This National Profile has been prepared to assess AustraliaÕs national
infrastructure for the management of chemicals. It has been based on
information gathered from government, as well as from the industry,
community groups and research bodies. Because it is the first such
profile to be prepared, the main emphasis has been on explaining
AustraliaÕs infrastructure from the national perspective, although some
information on the role played by State and Territory governments has
also been included.
The profile has addressed a number of key questions, as indicated below.
One dominant theme to emerge from examining these issues is that
AustraliaÕs chemical management infrastructure has undergone
considerable change and innovation over the last decade. The changes
reflect priorities identified by governments, particularly in relation to
more consistent national approaches, avoidance of duplication and
enhanced protection for workers, the public and the environment. Many
of the key laws for administering chemicals have only been enacted
within the past decade.
The key questions addressed by the National Profile are set out below.
What is the landscape affecting Australia’s chemicals
As Chapter 1 explains, understanding the landscape from an
environment, economic, political and social viewpoint is an important
factor in considering AustraliaÕs chemicals management profile.
AustraliaÕs ecologically unique mega-biodiversity, its strong resource
based economy reliant on mineral exploitation and agriculture, its highly
urbanised population hugging the eastern and south western coasts of an
otherwise sparsely populated continent, and its multi-level system of
government, all play a role in determining how chemicals management
has developed in this country.
AustraliaÕs governance consists of three distinct tiers of government. The
national (or Commonwealth) government is responsible for those areas
referred to it by the Constitution or by agreement with State and
Territory governments. The State and Territory governments manage all
other aspects except those devolved to local government (which manages
many of the day to day decisions of government). This political
landscape has had a major impact on how chemicals are managed in
Australia with the Commonwealth currently responsible for the
assessment of chemicals and the coordination of national chemicals
management and the States and Territories managing the control of
The social and geographic landscape has also played a part in
determining how Australia approaches its chemicals management with,
for example, our relatively infertile soils encouraging fertiliser usage and
livestock rearing (with its associated veterinary chemicals), a dry
landscape in which water quality is of central importance, the population
concentrated living in large cities creating urban pollution problems,
concern that Australia should protect its unique mega-biodiversity, and a
need to ensure our chemicals usage is managed soundly so that
AustraliaÕs export markets are preserved.
What chemicals are manufactured, imported, exported and
used in Australia ?
As Chapter 2 explains, the chemicals sector in Australia - through
manufacture and exportation, importation and consumer use - makes a
significant contribution to the domestic economy. Chemicals are used for
a wide range of purposes in Australia. Notably, Australia is a major
importer of fertilisers, a major user of pesticides and a significant export
of inorganic chemicals or minerals. These patterns reflect the importance
of AustraliaÕs minerals and agricultural sectors.
AustraliaÕs chemicals industry is primarily concerned with base chemical
manufacturing and chemical reformulation. The industry, though small
by global standards, is growing at three times the OECD average and
represents an important part of AustraliaÕs economy.
However, as important as chemicals are, information on the use of
chemicals (and their generation as emissions or waste) is currently
fragmented in Australia. Data has proved hard to obtain and is often too
aggregated to allow detailed examination. This is an area where
cooperative effort and greater consistency of approach is beginning to
occur, as discussed in ChapterÊ6.
What is Australia’s regulatory environment?
The Australian regulatory environment for chemicals management, as
explained in Chapter 4, is consistent with the political divisions noted
above. AustraliaÕs chemicals management is generally divided between
national (Commonwealth) uniform schemes of assessment or registration
and regionally (State and Territory) based schemes focusing on managing
the chemical at various stages of its lifecycle.
The other organising element in AustraliaÕs chemical management
infrastructure is the management of a given chemical by its end-use.
Thus, the approach taken is determined by whether the chemical is
intended for use in industry, agriculture, pharmaceutical medicines or
food. Together these approaches form a comprehensive chemicals
As noted earlier, most of this regulatory environment now in place has
been introduced to Australia since the late 1980s.
Assessment and registration of chemicals
Much effort has been directed in the past decade towards developing
four key schemes that together manage the assessment and/or
registration of chemicals. These four schemes correspond to the four
common applications of chemicals (agriculture, industry,
pharmaceuticals and food). In developing these schemes,
Commonwealth, State and Territory governments agreed to use
nationally uniform assessment programs, thus avoiding duplication,
decreasing costs and reducing the burden on industry.
The four national schemes are: the National Registration Scheme for
Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals; the National Industrial
Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme for industrial Chemicals;
the Therapeutic Goods Administration for pharmaceuticals; and the
Australia New Zealand Food Authority for food additives and
Management of chemicals
The changes to AustraliaÕs chemical management infrastructure over the
last decade include a large range of new State and Territory legislation
directed at improving the management of chemicals. Fields covered
include occupational health and safety (or ensuring the safe use of
chemicals by workers), environment protection, transport and waste.
The level of activity and innovation in these areas equals that at the
national level. Each State (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland,
Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania) and Territory
(Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory) has substantially
overhauled its environmental protection, occupational health and safety,
waste management and transport regimes in the past decade. This
means that in each State and Territory there is a system of chemicals
management designed to control a chemical through-out its lifecycle.
It is important to note that the National Profile, while concentrating on
the national assessment schemes acknowledges the importance of
lifecycle management of chemicals and suggests that future profiles
investigate this area in more detail.
What conclusions can be drawn?
In the period since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Australia has
implemented significant improvement in chemicals management.
One consequence of the innovation associated with these improvements
is that coordination among the various regulatory agencies has emerged
as an important aspect in maintaining effective chemicals management in
Australia. All tiers of government in Australia have responded to this
challenge but ongoing effort is required and it would be reasonable to
conclude that developing a National Profile of Chemicals Management
Infrastructure is itself an important part of improving cooperation across
programme areas in Australia.
The national profile has also identified definite limits to access to
information on chemicals use or emissions. However, it is important to
recognise that recent developments, including introduction of the
National Pollutant Inventory, show that this is a recognised problem,
with reform and debate on data access and gathering an expanding area.
Indeed, a stop press (November 1998) for this profile has been the
commitment, in the recent national election campaign of the political
parties subsequently re-elected to Government, to a ÔChemwatchÕ which
includes establishment of a database on agricultural and veterinary