PDF printable version of Minerals Council of Australia submission (PDF 73 KB)
03 August 2012
Department of Health and Ageing
GPO Box 9848
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Re: Minerals Council of Australia Submission to the Review of the National Industrial Chemicals Assessment Scheme (NICNAS)
The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Review of the National Industrial Chemicals Assessment Scheme (NICNAS).
As you are aware, the MCA represents over 85% of minerals production in Australia. The MCA’s strategic objective is to advocate public policy and operational practice for a world class industry that is safe, profitable, innovative, environmentally responsible and attuned to community needs and expectations.
MCA member companies are committed to continuous improvement of the management of the direct and indirect impacts of the minerals industry on the health of the workforce, the environment, and the communities in which the industry operates. The minerals industry strongly supports effective and efficient assessment and regulation of the risks arising from the application of chemicals.
MCA member companies are not primary producers or distributors of industrial chemicals. However, mining companies intersect with the NICNAS process through the use of existing and potentially new chemicals in mining and metallurgical processes and the capturing under NICNAS of mined ores and concentrates produced by the industry.
The MCA provides the attached comments on the June 2012 Discussion Paper for your consideration.
The MCA would welcome further opportunities to provide input into these important reforms. Should you have any questions regarding this submission, please do not hesitate to contact me directly on 02 6233 0627.
Assistant Director—Environmental PolicyReturn to top
Minerals Council of Australia Feedback on NICNAS Review Discussion Paper
Harmonisation and Efficiency
The MCA considers that significant overlap exists between the Commonwealth and the States/Territories and individual agencies in terms of both risk assessment and risk management. Where different jurisdictions utilise different approaches in the assessment and management of risks, this creates significant uncertainty, cost and complexity for the minerals industry and other stakeholders where this is implemented through differing regulation.
As an example, the regulation of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail is set out in State legislation that reflects the Australian Dangerous Goods Code (page 17 in discussion Paper). The Code aims to set out consistent technical requirements for the land transport of dangerous goods across Australia. However, in practice the Code is interpreted and applied differently by different States. This is particularly problematic for companies with a cross jurisdictional presence and has implications for the management of product transport between jurisdictions.
Disharmony of risk assessment, management and regulation approaches has significant operational and cost implications to business. These include potential delays and additional expense for inappropriate control measures and retrofits. Accordingly, the MCA strongly supports greater harmonisation of both risk assessment and risk management approaches at the national level.
The MCA considers that the Commonwealth role in the implementation of international agreements is important. As part of ensuring global consistency, the Commonwealth should account for and potentially adapt relevant new chemicals assessment data incorporated into major global regulation (e.g. The European Union and the USA).
Part 3—Summary of Stakeholder Submissions/Internal Review
The MCA is supportive of the key findings of the 2011 Stakeholder process detailed on page 10 of the Discussion Paper. These include the challenges of defining roles and responsibilities; lack of clarity around policy and regulation roles; duplication and inefficiency and fragmentation between state and Commonwealth regulation.
Stakeholders have suggested that NICNAS should be given the power to 'ban' chemicals (page 11 of the Discussion Paper). The MCA would caution against this approach as banning chemicals requires very careful evaluation in the context of its application and management and NICNAS may not have the appropriate industry knowledge and expertise to make this determination. In addition, many 'chemicals' have naturally occurring counterparts which may be inadvertently captured by a proposed ban. In addition, there are existing processes in place for banning chemicals, including international agreements and through domestic legislation.
Part 4—The Regulatory Framework for Industrial Chemicals
The MCA supports the views expressed on Page 17 of the discussion paper. Specifically, it is noted that there are concerns over the difficulties caused by the existing system which is costly, complex and fragmented (over 36 different Commonwealth, State and Territory 'blended' agencies are involved in policy setting and regulation), the result of which causes considerable confusion for regulators and industry stakeholders.
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Option A1—Development of an Industrial Chemical risk Assessment and Management Manual
In the short term, the MCA supports harmonisation wherever possible of risk assessment and management approaches. As part of this approach, the MCA considers that there is value in developing a manual to describe a common approach to risk assessment and management. However, it is imperative that any manual developed should provide practical, clear and science-based pathways for chemicals users. This clear guidance is also important to ensure that individual jurisdictions do not diverge from the manual’s intended application, which would lead to replication of the existing confusion.
