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Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Page: 71

Senator MARK BISHOP (2:50 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan in her capacity representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the minister aware that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty contains the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by nuclear weapons states? Doesn’t the government’s decision to approve the sale of Australian uranium to India, which has not signed the NPT, fundamentally undermine the effectiveness of the treaty to limit the spread of more nuclear weapons? Doesn’t the decision by the Howard government help create an international precedent to sell uranium to other non-NPT signatory countries, such as Pakistan?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Thank you to Senator Bishop for the question. So far as I am aware, the Australian government has not yet made an announcement about whether and when and in what circumstances it would consider providing uranium to India. Mr Downer has made it very clear that, if Australia were to export uranium to India, it would first be subject to a nuclear safeguards agreement. Mr Downer has consistently made the point that we would have to negotiate a bilateral safeguards agreement before Australian uranium exports to India could proceed. I listened very carefully to Mr Downer’s statements made on Lateline last night. He said:

… if we were to export uranium to India, we would have to negotiate a nuclear safeguards agreement with India.

He said that we would only supply uranium if effective legally binding safeguards were in place pursuant to a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and a bilateral safeguards agreement. Those safeguards would ensure that Australian uranium would be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and could not contribute in any way at all to any military purpose.

Australia has welcomed the conclusion of the United States-India negotiations on the text of a bilateral civil nuclear agreement. The reason for that is that India will be brought more fully into the non-proliferation mainstream through the separation of its civil and military nuclear facilities and the expanded application of the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. India will be in a better position to increase its use of nuclear power to pursue economic development and assist in the fight against global climate change.

The strengthening of the strategic relationship between the United States and India, which I understand the Labor Party supports, is very much in our interest. It is likely that Australia would support a United States proposal to create an exception for India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, subject to the new safeguards arrangements in India being more satisfactory from a non-proliferation perspective. NSG—Nuclear Suppliers Group—members have not yet been asked to make a formal decision on the issue.

Senator Bishop asked about Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s past proliferation record the government would not consider a bilateral safeguards agreement with Pakistan. Australia is in the vanguard of pushing for initiatives to ensure that Australia’s uranium can only be used for peaceful purposes. The uranium export policy has been in place for 30 years and is already recognised as among the world’s strictest.

Senator MARK BISHOP —I have a supplementary question arising out of the minister’s response and her reference to discussions with the United States government. Can the minister confirm that there have been discussions between the Prime Minister and the United States President, Mr Bush, about providing Australian uranium to the United States so that it can provide more enriched uranium to countries like India?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Obviously I am not privy to conversations that the Prime Minister may or may not have had with the President of the United States about the topic nominated by Senator Bishop. I will get some information and refer it to the Senate.