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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2885

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(3.09) —Before the luncheon suspension I had made some comments upon the performance of the Department of Resources and Energy concerning energy conservation, conversion and exploration. The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), in his reply, remarked that I had been somewhat harsh in my criticisms. He did not in any way reply to the specifics to which I had directed myself. For example, I had said that the whole program for the conversion of government commercial fleets to liquefied petroleum gas in place of petrol had been virtually dismantled.

I also made the point that the consumption of oil in Australia is running at an increase of something just less than 2 per cent per year, whereas it was foreshadowed to be less than one per cent per year, and by contrast with the rest of the world we are profligate in its use. I pointed out that, with the decline of Bass Strait production and with the foreshadowed drop in self-sufficiency in Australia, we were in a perilous state. Therefore, I put to the Committee that in no way is it harsh for me to say that the Government's program on conservation, conversion and exploration of our energy resources is very poor. Exploration is cut in half. On the Minister's own admission, the Bureau of Mineral Resources' projection is that, to use his words, there is a 50 per cent chance that Australia will be 50 per cent self-sufficient in the early 1990s. The Minister acknowledges that that would be a drop of at least 30 per cent in production and, in terms of our necessity to import oil, would cost something like $3 billion. I simply say, without intending in any way to take up time, that far from being harsh I made the point that our failure had been in respect of a conversion to liquefied petroleum gas, in our significant real increase in the use of oil each year and the decline in exploration.

While I am on my feet, let me direct my mind to the Estimates and to the question of uranium. The Minister will recall that during the discussion on the prospective development of Coronation Hill a series of questions were directed to him regarding what would happen if, prospectively, uranium turned up in the mining. Unless I misunderstood him, he virtually said that if uranium was found, it would not be developed and that it would be put back in the ground.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Why?

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I do not wish to put words into his mouth, but that is because the policy of the Australian Labor Party is to develop only those specifics that have been set, that is, Roxby Downs and the present Ranger development. The Estimates Hansard contains the debate on this, and also the evidence on what is called the little `red book'. The little `red book', of course, sets out the picture that, contrary to what a series of Ministers and specifically the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, used to preach to us when he was the Minister, there is now a growing market for the sale of uranium. Whenever Senator Walsh was asked about this, he always fended it off by saying that there was no point in developing further uranium mines in Australia because there were no world markets. Two authorities contradicted him. One authority is the Australian Science and Technology Council report-Professor Slatyer's report-which foreshadowed a very significantly increased world market of which Australia could gain billions of dollars. The ASTEC report urged Australia to go into the wider field of the nuclear cycle. We have now also the survey of world markets. I quote from the Hansard of Estimates Committee E at page 245, where it was stated that the News Digest said:

There's been a world run-down in stockpiles of uranium needed by nuclear power stations according to the latest `red book', a study on uranium mining published every two years jointly by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I have been privileged to look at that. It shows that there is clear evidence that for the years ahead there will be opportunities for countries to seek out and get export markets for uranium. Australia is in a ludicrous position; it could not be in a more ludicrous position. The Labor Party's policy on uranium is that it will mine, mill and export uranium, but only a limited amount from Ranger and Roxby Downs, and that it will not export other uranium or development other mines. That is a purely ideological stand that is irrational because, if mining, milling and exports are right for Ranger and Roxby Downs, they are right in principle for Australia. If it is safe within the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and within our safeguards to export uranium as we are doing at this moment, then exporting more uranium must be right. How can some uranium be right but more uranium be wrong?

I could not have conceived a more ludicrous situation than the situation that emerged from the Coronation Hill examination. It may well be true that little uranium will be found at Coronation Hill, although those who know the Mount Brockman area and the escarpment and are aware of the leaching of uranium over the centuries throughout the whole of that area-the uranium province in Arnhem Land-would have to say that prospectively there is a likelihood of some uranium being found, no matter where one turned up a cubic metre of soil. Therefore, it is not a sufficient answer to say: `Well, the answer is that it is probably not prospectively significant'. Just as Roxby Downs needs uranium, gold and a few other things to make it prospective, the fact is that any mining venture, if it turned up uranium, would need to be able to freely export it. In the situation of Australia's economic crisis today it would be outrageous if there were opportunities to earn more money by exports but the Government, because of the pressure of its left wing, and for no other reason, put in place a purely irrational policy which denied the Australian people--

Senator Georges —I have got no wings.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —It is minus one in its left wing at the moment; a very happy one, too. The fact is that all the pressure should be to earn more and more in terms of exports. If it is right to export some uranium, it is right to export more uranium. In this situation we have the policies of the Labor Party being condemned and ridiculed, not by me or by the Opposition, but by substantial world authorities. Firstly, there is the ASTEC report. Can there be a more prestigious report than that of the Australian Science and Technology Council, headed by a most distinguished Australian, Professor Slatyer? That report was adopted substantially by the Government, but with this left out: There are huge new markets for Australian uranium into the 1990s which would literally yield billions of dollars of export earnings. It recommended that Australia should venture into the rest of the nuclear cycle, including, of course, enrichment. What did this Government do? It stopped a process whereby a commercial group had virtually come to the point where it was likely that Australia would go into partnership with Urenco-Centec, the big European enricher, which would have given Australia hundreds of millions of dollars more value-added for our earnings and exports. Enrichment involves no ideological difference in terms of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, because we are tightly controlled by that. There is no difference except the pressure of numbers of the Left.

Senator Crichton-Browne —And it is one of the very few metals that would have been value-added, too.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —That is right. However, let me put that aside. The International Atomic Energy Agency-the red book-says that there are new markets for the future. The Government cannot deny that today even though over the years Senator Walsh used such a denial as a pet answer because he knew that he could not fall back on the ridiculous argument that one can have some mines but not more mines. We have the completely ludicrous situation of the Minister for Resources and Energy saying quite emphatically that if there were uranium at Coronation Hill the Government would not allow it to be extracted, milled or exported even though the sale of this mineral could add millions of dollars to our export earnings and offset our balance of trade deficit because the Australian Labor Party's policy says that mining can go so far but no further.

If there is one great area in which the Australian people can seek to overcome our adverse balance of trade, it is to do what is the safe and proper thing to do-it is to do what we have pledged to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact, at this moment, we are in breach of the Treaty. Because we are retreating from obligations of the Treaty, we are likely to lose our place on the governing body of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That would be a disaster. But this could happen because we are not carrying out our responsibilities. Our duties under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are quite clear. They are to sell to other members within the Treaty under strict rules the uranium that we have. Every time a report comes out on world uranium it shows that, whilst Australia has some of the most abundant, richest and cheapest uranium in the world, we are performing poorly in terms of exports; that, whilst we have the minerals available for export, we are doing nothing about it.

I rise to speak on this matter because Australia faces an extreme balance of trade situation. We face a decline in our manufacturing industries. Yet, in the face of this, we are rejecting not only the export of yellowcake but also the establishment of an enrichment industry which could employ hundreds of people and could be value-added to what we are doing. I simply say that in my time I have not heard anything that is more illogical than that response.