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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1925

Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(2.53) —The performance of the Government on its uranium policy can only be compared with a third rate circus. The Parliament and the nation have sat unhappily through almost every act, watching the Government perform. Faction fighting has made several appearances. Caucus manoeuvres have been booed outside and various ideological positions have been trotted unconvincingly around the ring. Up on the high wire several Ministers have given mediocre displays of tricky footwork and, of course, on the floor around the ring we have seen the left wing going through its usual ritual. But even after seven months of rehersal, the act is not yet ready to open. The ringmaster seems to be losing control of the whole situation. The whole shoddy, tired, dull show is not yet ready for the public.

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Government's handling of uranium policy is pathetic. It has made the Australian people and nation the laughing stock of the world. To the outside world it seems impossible that a country as rich in resources as ours should be fumbling with the potential opportunities we have. The Government has endangered the future of an industry worth billions of dollars to this country. Its export earnings are tremendously important and the opportunities are there to provide thousands more jobs for people, if the Government could get on with the job and make a proper decision. In the process of turning procrastination into an art form, the Government has raised questions about its commitment to the resource industries and its ability to decide policies on them, the implications of which spread much wider than just the uranium industry.

The urgency of this matter of public importance has been underlined by the fact that this week the Government has once again ducked its responsibilities to make some decision on the issue. The whole question has reportedly been removed from the Cabinet arena. The far reaching debate on uranium policy which the Government has promised over and over again has been postponed yet again. Whatever the reasons-and ministerial staff have a variety of reasons; even that there is an election in Queensland-this shows nothing more than the spineless leadership of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in failing to face up to the important decisions that must be made regarding the Australian uranium industry.

It is more and more obvious that the Government is simply incapable of reaching sensible agreement on this issue. It is more and more likely that the Prime Minister, whose proposals for the industry I applaud, as far as they go, will have to eat his words, or at least some of them. What is happening is what I have always believed would happen. Those sensible members of the Australian Labor Party who recognise the realities of the nuclear industry and the world's need for our uranium in order to generate electricity are finding that as each day passes their opponents grow stronger, and pressure on the Labor Party mounts to appease the extremists and to roll the Prime Minister in the process. Let us look at what has been happening. On 2 September, the Prime Minister said to the Business Council of Australia:

As far as our Government is concerned, the Federal Government and the Government of South Australia, the Roxby development is going ahead and nothing is going to stop that.

Of course, in this House on 21 September the Prime Minister pulled back a little . He said:

When I spoke to the Business Council of Australia I expressed my belief as to what would happen. It is still my belief. Of course, it is a matter for discussion.

Those discussions drag on and we seem to be no closer to any conclusion. My concern about what that conclusion might be was heightened yesterday by the reported comments of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) to Caucus. The Labor Party has always had to concede that the final word on any decision rests with Caucus. But it has appeared likely that the Cabinet would go to Caucus with a firm decision, a unanimous view. That is the way things normally happen; Cabinet makes a recommendation to the party room and the party room either accepts it or rejects it. But that sort of sensible approach does not seem to be applying.

Responding yesterday to repeated questions from one of his colleagues in the Caucus, the Deputy Prime Minister is reported as saying that Cabinet Ministers would have a free vote in Caucus. This meant that whatever Cabinet decided its members would be free to take a different decision outside Cabinet. That has all the potential that one could imagine for divisions within the Government, a so- called government of unity and solidarity. It is also a clear signal that the Deputy Prime Minister was aware of increasing heat being applied to Cabinet Ministers on this issue. In the event, the Deputy Prime Minister was overruled by the Prime Minister. But the Deputy Prime Minister has been overruled before, on the issue of authority to negotiate new contracts. He was proved right in the end because he did get his way. Maybe he will be proved right in what he said yesterday in the Caucus room, that Cabinet Ministers would have the right of a free vote. Again, it highlights the utter division, confusion and uncertainty that rests within the Government.

