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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 975


Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(3.05) —Before 5 March this year the Australian uranium industry was on a path of assured development and growth. It offered great benefits for Australia. In the past six years, since the Liberal-National Party Government presented to this Parliament policies designed to allow the further mining and export of uranium, the nation saw the emergence of a vigorous, profitable, expanding industry. Production, exports and jobs were all at record levels. Heavy exploration spending was uncovering ever increasing reserves of uranium ore. The Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory uranium province had been given new, secure and independent sources of income. Queensland Mines Ltd's Nabarlek project and the Ranger mine of Energy Resources of Australia Ltd were the forerunners. These were the most soundly based and secure mining projects ever to commence in this country. The rich Pancontinental project, Jabiluka, was expected to come into production by the end of the decade and Koongarra, planned by Denison Mines, around the same time. With production from the gigantic Roxby Downs mine at Olympic Dam in South Australia expected to begin about the mid-1990s, utilities around the world had faith in the long term security of supply that we could offer them.

Since August 1977 I approved contracts of more than 44,000 tonnes of U3O8 valued at more than $3.500m in current terms. Our Government had issued reasonable and generally accepted determinations on the export pricing arrangements. These determinations authorised approved projects to enter the market place with full knowledge of the minimum terms and conditions acceptable to our Government under its uranium export policy. All four Northern Territory mines-Nabarlek, Ranger, which was already operating, Jabiluka and Koongarra with development approval and conditional approval respectively-were out negotiating for contracts. All of this great development took place against a background of persistent opposition by the Australian Labor Party.

It was with the emergence of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) that the industry saw some hope that there might be a more moderate and sensible uranium policy but I must say that the hopes of the industry have now been butchered. There is absolute turmoil because of the confusion with Government policy. The sound situation that we established has been dramatically changed since the election of a Labor government in March this year. On 17 March the new Government withdrew the sales determinations I had issued-the contracts necessary for the development of Koongarra and Jabiluka were worth approximately $800m-and the industry, worth billions of dollars a year in exports and offering jobs for thousands of people, was thrown into confusion. Since then confusion has deepened. The Labor Party's policy on uranium has been under attack within the Government and has been supported by important party figures outside of government and the union movement.

The Prime Minister and his colleagues have made contradictory statements on the issue. The result is that Australia, probably the world's greatest potential producer of reasonably priced uranium, has no policy at all in this area. We are a world laughing stock because of this and the Hawke Government must bear responsibility. It is necessary to go back a bit to study the reasons for these developments and to look at the policy. That policy, adopted by the Labor Party last year, was a very confusing and internally contradictory document. It left the left and right wings of the Labor Party to make all sorts of claims. Safe in the bosom of chardonnay socialists in Fitzroy, left wing Labor members could claim that it was a blueprint for halting uranium production.

Out of the front line in Darwin the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) could, as he did on 23 February, support full scale uranium mining and exploration in the Northern Territory. Those South Australian candidates who recognised that their chances of election would be nil if they halted the great Roxby Downs project pointed out to voters in South Australia that there was an escape hatch for Roxby. Somehow their uranium in South Australia was totally different from the uranium in the Northern Territory. The Labor Party's non- policy on uranium was all things to all men. Of course, this could not last. After all, how can any policy be sensibly administered unless there is a clear understanding of what it provides? The Deputy Prime Minister thought he understood it. After first revoking all determinations issued to uranium mines, as I noted earlier, he then issued determinations to Ranger and Nabarlek allowing them to negotiate on contracts with power utilities in the United States. Other Labor figures, however, said that the Deputy Prime Minister was wrong. Indeed, they came very close to demanding that the Deputy Prime Minister' s head should be taken. Even the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) on 8 June was quoted as saying:

To release new contracts would be contrary to the policy of the Party and I for one would not support that were the proposal to come before Cabinet.

These conflicting statements set a pattern of bungling, confusion and contradiction which has continued right up to this moment. No one knows what the Government's uranium policy is or whether it has any policy at all. In an interview published in the Business Review Weekly on 2 September the Prime Minister said that the go-ahead for Roxby Downs and new contracts for Ranger and Nabarlek would all be covered by his Party's policy. On 2 September he said that Roxby Downs was going ahead. He said:

Nothing is going to stop that.

