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Tuesday, 30 November 1976
Page: 2987

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) -Mr Deputy Speaker,this debate encompasses the contents of two documents, the first report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry and the Ministerial statement by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) in respect to the supply of Australian uranium under existing international contracts. In fact the debate should only be upon the first report of the Ranger Inquiry but in its indecent haste the Government, within days of the presentation of this report, made a statement of policy indicating its intention to supply uranium under the existing contracts. The report of the Ranger Environmental Inquiry or the Fox Report, as it is known, is a document of international significance. One could not but be impressed by the mass of technical detail in the report and the assessment of evidence and the clear picture it provides of the international nuclear industry. The report deals carefully with the questions of nuclear proliferation, waste disposal, human safety and associated matters.

However, one must feel disappointed with the manner in which the Fox Commission has discharged its obligations to the Parliament in the terms of its findings and recommendations. In this regard the report is ambiguous and uncertain and the import of its findings and recommendations is repeatedly countered by hard opinion and conclusions written into the body of the report. I feel I am able to say that the Fox Commission has let the nation down by not providing hard recommendations to the Parliament, to the Government and to the country. Of course recommendations do not have to be accepted but it is preferable that they be made, particularly by people who, at large public expense- something like $2m in this instance- have been immersed in the complexities of the nuclear question and have had the advantage of taking evidence under oath. Nobody else in public life will have the benefits of this exposure to such a complex question. That is why I believe it is unacceptable for the Commission to say, in its recommendations and findings, that certain matters should be determined by the Parliament.

Of course, they will be determined by the Parliament. At least they must be determined by a Government. But what the Parliament sought was some firm recommendations to consider. For instance, why could there not have been firm recommendations on uranium supply in relation to existing contracts. This aspect is alluded to in the body of the report, yet nothing appears in the recommendations. I notice that in today's Press it is reported that Mr Justice Fox has written to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) complaining of the Government's misinterpretation of the Commission's recommendations and findings. It said amongst other things that what have been taken to be recommendations were in fact only findings. I recognise the Commissioners' concerntheir concern as to the Government's glib interpretation of a complex document. But why did the Commission not distinguish recommendations from findings. The Commission must have realised in presenting a highly political document like this to a government, particularly a government with the present Government's predilections, that the Government would attempt where possible, for its own selfish reasons, to drive a horse and cart through the conclusions listed. It is to no avail for the Commission now to cry over this misinterpretation of its report. It should have had enough sense to make its findings, conclusions and recommendations clear, firm and unequivocal. If the commissioners could not find agreement amongst themselves, they should have introduced a majority and a minority report so that there were arguments and conclusions backing firm recommendations. At least then a clear choice would be available. It is to be hoped that in their second report the Commissioners have learned their lesson and that they write recommendations firmly.

Now let me deal with the Government's goodwill or lack of it. The Government, I believe, made a decision a long time ago to mine and export Australian uranium on a large scale basis. The Ranger report talks of possible export tonnages of 15 000 tons a year in 1985 and up to 30 000 tons a year by 1990-1992. This is what the debate is all about- whether Australia moves into wholesale uranium exports or not. Of course the Government and the Prime Minister are now saying that further decisions as to exports will not be made until the presentation of the second report of the Ranger Commission, that is, the report pertaining to the Northern Territory. But this is only window dressing. In making his statement on existing contracts, the Minister failed to mention that the supply of uranium currently available in Australia from mining and stockpiles fails to meet the totality of the existing contracts. This has not been dealt with in the Minister's statement for the simple reason that the Government intends to go ahead with new mining developments in Australia to meet the shortfall under the existing contracts and to meet new contract commitments.

While the Prime Minister at question time today said that he will wait upon the presentation of the second report and preaches a wait and see policy, in fact, unless I am badly mistaken, he and his Government are determined to press ahead with large scale uranium mining in Australia. The Prime Minister's crude attempt to jam the Opposition into a premature debate on the uranium issue last Tuesday week by his announcement the previous Thursday of the Government's decision on the existing contracts failed when the Opposition took the challenge and determined an attitude to that particular question. Honourable members will be aware now that the Opposition has determined that in government it would prohibit the export of uranium from new uranium mines for an indefinite period and indicated that it will not honour any new contracts that were signed by the Fraser Government or any other future conservative government. The Opposition would have enjoyed and should have enjoyed the luxury of some time to consider and determine its attitude to this vital question, to consider the Fox report in the light of public attitudes towards it and the question of the nuclear industry. It has been denied this consideration by a crude Prime Minister who believes he can crash his way through everyone and everything to secure his purpose. If I am correct and the Government presses ahead with new uranium mining in Australia, it will do so in disregard of the notice of caution articulated in the Fox report.

