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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1391


Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (18:40): I rise to offer some remarks in relation to the South Australian government's recently announced royal commission to explore a potentially expanded role for South Australia in the nuclear fuel cycle. First, let me say clearly and without reservation that the royal commission is good news for South Australia, and I congratulate Premier Weatherill and the South Australian Labor government—

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator EDWARDS: yes—for this initiative. It is fitting that you are in here, Senator Birmingham—through you, Mr Deputy President—to hear this. It is no minor thing for a Labor Premier to defy his party's historical position on nuclear matters, not to mention his own views as previously expressed, so I applaud his pragmatism.

South Australia is an economy in desperate need of a circuit-breaker. Its government has delivered six deficits in seven years and tried to tax its way to prosperity. We have a net debt projected to rise to $14 billion in 2016, with total liabilities exceeding $28 billion, and we consistently achieve mainland Australia's highest unemployment rate. Now South Australia is the highest taxed state in the country too. This is unsustainable. Any number of traditional and unorthodox approaches have been tried by government, and yet here we are. No number of small bars and festivals will save our state.

What my state needs are innovative champions to drive economic prosperity. South Australia needs a point of difference, one which attracts business, industry and jobs. While South Australia benefits enormously from the export of energy resources, we need to develop innovative policies that attract the investment required to continue to grow this sector and the economy more broadly.

North America is in the midst of an unconventional energy boom which has transformed the US economic landscape and energy self-sufficiency. Cheap energy has kick-started the American economy, and it has helped reduce their carbon footprint, all in five years. Expanding shale gas production in the US, the development of tar sands in Canada and the accelerating development of wind and solar power have unsettled global energy markets.

The opportunity for South Australia to develop a nuclear energy industry, manage waste and fully exploit other relevant opportunities in the nuclear fuel cycle is a real one. What we need are champions to drive it. In the course of the royal commission, we must ask ourselves: how do we generate an economic renaissance for South Australia? And what will the defining reason for industry to come to South Australia and bring the jobs with it be? Make no mistake: the royal commission can provide the answers to these questions if we are willing to listen.

I put on the record that I for one am listening. I look forward to advocating federally and in a bipartisan spirit on behalf of the people of South Australia and in the interests of our state with respect to the opportunities that are presented by the royal commission.