The Australian Greens have pledged their support for a national, mandatory and publicly available register of all nanomaterials in commercial use. This has been a past call from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the (now defunct) Australian Nano Business Forum. Yet Labor Government Innovation Minister Kim Carr has ruled out support for a register, citing nano’s economic potential. Meanwhile, despite their past emphasis on building public trust in nanotechnology oversight, Liberals and the National Party failed to answer the FOE federal election policy questionnaire.

Nanotechnology, the ‘science of the small’, has received generous funding from the past Coalition and current Labor governments alike. Yet in this election campaign the Coalition has avoided public scrutiny of their views on managing nanotechnology’s new health and environment risks, ensuring the right of workers and the public to know whether they face nano-exposure, and tackling nanotechnology’s social challenges.

In its late response to our election policy questionnaire, the Federal Labor party indicated its willingness to consider some regulatory and policy initiatives to safeguard public health from nanotoxicity risks, including a potential national mandatory register of nanomaterials in commercial use. But in an interview earlier in the day Minister Kim Carr rejected the Greens’ proposal for such a register, emphasising nanotechnology’s economic potential.

The world’s oldest scientific institution, the Royal Kingdom’s Royal Society, called in 2004 for government action to close legal loopholes that leave people and the environment exposed to nanotoxicity risks. A 2007 review conducted by researchers at Monash University identified 6 major gaps in Australia’s capacity to use existing laws to regulate nano-products. A report released this June by Safe Work Australia found that 84% of Material Safety Data Sheets issued to workers did not provide reliable information about nanotechnology’s risks, even when it comes to carbon nanotubes, some forms of which have been demonstrated to cause mesothelioma. Yet both Labor and Liberal governments have consistently rejected calls to set a timeline for reform of Australia’s regulation of nano-products and to give the public a say in whether and how nanotechnology should be developed in this country.

In response to our election questionnaire, Friends of the Earth is pleased to see that both the Australian Greens and One Nation support measures such as requiring nanomaterials to be assessed by regulators as new chemicals, ensuring mandatory labelling of nano-ingredients, providing greater funding for social research and supporting a greater role for the public in nanotechnology decision making. We are disappointed that the Australian Labor Party could not do the same. We are even more concerned that the Coalition is missing in action on nanotechnology policy.