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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8670


Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (16:19): Before I introduce some remarks of substance in this debate, I really should address the opening comments by Senator Brandis, which coloured the entirety of his contribution. My memory is that he accused my colleague Senator Feeney of a 'formulaic denunciation of the Greens', meaning that every time there is a debate on there is a faux attack on the Greens and that it has no heart and no substance. That is my understanding of Senator Brandis's comments.

Let us test the veracity of that proposition. I think to myself, 'How does one test the veracity of the proposition that the Australian Labor Party has been engaged in a formulaic denunciation of the Greens—a pretend denunciation?' There is a way to do it. Senator Brandis, as we all know, was a member of the front bench of the former coalition government. And since the coalition have been in opposition he has constantly been in a senior position on the shadow front bench. He is one of those key people involved in the internal processes of his party who gives advice, sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected—and properly so—by their leader.

After the last election, of course, the results are known: the Australian Labor Party and the Greens Party are in some sort of arrangement. Whether that be de facto or de jure it does not matter; it is an arrangement where your support is guaranteed on the floor of the House. But, of course, before those negotiations were completed a similar set of identical negotiations was entered into by Senator Brandis's leader, Mr Abbott—with the full knowledge of the frontbench at that time to enter into a negotiated agreement—so that the Greens could be a partner with the Liberal Party if they should be a government. So that is the first test that I suggest we use.

The second test of objective reality, which Senator Brandis also well knows but chooses to ignore, is what is going on at this very moment in this very Territory in Civic, because there is a round of negotiations, engaged in by the eight Labor elected Territory representatives and the one Green elected Territory representative, in an attempt to form a majority government. But, gee whiz, there is also another set of negotiations going on, and I see my Green colleagues at the other end of the chamber nodding knowingly and the coalition ignoring the nodding. We have the eight elected Liberal Party coalition Territory members engaged in a similar set of negotiations, Senator Brandis, so that they can be part of a government, so that they can be in alliance with the Greens in the ACT. Everyone in this chamber knows it, so your description of formulaic denunciation by Senator Feeney really does sound a bit hollow and really does run a bit thin.

Having established that, let me now turn to the substance of the motion that has been brought to us by Senator Ludlam. I will not read it all out, because we know what it says, but when I examine some of the key words—'illegal', 'toxic', 'deficient' and 'capacity'—I am reminded of debates that I was involved in—30, 35 or perhaps 40 years ago when I was starting out as a very junior official—in various forums in South Australia and Western Australia. Always in those days there were debates about uranium—value-adding, export and transport—and those who opposed uranium mining, uranium transport, uranium export and indeed uranium value-adding always used the same words that are in this motion today.

Nothing has changed: fear, threat, possible Armageddon and health concerns, all of which has been addressed over at least the last 30 years by the successful use of technology. The 'solution' then was the same 'solution' as now outlined by Senator Waters: close down the mines, stop the exportation, don't develop, don't share, don't spread the technology and don't participate. Well, it did not work then and it does not work now. Indeed, I remember those debates well. Often I think I was a minority of me in those debates at various forums. But after a while other people started to understand the wisdom, and the minority of me became a minority of some; and now it is a minority of nearly all of us and we, one of the partners in this alliance, do invite the Greens to come forward into the modern age and use technology in a proper safe way to exploit uranium and even perhaps get—instead of US$131 a pound or the US$48 a pound that Senator Waters referred to—thousands of dollars a pound by value adding and having a refined product. Your party is in favour of value-adding and of going up the value chain—and that would be a useful thing. I issue that invitation to the Greens and I know they will give it mature and proper consideration, because they always say they do. But if they do not we are clearly able to forecast their future because of those four that became one a week or 10 days ago here in the ACT; and the same thing is going to happen to three of their senators at the next election because they will be replaced by Labor Party twos or threes or perhaps coalition threes or fours. So the invitation is there, we would welcome you to come forward and we would welcome your contribution.

In this discussion on the export of uranium what are the real issues? What are the real issues involved in nuclear exports to India? What does the Australian government say? We say Australian uranium sales to any country, including India, but particularly India in the case of this debate, are subject to strict framework agreements and guarantees of safeguards and safe handling. These may potentially include safeguards on handling and security of radioactive material, restrictions on re-export and guarantees of use for peaceful purposes.

Why is it important that we engage properly, fully and sympathetically with the government of India on the issue of a safeguards agreement attached to the export of uranium from this country? What do we know? We know that about 40 per cent of the Indian people currently live below the poverty line. Forty per cent in a population of 1.1 billion or 1.2 billion is something approaching 450 million or 500 million people, and it is really inconceivable, given those sorts of figures, that almost half a billion people of India's population live below the poverty line. Over the next decade that population figure is expected to grow past China's and go to a population of 1.5 billion and if the issues of poverty are not addressed that means we will have, on an ongoing basis, almost 700 million people living in poverty in that subcontinent.

With that sort of population growth in India its rates of energy consumption are almost the fastest in the world. The WEO estimates that India's demand for energy may double in the next 25 years. If they are serious about growth and if they are serious about shifting some of those 500 million—or even 700 million—people out of poverty to a reasonable standard of living, the rate of demand for energy will not double but triple. So you have to ask the obvious question: do we say to those half a billion or so people, 'You shall remain poor forever and you shall remain without forever, but your cousins in China may go up the value chain and improve their standard of living while you'—the 500 million or 700 million Indians—'may not'? The absolute critical precondition for those 500 million or 700 million people lifting themselves out of poverty is access to power and access to sources of power generation. With all the goodwill in the world, alternative sources of energy, as currently understood and as currently used and as forecast to grow and improve over the next 25 years, are not going to have an iota of significance in delivering power to those 500 million or 700 million people—not water, not hydro, not coal or all the other alternative sources. So the power to lift people out of poverty has to come from somewhere, and it comes from assistance by countries like—(Time expired)