Comments on Industrial Chemicals Bill 2017


October 17, 2017

I rise to speak on this package of industrial chemicals legislation. I’ll keep my remarks brief, but I was moved to participate in this debate as some elements of the bills which relate to animal welfare are quite significant and, I believe, warrant acknowledgement.

As previous speakers have touched on, including the member for Makin, the Industrial Chemicals Bill 2017 and related bills establish the legislative framework for the Australia Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme, which will replace the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme. The latter scheme, NICNAS, is currently responsible for regulating the introduction of industrial chemicals in Australia, whether by importation or manufacture. Under the new scheme, a risk based approach to the regulation of industrial chemicals will be implemented. Significantly, this means that there will be less emphasis on pre-introduction assessment of lower-risk new chemicals and a greater focus on post-introduction evaluation and monitoring. Whilst the government is telling us that this approach will enable the regulator to focus on higher-risk chemicals and that it will encourage businesses to use lower-risk chemicals, I think greater assurance is needed as to whether the right balance has, in fact, been struck.

These reforms are extremely complex, and much of the technical detail will be enacted through regulations yet to be drafted. But there are a number of concerns as to whether the reduction in cost to businesses has been prioritised over health and environmental outcomes. The process that has brought this bill to the House for consideration is also extremely concerning, from our perspective, given that the bills were introduced whilst consultation was still ongoing. Even stakeholders from industry, who are broadly supportive of the bill, accept that further consultation will be needed, and many have highlighted technical concerns which still need to be resolved.

As we’ve heard from the previous speakers in the debate, the bills were referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee. The Senate inquiry process was going to be rushed as well, with the closing date for submissions being a mere seven days after the opening date. Given the complex nature of these bills, this narrow time frame for consultation was manifestly inadequate, and I’m pleased that the Labor senators were successful in their push for extensions of time for submissions and to for enough time to be allowed for a public hearing to be held. During those public hearings, a wide range of stakeholders, including unions and health and environmental groups, all flagged significant concerns. These related mostly to the focus on the reforms on the reduction of red tape and the failure to convince them that, in pursuing this reduction in red tape, health and environmental outcomes would not be compromised.

One area of particular concern to my constituency in the electorate of Wills has been the apparent loopholes in this proposed legislation identified by a number of animal-welfare groups, which is, to be direct, well below the standards set by the Ethical Cosmetics Bill 2016, which Labor introduced over a year ago. The animal-welfare sector raised these concerns—specifically, that the ban on the use of animal-test data for cosmetics has been drafted to be very narrow. In its current form, it seemingly contains a loophole which would allow animal-test data to be used where industrial chemicals are introduced for multiple end use. I’m pleased to note that Labor intends to introduce several amendments to tackle significant stakeholder concerns and improve these bills, in particular in relation to the animal-welfare concerns that have been raised. Labor’s amendments will ensure that the cosmetics animal-testing ban applies to all introductions for cosmetic use, thereby closing the loopholes that I’ve referred to.

There are a number of further amendments we propose to move. They include requiring an annual post-introduction report with the name, volume and date of introduction of the industrial chemical for chemicals introduced via the exempted introduction category. Labor notes assurances given by the minister that the government will continue the work of the regulator to evaluate unassessed chemicals on the register and to ensure that the regulator tracks and reports on the status of actions taken by risk managers in response to recommendations from the regulator. We believe that our package of amendments will not be onerous on industry but will actually provide a more balanced approach with better health, environment and animal-welfare protections.

It is important to highlight that the government has dropped the ball in prosecuting the case for these reforms. While this type of legislation can be complex and often quite exhausting to examine, it is of the utmost importance that the legislation is passed in an acceptable form, given that the consequences of failure in the chemical regulatory system can be extremely severe.

I commend to the House the amendments moved by the member for Makin, which recognise the concerns relating to cosmetic testing on animals and go some long way to reshaping this legislation with due consideration to the concerns raised by all of the stakeholders.