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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8672


Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (16:29): It appears that the Greens need a lesson in geography. We have heard more today about Queensland then we have about India. As a senator from Western Australia, I welcome the fact that after years of dithering, the Labor Party has finally came to its senses on the question of uranium sales. Not surprisingly, as a Western Australian senator, this is particularly interesting to me because, as many would be aware, uranium is poised to become a significant element of Western Australia's resource industry. Western Australia has approximately 211,000 tonnes of uranium located across 30 separate deposits with four projects currently undergoing Commonwealth and state environmental assessment, those four projects being Cameco's Yeelirrie project, the Cameco Corporation/Mitsubishi Joint Venture at Kintyre, the Mega Uranium Lake Maitland project and the Toro Energy Wiluna project. It is worth reflecting on the figure of 211,000 tonnes as large areas of the state are yet to be fully tested by exploration. The first uranium mine is expected to be in production late next year after having been subject to what I would regard as rigorous environmental assessment processes.

Equally, I welcome the Labor government's sudden discovery of India. This government has ignored India for too long, first under Prime Minister Rudd—as we heard from my colleague Senator Brandis—whose obsession with China is well documented, and then under Prime Minister Gillard who has openly admitted she has little interest in foreign affairs. I could be unkind and suggest her ham-fisted negotiations with East Timor and Malaysia over illegal immigration suggest she has little aptitude for foreign affairs either, but that is a discussion for another day.

All the bluster from the Greens and from those in Labor who still oppose uranium sales to India overlook one simple reality: if India does not get its uranium from Australia, it will simply go elsewhere. It may well go somewhere that does not have in place the rigorous safeguards that Australia has for dealing with uranium. Australia has the strictest international safeguard agreement in the world in relation to uranium sales. Are opponents suggesting they would honestly prefer it if India went to a country that does not insist on the same high standards to source its uranium? What would that mean for the safety of the international community? Such opposition is wholly illogical but totally consistent with the head-in-the-sand approach of the Australian Greens.

It is in Australia's interests to help the world's largest democracy achieve its full economic potential. I think we would all rather deal with democracies over authoritarian regimes. Equally, it is in our national interest to pursue trading opportunities with nations that are becoming increasingly powerful in economic terms. India's economy has enjoyed rapid expansion over the past decade—not in the same league as China, but impressive nonetheless.

There were significant structural reforms made to India's economy in the 1990s: floating the rupee, dismantling trade and investment barriers and encouraging foreign investment, paying down India's external debt, and abolishing layers of bureaucratic and regulatory inefficiencies. These reforms unlocked India's economic potential and Australians should applaud it and be excited by it. As a result, the Indian economy grew on average by over six per cent per annum. That growth rate meant the economy quadrupled in size between 1991 and 2008.

Certainly, as is the case around the world, the global financial crisis beginning in 2008 had an impact. India's growth rate slowed, but there are signs of recovery. The Economist Magazine reported that India's GDP expanded at a rate of 5.5 per cent in the quarter ending June compared with the previous year. Granted, that is still at the bottom end of the growth range of the past decade in India, but it was above expectations. There is some reason to believe that this position will further improve as the Indian government implements a range of further economic reforms that will streamline processes and make it easier for development projects to get off the ground, particularly in relation to the new infrastructure that India so desperately needs.

But the lack of private sector investment is still holding India back. And part of the reason for this is that India lacks the capacity for power generation, a capacity that is desperately needed to unleash its full potential. A recent survey by India's central bank found that spending plans by private firms on large new projects dropped by almost 50 per cent in the year ending March 2012. According to India's Ministry of Power:

India needs, at the very least, to increase its primary energy supply by three to four times and its electrical generation capacity by about six times—

to achieve the growth it needs. Yet this will be difficult to achieve through reliance on coal-fired power generation alone. In fact, uncertainty surrounding the supply of coal has recently forced NTPC, India's largest power company, to drastically cut its investment levels.

This represents opportunity for Australia. The World Nuclear Association reports that India plans to expand its nuclear power capacity from under five per cent to at least 25 per cent of its total requirements by 2050. Why is it in our national interests to assist India with its electricity production? Because increasing production will drive economic growth and swell the ranks of India's middle class. A larger, wealthier middle class in India would be a boon for Australia's economy. India's population is increasingly urbanised and sophisticated. India's urban population has doubled in the last thirty years and the rapid development of tech-savvy cities like Mumbai are testament to the country's modernisation. According to the OECD:

India could witness a dramatic expansion of its middle class, from 5-10 per cent of its population today to 90 per cent in 30 years. With a population of 1.6 billion forecast for 2039, India could add well over 1 billion people to its middle class ranks by 2039.

That is an additional one billion people who will be demanding higher standard products, better quality food, and better educational opportunities, and people will be looking to travel and holiday overseas. All of these things represent a massive opportunity for the future of Australian exporters. By helping India to meet its need for power generation now thorough uranium sales to India, we will help to boost India's growth rate, lift millions who currently live in poverty out of the mire, and gain a potential one billion new consumers for Australian products and services The economic opportunity this presents is so obvious even Wayne Swan can see it, yet once again the Australian Greens come into the chamber and complain.

Ever the enemies of progress here in Australia, the Greens now want to try and impose their backward economic policies on other countries as well. The Greens, who claim to be concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and cutting pollution, want to prevent India reducing its reliance on coal for power generation. The Greens, who pose as the great humanitarians in this parliament, want to prevent the economic development that will lift millions and millions of Indian citizens out of poverty. The Greens actively seek to deny to those living in poverty a higher standard of living—all so that they and their dwindling band of supporters in comfortable, middle-class suburbs can feel morally superior. It is shameful.

The Liberal Party welcomes the Gillard government's belated decision to sell uranium to India—a process that John Howard had the foresight to initiate when he was Prime Minister, in the face of Labor's bitter opposition. By ensuring that the export of uranium to India is undertaken with appropriate safeguards in place—the most stringent safeguards of any nation in the world—we can play a vital role in assisting India to meet its full economic potential, build on the already significant trade relationship we enjoy with India and, most importantly, help those in India who want to provide a better lifestyle for themselves and their families to achieve that objective, simultaneously creating new customers for Australian goods and services.