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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8669


Senator WATERS (Queensland) (16:14): I am glad that Senator Brandis is having fun, but I am sorry to disappoint him: I am neither flea-bitten nor moth-eaten. I am very sorry about that Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: I wasn't talking about you

Senator Siewert: Were you talking about me? Scottie?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! You have the call, Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: As Senator Ludlam said, a fortnight ago Queensland's new premier, Nuclear Newman, as he shall now be known, lifted the long-standing ban on uranium mining in Queensland. This actually came as a complete surprise to me and to every other Queenslander, given that prior to the election Mr Newman had assured us that he had no plans to mine uranium—a promise that he repeated as recently as two weeks ago.

Sadly, this was just one of a number of backflips since the election, including the promise that public servants would be safe from mass sackings, that gay surrogacy laws would remain and that there were, likewise, no plans to overturn the wild river laws which limit big mines and dams in our most pristine rivers. The premier also says that he has no plans to allow mining in national parks, so I hope that these 'no plans' are different to the no plans that he had for uranium mining.

Clearly, throwing Queensland open to uranium mining is toxic, dangerous and completely unnecessary in the Sunshine State. We are still the state with the best sunshine, despite the fact that the premier has slashed funding for both small- and large-scale solar programs across the state. We tried this before: 30 years ago we closed our last uranium mine, Mary Kathleen. And it has been leaking ever since. For the last 20 years there has been an informal ban on uranium mining. I say 'informal' because, unfortunately, the state Labor government never had the guts to legislate the ban, and they permitted exploration for uranium throughout those 20 years. Clearly, they should have legislated this ban when they had the chance and stopped exploration for this toxic stuff.

Unfortunately, federal Labor has now also overturned its opposition to uranium mining so we have a unity ticket with Julia Gillard and Campbell Newman on digging up and exporting toxic, radioactive uranium. I am pleased to say that the Greens have always had a clear and consistent position on uranium, and that is that we oppose all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle—and that is nuclear, not 'nuc-u-ler', for the benefit of folk who might have been listening earlier. It is simply too risky, it is environmentally dangerous, it is economically foolish and, frankly, we have clean, green, renewable alternative energy sources that will not make the world's conflicts worse. Perhaps Senator Brandis might like to look up and notice that great energy source in the sky.

Yesterday, Premier Newman announced the membership of his new uranium mining committee—the one whose role is perhaps a little perfunctory, given that cabinet has already lifted the ban on uranium mining. The premier says that he is going to develop 'world's best practice' environmental and safety standards. But this is from the guy who has rolled back most of Queensland's environmental protection laws, so I am afraid that I lack confidence in that statement. Maybe the committee is going to start with doing the economic and employment modelling, which the premier admitted last week that he had not done despite making claims about the jobs and royalties that uranium mining would provide—now shown by his very words to be baseless. Frankly, he is just making it up as he goes along. A cursory look would show that the global price of uranium has tanked in the last five years, even before Fukushima. It is now almost one-third of what it was in 2007. It has dropped from US$138 a pound to US$43.50 a pound, and it shows no signs of recovering.

Nuclear Newman's committee might also look at the fact that Mary K is still leaking after rainfall events after 30 years. Maybe it could look at the impossibility of guaranteeing that Queensland uranium does not fill nuclear weapons? Despite the so-called safety agreements that have been bandied about in this debate, as Senator Ludlam said, there is no way that we can guarantee that our uranium simply does not free up other uranium to end up in nuclear weapons. I would like to put on record how disappointed I am that this federal Labor government is prepared to sell uranium to India, despite it not being a signatory to that non-proliferation treaty, and despite the fact that India has just killed five antinuclear activists—despite Senator Feeney's confidence in India's peacefulness.

Perhaps this new committee could look at how to store nuclear waste, which remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years? They are going to be pretty busy, really, solving all of the problems that the world's scientists have been unable to solve in the decades that we have been grappling with this problem.

One last thing in the short time that I have remaining to me is my concern that the federal Labor government is going to leave this stuff solely in Premier Newman's hands, given the COAG deal to hand over federal environment powers to the states. What a toxic and dangerous situation that will be.