But on 12 September the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh) cast doubts on that claim. Asked about approval for Roxby he said:

There is a presumption around, based on various people's interpretations of what is in the Labor Party's platform. But that is part of the comprehensive policy review decision.

So much for what the Prime Minister had to say. On Sunday, two more Ministers repudiated the views of the Prime Minister. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) and the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) supported a declaration by the Victorian Labor Party rejecting new contracts for Ranger and Nabarlek and calling for the widest possible party debate on a decision regarding Roxby. All these moves have clearly been designed to put maximum pressure on the Prime Minister to cave in to the Left on the uranium issue. They have succeeded. Already, the final decision promised by the Prime Minister for yesterday has been deferred for another month.

Mr Deputy Speaker, since this Government was elected much has been written about the supposed decline of the power of the left wing of the Labor Party. The current chaos within the Government on uranium policies shows that a lot of people have made a mistake. The Prime Minister and the more sensible members of his Cabinet are clearly afraid to defy the Left over this issue. Despite the fact that two-third of Australians support the export of uranium for peaceful purposes and despite the fact that the official advice from all Government departments favours export, the Prime Minister is afraid to move. Unfortunately for Australia while the Prime Minister plays politics with this issue the world is moving.

According to the most recent estimates world nuclear power capacity will grow by an average 12.9 per cent a year each year until 1990. Over the years 1983 to 1995 the average growth rate is expected to jump to over 40 per cent. Production and consumption of uranium are expected to be approximately in balance by 1988 or even earlier if world economic growth and oil prices pick up soon. That is just five years away. There are enough uncommitted markets for the profitable continuation of operations at Nabarlek and Ranger and there is room for the development of further Australian uranium mines.

The market is turning. Spot prices have improved. Last September they were $17 a pound and at the end of August they were $24 a pound. Australian producers and potential producers have received firm inquiries from genuine buyers. Utilities in the United States of America have made inquiries about their long term needs. Even Japan is actively considering its long term needs and purchasing strategy for greater uranium power. If we do not start developing new mines now we will be left out of the race. Other countries are willing to meet this demand-notably Canada and South Africa. Australia is the only country which has major uranium deposits and is not developing them further. To the outside world our policies must seem absolutely crazy.

Australia's planned and operating mines need to be getting contracts now to be able to take advantage of these changing conditions. The operating mines need to be assured of their long term future. The proposed mines need the contracts to get finance for development and to get into operation in time to meet the new demand. But what does this Government do? It sits on its hands while it waits for the Left in the Labor Party to wake up to the real world. Unfortunately, I do not think there is much chance that it will wake up. The actions of the Government are a disgrace to this nation. It lacks leadership and direction and it is pandering and kow-towing to the fanatical anti-uranium elements. This Government has already badly damaged the name of Australia in the eyes of the world. It has done great damage to this country. Ultimately, unless it comes to gripes with reality, great harm will be done to our trading relations with some of our most valued trading partners.

This Government talks about its concern for the unemployed. The South Australian Chamber of Mines has estimated that up to 4,650 potential jobs were lost because the South Australian and Federal Governments prevented the development of the Honeymoon and Beverley mines and a uranium enrichment industry. The Northern Territory Government estimates that around 2,000 potential permanent jobs will be lost if the Government prevents the Koongarra and Jabiluka mines going ahead. Western Australia and Queensland will also suffer in proportion if this Government maintains its illogical and indefensible policy in relation to uranium. So too will the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory-another group about whom this Government claims to care. With all four proposed Northern Territory mines in full production payments to Aboriginal communities would total approximately $150m a year at today's prices. The Australian economy will suffer. When the two new mines, Koongarra and Jabiluka, are in full production, their expected export earnings will be about $4 billion over 10 years. This is expected to represent over $1 billion in Federal taxes alone over that period. Surely to deny this amount of revenue is to put additional burdens on already heavily paying Australian taxpayers.

This Government is throwing all this away in the cause of a discredited, illogical and internationally unacceptable policy in which neither the Prime Minister, the Treasurer (Mr Keating) nor the Minister for Resources and Energy really believe. It is strangling a great Australian industry and with it the hopes of thousands of Australians. There is no excuse for this policy that we have seen of late. It is causing immense confusion and delay and is dashing the hopes of many people who thought that this was going to be the means of further jobs and further development in Australia.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The right honourable member's time has expired.