportunity of being interviewed in relation to the statements that were made in the report, which purported to represent their views. We took the view that if a report was to be done in a correct and investigatorily sound manner, it would be usual to interview people who are named in reports to determine the substantive context and the environment in which that took place. So that was one element of procedural fairness.
The second thing was that we were concerned that findings were made in the report under sections of the acts that had not been notified to us. There is a requirement in the COMCARE regulations that full and initial disclosure is required of the substantive focus of the investigation. So it was something of a surprise to us at the end to find that sections of the acts were intended to be applied, of which we had not been notified. We felt that we might have made different submissions and that if there had been proper interviews that would have been able to clarify a lot of the issues in relation to that. We have had very fruitful discussions with Comcare, and I think we agreed that investigation 4245 is now complete and concluded. They have accepted the actions we have taken as a result of that investigation, and we understand that, from their perspective, the matter is closed.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you satisfied with the final form that the review has taken?
Dr Paterson : I believe that it has come to a conclusion that will allow us to move forward in a very positive way with Comcare as our occupational health and safety regulator.
Senator LUDLAM: Obviously the gentleman who sparked the chain of events that led to these reviews lost his job in the end, despite the fact that you were quite complimentary of his actions in bringing forward the original matters. I still think there is unfinished business there, and that your original whistleblower, towards whom you were quite complimentary-
Senator Carr: This matter's before the courts, I think you'll find.
Senator LUDLAM: I believe that is all concluded.
Senator Carr: No, he has initiated other actions. As I understand it, he has taken action against the union as well. I have urged you to get a private briefing on this matter.
Senator LUDLAM: I've had various briefings on the matter.
Senator Carr: Perhaps another one wouldn't go astray.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks, Minister, for your intervention. We discussed the volume and the form of the waste resulting from the decommissioning of the Moata reactor last time. Can you confirm for me that we do not yet have a response to the question that you took on notice on that matter? Is it still up in the air?
Dr Paterson : I have just checked with my team. We do not have a record of a question on notice in respect to the volume of waste on the Moata reactor, but we are happy to take it on notice if it is now a question.
Senator LUDLAM: It was a question last time. Maybe you could fill us in a bit more, while you are here. In relation to the volume and the type of waste, can you give us an update on the process of that decommissioning?
Dr Paterson : I beg your pardon; I think we are mutually confused. We have indeed had a question about that, and we have supplied an answer. The answer is that there is 115 tonnes, about 55 cubic metres, of low-level solid waste, of which 90 per cent is low-activity concrete and 10 per cent is lightly activated steel and other metals; 12 tonnes of lightly activated graphite; and 100 grams of intermediate level waste which is in the form of stainless steel. Summarising that, it is predominantly low-level solid wastes and a hundred grams of intermediate level solid waste. I apologise for the confusion.
Senator Carr: Give the senator the number.
Senator LUDLAM: Just quote the number, if you like.
Dr Paterson : It's Hansard, 30 May 2011, E9, BI-1, I think it is.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. Are decommissioning plans for the HIFAR plant further along than since we last spoke?
Dr Paterson : The decommissioning plans are further advanced, in terms of the general ground planning, the engineering assessments and the work up of a costs. But there have been no substantive changes in the general position.
Senator LUDLAM: When do you want to initiated decommissioning? When will work actually start?
Dr Paterson : The stated target year of initiating that decommissioning, and by that I mean the actual physical decommissioning of the facility, is 2017. There have been informal discussions with the regulator to move earlier, but the current formal status is 2017.
Senator LUDLAM: ANSTO was found by a health review panel to be placing:
... considerable focus on improving the current culture of health and safety at ANSTO Health.
Can you update the committee on your efforts to implement the recommendations coming out of these various inquiries to further advance health and safety arrangements.
Dr Paterson : Chair, with your permission, I would like to table the Review of Current Health and Safety Arrangements at ANSTO Health: ANSTO's Response October 2011.
CHAIR: The committee will accept the document.
Senator LUDLAM: We will review those and leave that one there. Are you aware of the content of the June 2011 report The Department of Health and Ageing review into ARPANSA's handling of certain safety matters at ANSTO?
Dr Paterson : No. I have seen the executive summary, but I have not seen the report.
Senator LUDLAM: Has it not been provided, or has it been provided but you have not had time to review it?
Dr Paterson : We requested the report and we have been told it will not be provided.
Senator LUDLAM: That is extraordinary. It leads neatly to my next question, about why you think its release has been refused in response to freedom of information requests. If you cannot get it, I guess it is no surprise that I cannot either. What reasons were you provided for not being given that report?
Dr Paterson : The reason that we were provided was that it was not an investigation of ANSTO but a department of health internal audit review of ARPANSA, which is their instrument.
Senator LUDLAM: That is interesting. So it goes more to the operations of the regulator than it does to ANSTO.
Dr Paterson : ANSTO was not interviewed during the course of the review.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you satisfied with the reasons you were given? Have you let that matter lapse?
Dr Paterson : We are very comfortable with that process and we have no particular issues that we want to take up in respect of it. I think they should be directed at ARPANSA.
Senator LUDLAM: They are up shortly. But you did ask for the document to be provided and you were provided with an exec summary?
Dr Paterson : Yes. The reason we asked for it is that there was a reference to ANSTO.
Senator LUDLAM: I imagine there would be. Can you briefly sketch for us what goes on in building 23 A and B?
Dr Paterson : Building 23 A and B constitute, among some other minor activities, the core of our radiopharmaceutical production activities at ANSTO.
Senator LUDLAM: Minor activities-like what?
Dr Paterson : There is part of the GATRI irradiation facility offices there. There are some engineers deployed in that building, but it is predominantly our radiopharmaceutical production facility.
Senator LUDLAM: Are hazardous materials handled in either of those two buildings, or are they administrative?
Dr Paterson : Certainly in the production facility radiological materials-chemicals and other materials of that type-are handled.
Senator LUDLAM: In A or B, or both?
Dr Paterson : There is handling of those materials in both of the buildings.
Senator LUDLAM: Have there been any reported incidents of concern in either of those two buildings in the last three months?
Dr Paterson : I am not sure of the meaning of 'incidents of concern'. There are a number of incident reports that take place on an ongoing basis, as I have indicated to this committee. We encourage our staff to report all incidents, no matter what level of radiological contamination, for example, is involved. During the last period of time, staff have continued to report radiological contamination on an ongoing basis. We continue to do our health physics surveys of the area and we have continued to monitor those reports at a high level, as we were requested to by the ministerial review panel. I have not seen in the reports provided to me any matters that would warrant a change in the practices or the standard approaches that we take.
Senator LUDLAM: Could you provide us, perhaps on notice, with a summary of those reports of radiological contamination? You have made it sound as though they are fairly frequent. Is that the case?
Dr Paterson : Our target for contamination is to eliminate contamination incidents completely.
Senator LUDLAM: How many reports of radiological contamination do you get in an average month?
Dr Paterson : In a typical month we would be talking about between three and perhaps 10, if there had been a significant number in relation to particular production activities. For example, if there is contamination in one area it may affect more than one worker at different times. We can provide the summary you request.
Senator LUDLAM: I would appreciate that. Perhaps you could go back over the past three months and just hit with a highlighter pen anything that is relevant to buildings 23 A and B, if you would.
Dr Paterson : We will happily do that.
Senator LUDLAM: Much appreciated