On the broader front of the nuclear debate in Australia, the big danger is that the debate could get bogged down in the relatively minor matter concerning exports under the existing contracts. Let me deal for a moment with this aspect. At present the only mine operating in Australia is the Mary Kathleen mine in Queensland. It has a life of about seven to eight years remaining. Its productive capacity is an effective 800 tons per year. Its remaining reserves amount to 1.8 per cent of Australia's total proven reserves of 350 000 short tons. If the Government's policy is to meet the existing contracts to Japan, the United States and West Germany, which amount to 1 1 757 short tons, supplied from the remaining ore body at Mary Kathleen and from the Atomic Energy Commission stockpile, it will amount to a policy to export 2.8 per cent of Australia's total reserves under the existing contracts.

The Opposition does not demur from this course, but that is hardly what is at issue. The issue is, as I said earlier, whether Australia should get plugged into the international nuclear industry by allowings its large uncommitted reserves to buttress the expansion of that industry. I believe, and the Opposition believes, that at this moment, given what the Fox Commission reveals about the hazards associated with the nuclear industry and given some of the firm statements which were made in the report urging caution and delay, Australia should not, at this stage, commit itself to promote the expansion of the nuclear industry.

Let me quote some relevant extracts from the body of the report. First I shall quote from paragraph 7 of the findings and recommendations on page 185. The House should take cognisance of these statements. 1 quote:

Policy respecting Australian uranium exports, for the time being at least, should be based on a full recognition of the hazards, dangers and problems of and associated with the production of nuclear energy, and should therefore seek to limit or restrict expansion of that production.

From page 181:

We recognise the importance of these factors, (that is, the impact of development upon prices) and would not contemplate suggesting that a delay be considered if we were not convinced that the hazards associated with the nuclear industry are of overriding national and international significance.

Take the extract from section 3 of the principal findings and recommendations on page 185.

The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to an increased risk of nuclear war. This is the most serious hazard associated with the industry. Complete evaluation of the extent of the risk and assessment of what course should be followed to reduce it involve matters of national security and international relations which are beyond the ambit of the inquiry.

Obviously from statements of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development at the time of the delivery of the Fox report and on the occasion of the statement in the House of Representatives pertaining to existing contracts, the Government does not take the Fox Commission's warnings seriously. He referred to item 1 of the findings and recommendations as 'the first major recommendation of the report'. Clearly this is not the case. His subsequent statement indicates that he believes, and the Government believes, that it is the case. His original statement and his subsequent statement have been interpreted by the mining industry and by the investing public as a clear endorsement by the Government of uranium mining. The Australian stock exchange responded to the Government's statement and the media broadly interpreted the Commission's report and the subsequent ministerial statement as a green light for uranium mining in Australia.

The Government has engaged and is engaging in a massive deception, and the Fraser Island decision in respect of the dishonouring of contracts following the environmental report is but a throw-away to the environmentalists in Australia to gain some ground for the Government to move rapidly into the development of uranium resources. At this point in time the Government has made no acknowledgment of the dangers and hazards associated with nuclear power mentioned by the Commission throughout the body of its report. In turning its back upon the true spirit of the report the Government is misleading the Australian people and setting Australia on a course that it may later regret.

Let it be made perfectly clear that the Opposition does not support the establishment of new uranium mining capacity in Australia until the nuclear industry has put its house in order. A future Labor government will not be bound by decisions taken by the Fraser Government or any other conservative government, in relation to uranium. In the meantime, as an Opposition and as a future government, the Labor Party will seek to improve the proliferation safeguards applying to the international nuclear industry. It will also closely monitor developments in waste disposal technology, the absence of which is now militating against the development of the nuclear industry for electricity generation throughout the world.

Whether Australia supplies uranium to the world or not it should not abrogate its responsibilities in developing new energy technology. Australians are in a very fortunate position. In electricity generation terms we are abundantly rich in energy resources, particularly brown and black coal; so rich that it is difficult to envisage in the medium term the need to develop nuclear power as a source of electricity generation in this country. However, energy supply is becoming a critical global problem. Australia must not shirk its responsibilities and must be at the forefront in research into new energy forms.

In conclusion, I urge the Government to take heed of the Fox Commission's call for a full public debate before a decision is taken in respect of the establishment of new uranium mines and not to commit Australia to a role in the expansion of nuclear power which its citizens and their children may regret. In all decency, the Government must wait until the issues are thrashed out in the public forums before any substantial decisions are made.

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