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Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Page: 58

Senator BARTLETT (3:58 PM) —I only have five minutes to speak to the specific motion before us but there are a few points I do want to emphasise in that short time. The immediate motion is whether or not the Senate should suspend standing orders to debate Senator Milne’s motion about the need to rule out categorically exporting uranium to a country that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as India, and that that is sufficiently urgent to take precedence over everything else. I would like to think that all of us in this chamber would believe that the need to reduce the threat of nuclear arms proliferation is something that should take pretty high precedence.

The other aspect is the substance of the motion itself. We have had a number of debates in this place over a long period of time—and Senator O’Brien alluded to this—about the problem of being given a black-and-white, take it or leave it, stand-up, hands-up, hands-down motion. I will read with interest what Labor’s alternative motion is. I appreciate that this mechanism can lead to point scoring and opportunities for everyone to create their own little wedges. That is unfortunate. I do not think it is appropriate to use the debate to take shots at Peter Garrett or anybody else, but that should not negate how crucial this issue is. It should not negate the real danger we face, not just from uranium but from the fact that, for all the talk about the problems of weapons of mass destruction, tackling terrorism and security issues, the globe has gone backwards in the last few years in weakening and ignoring the mechanisms that have been painstakingly put in place over decades to try and reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

It is pivotal that we are having a debate in this country at the moment about whether we should expand uranium mining—and that is controversial enough in itself. For the Democrats, it is pretty much an article of faith. I think the first policy our party ever adopted was to be categorically opposed to uranium mining, so not surprisingly we are not going to shift our position. But let us have that debate and let us have it on the basis of facts. If I could give a tip—maybe I should not be giving a tip to those who want to support expanding uranium mining—one thing you should do is to rule out any possibility that expanding uranium mining will mean that uranium will end up in the hands of countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I believe that sort of danger alone provides a cut and dried end of the argument and is sufficient to rule out any further export of uranium.

Under no circumstances should we be setting up our own little personal agreements and going outside the already gradually weakening international agreements that have been put in place. The United States is doing that already with India. I think it is a serious problem, and I think it is a real problem that the Australian government has not spoken out about that. If we want to debate exporting uranium and all the energy issues, let us have a debate around that. We have to categorically make clear that at a minimum the existing protections about the possibility of uranium being used for further nuclear weapons development are ruled out. There are enough problems already with existing guidelines. I urge not just the Labor Party but the government, and indeed all people involved in this debate—the mining industry and everybody—about uranium and energy and all of those things, to use it as a chance to reaffirm the importance of the existing protections and the need to strengthen those protections.

Senator Lyn Allison, the Democrats leader, is not here participating in this debate because she is going to the United States to participate in a debate in the US congress about the imminent expansion of weapons into space and the weapons arms race expanding into space. The US government is talking about developing guidelines for first strikes with nuclear weapons. These are serious times and the minimum we should be doing as a Senate is looking for opportunities, firstly, to recognise the urgency and, secondly, to make crystal clear the need to move much more strongly to regain the momentum about reducing the arms race, particularly the nuclear arms race. So this is urgent. In the absence of any other moves for this debate to happen in the parliament, then the Democrats support this. (Time expired)

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Milne’s) be agreed to.