The MCA also considers that industry and other stakeholders should be involved in the development of the manual and its methodologies. This could be undertaken through a Technical Advisory Panel of industry, Government and other Stakeholder experts.
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In the long term, the MCA supports Recommendation 4.3 of the Productivity Commission Report1
. The report recommends that the role of NICNAS should be limited to the assessment of hazards and risks. In addition, the MCA considers that NICNAS should be more strongly linked to, and supported by an appropriate agency to provide strategic policy formulation and oversight (i.e. Department of Health and Ageing—Office of Chemical Safety).
To address the long term need for the harmonisation of risk management approaches, national standards could be developed by relevant lead Commonwealth agencies (in consultation with the States/Territories) and implemented via national agreement (e.g. Intergovernmental Agreement or Standing Ministerial Council Process). Administration and regulation would then be carried out by existing regulating agencies.
Part 5—New Industrial Chemicals
As previously raised within this submission, the MCA considers that a key concern is the fragmentation of the risk assessment and management processes. Accordingly, any assessment approach developed for new industrial chemicals should aim to minimise this risk. In addition, a reformed approach should be efficient, simple in its design, and based on good science.
The minerals industry may utilise/trial a range of new chemical products as part of innovating mining operations and processing. It is important to ensure that reforms to the new industrial chemicals assessment process does not become overly restrictive, bureaucratic or costly, all of which would unnecessarily hinder opportunities for innovation.
In the assessment of new chemicals and the issuance of permits or certificates, the MCA considers it important to note that while NICNAS may have the capacity to minimise risk, the elimination of all risk is not technically feasible or achievable.
Part 6—Existing Industrial Chemicals
The Discussion Paper outlines four key reform objectives for the regulation of existing chemicals. These objectives include: streamlined assessment process, transparency in decision making, stakeholder participation in the assessment process and access to adequate information to inform assessments. The MCA supports the stated objectives of the reforms for Existing Industrial Chemicals.
It is understood that the recent introduction of the Inventory Multi-Tiered Assessment and Prioritisation (IMAP) framework is intended to meet many of these objectives for improving the assessment of existing industrial chemicals. The MCA considers that in IMAP implementation, industry engagement will be essential for understanding and managing potential risks arising from chemical use. Accordingly, the MCA would welcome opportunities to provide input into relevant assessment processes.
Option C3—Information gathering
The MCA considers that NICNAS should be open to greater collation of chemicals data. However, it is important that any new mandatory information gathering powers should be proportional to the level of risk and does not unnecessarily burden industry.
NICNAS should be sufficiently resourced to ensure it has access to new science/chemicals data where this has been utilised in regulation of industrial chemicals in other countries. However, it is important that this is done so efficiently with international data leveraged as much as possible to ensure the responsibility for providing data is not solely left to Industry.
Part 8—Other Reforms Affecting Both New and Existing Chemicals
Use of Foreign Schemes/International Assessments
The MCA considers that there is scope for adopting risk assessments undertaken by other countries; however this should not be an 'automatic' process. Assessments undertaken by other countries should be appropriately reviewed for relevance to Australian conditions and application. Where the foreign country assessment approach is not applicable, NICNAS should focus on the supporting science and undertake its own assessment, as appropriate for Australian conditions.
The MCA considers that there may be benefits to the Australian assessment approach which are not evident in the approach of many other countries (i.e. stakeholder/industry consultation). Accordingly, these factors should be also considered in the review of foreign assessments.
In terms of the international risk assessments which may be applicable to minerals industry products, risk assessments or supporting data arising from the European REACH program (i.e. information dossiers for metals) may be highly applicable to the evaluation of sector specific risks.
Chemicals in Articles
Of relevance to the minerals industry is the consideration of ores and concentrates under the NICNAS assessment process. It is not clear in the discussion paper whether these will be considered 'articles' and be managed accordingly. The MCA does not consider that the management of chemicals in articles by NICNAS is appropriate as it will overlap with other NICNAS provisions for individual chemicals.
The MCA considers that a need exists within the NICNAS governance structure for both a Strategic Advisory Committee which includes relevant decision makers from other portfolios; and Technical Advisory Committee to collate and evaluate the Advisory Group recommendations and provide advice to the Director of NICNAS.
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A full list of all 2012 submissions can be viewed at June 2012 submissions to the review of NICNAS