I said earlier that I applauded the stand taken by the Prime Minister as far as it went. He has supported the development of Roxby Downs and so do I. He supported the approval of new contracts for Ranger and Nabarlek and so do I. Neither the Prime Minister, nor his colleagues, have openly supported the development of further mines, notably Jabiluka, Koongarra and Yeelirrie, and I regret that. He has not yet accepted the unassailable logic of the fact that uranium from Roxby is no different from uranium from the other three mines that are urgently awaiting approval to go ahead. To the Prime Minister and those in his Party who share his view that under such pressure at the moment it would be difficult to support these projects I say it is disappointing. As I said, the Government's decisions do not go far enough but, of course, we are delighted to see that within the Labor Party there are people such as the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) who, in writing to his colleagues on 5 October, expressed my views precisely when he said:

It is my belief that the left has allowed itself to become an irrational blancmange, quivering in whatever mould the middle-class trendies have chosen to pour it.

Equally, I support his statement that:

There is an abundant world supply of uranium: if we do not get into this market we can have no effect on uranium at all. Failure to supply our uranium will not stop one bomb or one nuclear reactor being built.

That is really good stuff. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie-I do not think he could have put it better-continued:

We need a policy of leadership, a policy of development and policy which will enable us to be heard in the world forums and ensure that nuclear energy is used only for peaceful purposes.

That is great. That is exactly what we on this side of the House have been saying for years. It is good to see that there are some outspoken, frank, sensible people within the Government. Views such as these were also reported in the interdepartmental committee report on uranium policy circulated to all government members and senators with the backing of the Prime Minister on 11 October. I believe that this paper is a lighthouse in the current confusion over uranium and I have a great deal of praise for those who compiled it as well as for the Prime Minister for circulating it.

Mr Milton —It is a bit one-sided.

Mr ANTHONY —The honourable member said that it is one-sided. He will not accept the work of the Government's technical people who understand there issues far better. The Prime Minister has asked for the advice of various government departments. A well documented, intellectual, conclusive submission was prepared and what do we see? There is division within the Prime Minister's own Party with some members wanting to sabotage the industry. The report is long and detailed. It is a little too long for me to quote at length this afternoon but I am sure that members on both sides of the House would have studied it closely. I will, however, remind the House of some of its conclusions. On page 5, for example, the report states:

. . . Australia's rejection of the nuclear fuel cycle, while possible, would be unlikely to improve its capacity to advance the cause of non-proliferation. At best it might be seen abroad as a quixotic act. More realistically, given Australia's reputation as one of the 'white knights' of non-proliferation, such a step would be likely to be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the international non-proliferation regime based on the NPT, and thus counter- productive of the Government's efforts in regard to disarmament which ascribe a central importance to the NPT. It could also have serious consequences for Australia's position as a supplier of other commodities.

I ask honourable members to note the words 'serious consequences for the supply of other commodities'. I hope the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade takes those words fully aboard. They are not my words; they come from a report which has the Prime Minister's backing. What the report says is exactly what the Liberal and National parties have been saying for a long time. Many other sections of the report could be quoted but I refer now to only one other dealing , again, with non-proliferation and our international reputation. On page 23 the report states:

. . . Australia's withdrawal as a supplier of uranium from the international nuclear fuel cycle (whether immediately or by phase-out) would represent a vote of no-confidence in the international non-proliferation regime, and could undermine its reputation as a responsible and reliable economic partner, particularly since such action would affect the perceived long-term energy needs of recipient countries.

Again I stress that these are not my words; they come from a report which has been backed by the Prime Minister and I congratulate him for it. But those quotations and the rest of the report are simply saying that if Labor's uranium policy was ever implemented Australia would be contributing to a greater risk of nuclear war, its international name would be mud, and all its major mineral exports would suffer as a consequence. Today what do we see? We see a great demonstration in front of Parliament House and pressure being put on Labor members. We know that these are professional protesters in front of Parliament House. They appear on every environmental issue around Australia. We know that ultimately the Labor Party will always bow to the pressures of these people. It is a tragedy that the Labor Party takes such notice of this sort of element when such big issues are at stake, such as jobs, development and Australia's reputation.

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