The Dangerous Substances Act was passed in 1972 to amend and up-date the law relating to explosives, petroleum and other dangerous substances—as identified by statutory instrument—and gave considerable powers to the Minister for Labour to make regulations concerning them.
These powers have not so far been exercised because, in 1972, the Government had to use the 1875 Explosive Act to prescribe ammonium nitrate, sodium chlorate and nitro-benzene to be explosives for the purposes of that Act. These substances were believed to be in use for the making of bombs.
The 1972 Act could not be used to control the criminal use of explosives. An undertaking was given at the time of the passing of the Act that it would not be used in the criminal area. Further, the three substances mentioned could not be regarded as explosives within the meaning of the 1972 Act.
By means of the Bill now before the House I intend to operate those parts of the 1972 Act which relate to petroleum and other dangerous substances, leaving the legal position with respect to explosives as it is for the present, that is the Minister for Justice will continue to control this area.
In anticipation of bringing the Act into operation in this way, last autumn I gave notice of intention to make four sets of regulations regarding petroleum and invited observations from interested parties. These observations have been received and considered and where appropriate will be reflected in the regulations.
These petroleum regulations and the Act will operate from the same date. It is my intention that by virtue of these regulations the risks to persons and property in the conveyance, loading, unloading and storage of petroleum should be reduced to the absolute minimum if not entirely eliminated.
In addition, I intend to introduce regulations to cover the transport by road of other dangerous substances which I shall specify, also by regulation. Further regulations will control their loading, unloading and storage. I may mention that I propose to start by declaring by order 25 substances as dangerous, adding further substances as time goes on.
Section 2 of the Bill provides for the establishment of an advisory council. I am sure Senators are well aware of the many interests involved in the area of dangerous substances including workers, employers and the public. The volume, number, variety, dispersal and use of these substances have brought them to almost everybody's doorstep and there is an urgent need for indentifying them and providing information on the dangers, precautions and protective measures relating to them. I am satisfied that an advisory body could be of great assistance in these areas. The 1972 Act did not provide for such a body and in this Bill I propose to fill the gap. Maximum flexibility is necessary and section 2 should enable me to obtain the best advice on all aspects of the safe movement, handling and storage in this country of dangerous substances.
I commend the Bill to the House.