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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 2371

Uranium Mining

(Question No. 337)


Senator Ludlam asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 6 December 2010:

With reference to the proposed new treaty with China for precedent sale of Australian uranium in bulk (copper) concentrates:

(1) Is it proposed that a new treaty, rather than an amended treaty, be negotiated with China to provide for precedent sale of Australian uranium in bulk (copper) concentrates, with intended processing of that uranium into nuclear fuel; if so, is this process being undertaken by the Australian Government at the request of BHP Billiton to facilitate proposed sales from the proposed Olympic Dam new open pit mine of a uranium-infused bulk copper concentrate, with intended processing of that uranium into nuclear fuel in China.

(2) When, and how recently, have negotiations with China occurred since this treaty process began.

(3) Given that the Australian Prime Minister has recently called on China to release the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo from jail in China, will his case and human rights issues be raised in these treaty negotiations; if not, why not.

(4) What potential is recognised for inclusion of human rights and democracy clauses in the proposed new treaty with China, including for the protection of whistle blowers on uranium and nuclear issues.

(5) Will consideration be given to these clauses in the treaty Agreement to be 'conditional clauses' giving Australia the potential to suspend the Agreement if a breach of the relevant conditions has taken place; if not, why not.

(6) Does the Minister recognise the potential to call for the release of a prominent nuclear whistleblower currently jailed in China, Sun Xiaodi and his daughter Sun Dunbai, and to make this call for their immediate release a condition on any continued negotiations on the proposed nuclear treaty.

(7) Given that BHP Billiton recently reported its intention to double the intended scale of production at the proposed Olympic Dam new open pit mine from 1.6 million tonnes to 3 million tonnes per annum (see 2009 draft Environmental Impact Statement on Olympic Dam):

(a) what ramifications does this have for the proposed treaty;

(b) what ramifications does this have for proposed transport by rail through Central Australia and Alice Springs and out of the Port of Darwin;

(c) what ramifications does this have for processing arrangements in China;

(d) what processing facilities in China are intended to receive this concentrate;

(e) what is the ownership or other commercial arrangements intended for these facilities between the Chinese Government and BHP Billiton;

(f) what will be happen with the resultant wastes, including long-lived bulk radioactive wastes, left in China each year from this proposed arrangement;

(g) can the Minister confirm that Australia (via BHP Billiton) would be dumping at least 1.2 million tonnes of radioactive mining wastes in China each year, and up to 2.2 million tonnes if the BHP Billiton proposed increase in scale of Olympic Dam new open pit mine operation goes ahead; and

(h) does the Minister acknowledge that these wastes, or some proportion of these wastes, are to be classified as Australian obligated nuclear material (AONM) and to how much of the total volume of resultant wastes would AONM status apply


Senator Conroy: The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) ASNO has commenced negotiations on an agreement to amend (or supplement) Annex D of the Australia/China nuclear transfers agreement, to facilitate BHP Billiton's plan to export copper concentrates to China. The amendment would be designed to ensure any uranium extracted from copper concentrates would be subject to provisions of the Australia/China nuclear transfers agreement.

(2) The one and only negotiation was held in Beijing in January 2009.

(3) No. The Government's view is that linking human rights to trade issues is counter-productive. Liu Xiabo's case was raised in the 13th Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue held in Beijing on 20 December 2010.

(4) The Government's view is that linking human rights to trade issues is counter-productive.

(5) Refer to response to question 4.

(6) The Government's view is that linking human rights to trade issues is counter-productive. Sun Xiaodi and Sun Dunbai's cases were submitted as cases of concern for the 13th Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue held in Beijing on 20 December 2010.

(7) (a) The Australia-China nuclear transfers agreement is not affected by BHP Billiton's production volumes.

(b) Any increases in transport by rail would be carried out in accordance with existing regulatory requirements.

(c) This is a matter for China and the commercial entities involved to consider.

(d) This is a matter for China and the commercial entities involved to consider.

(e) This is a matter for China and the commercial entities involved to consider.

(f) This is a matter for China to manage under its domestic laws and arrangements and the commercial entities involved.

(g) Australia would be exporting copper concentrates, not waste.

(h) Australia would be exporting copper concentrates, not waste. Uranium extracted from the copper concentrate would be classified as AONM and would be covered by the Australia-China nuclear transfers agreement.