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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1927


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Minister for Trade)(3.08) —I came into the House today thinking I would have to answer a real and solid contribution in this matter of public importance.

Oppositions members interjecting-


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —It is always a strange thing that when we start to have a debate in this Parliament we can never get anywhere because of the cacophony of interjections that seem to drown out what we are trying to say. The matter of public importance refers to the development of Australia's resources and the threat to those resources. I accept the view that the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony) has a new speech writer because the preamble to his speech was a little different but the content was as light as ever. We had a debate on this matter a few weeks ago. Significantly, I think it took place at the time when one of our Caucus committees was discussing the matter. If we can arrange another discussion in a fortnight's time perhaps another matter of public importance will be put forward on how the Labor Party is going on the question of uranium development. I think the right honourable member, who is trying to interject, ought to be thankful that he is off the air. We might discuss what he could have done and what he failed to do in the years he was in government and why it is that we are now left with a legacy of mismanagement of resources. That is the real issue. It is no good the right honourable member telling everybody in the House what he thinks happened in Caucus yesterday. That is of no consequence to the nation.


Mr Peacock —You are not fair dinkum, Lionel.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I happen to be fair dinkum on this issue. I do not know where the Opposition got those reports that I would suggest something different to the Caucus and that Cabinet would not be able to do what it wanted to do. I was asked a perfectly intelligent question as to whether there would be a debate in the Caucus. I said: 'Yes, of course there will be a debate in the Caucus.' I wonder whether the joint coalition parties ever have a debate on anything. They are two separate parties.


Mr Peacock —We have joint meetings every week.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I do not know what they discuss at them. We never read about them. The National Party has always been allowed to control resource development . I say that to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock). That has probably been the Liberal Government's greatest mistake.


Mr Peacock —Rubbish.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The honourable gentleman says rubbish. Let me try to get some of the rubbish out to him.


Mr Howard —Who is the spokesman on trade and resources?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —That is no problem. If the honourable gentleman just lets me get in my few minutes he can have his later.


Mr Peacock —Doug Anthony has been the best Trade Minister this country has had.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I think we have a better one now but that is a matter of ego. I admit that there were bona fides in the intention but it is the results that matter. When we look at what has happened in the area of resource development we find an enormous amount of too much foreign ownership, control and domination. One does not mind intelligent investment but when one comes to this issue of proliferation of resources with no markets one must seriously question what happened to the former Government's philosophy. In the number of years that the former Government was in charge mines of all descriptions were opened up for bauxite, coal, iron ore and certainly uranium. The markets are not there, nor were they ever there.


Mr Anthony —So you would like to close some of them down?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —No, I cannot. But I will tell the right honourable gentleman what will happen. The Japanese will close down a few of them for us.


Mr Anthony —But you would like to?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —No. They will close them down because the Liberal-National Party Government was silly enough to allow them to open. Prices are now so low that the Japanese will say: 'We will not be able to offer you what it costs'. The former Minister has a counterpart in Queensland--


Mr Anthony —Are you going to control the situation?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I am glad that the right honourable gentleman is interjecting. I ask him to keep it up. He has a counterpart in Queensland-Mr Bjelke-Petersen. Has the right honourable gentleman ever had a look at what the Premier did to resource development from the point of view of freight rates and port charges? I happen to have before me the matter of Oaky Creek. The right honourable member for Richmond would be interested in Oaky Creek as he was anxious to get it open. That mine is having a lot of trouble being competitive. I am advised that 50 per cent of its operating costs relate to rail and port charges. The former Government did not hesitate to sock the mines at a State level, yet members of the Opposition are talking about resource development.


Mr Anthony —You are going to put a resources tax on now, are you?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —No. We are not putting any special taxes on these mines. In fact the way these special charges are going the mines would not have any income left to pay them.


Mr Peacock —No resources tax on now?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —No. I said that we would not put any special charges on them. The Leader of the Opposition's hearing is not acute either; that is the other difficulty. Let me come to the point of resource development, particularly uranium. I do not quite know whether the right honourable member for Richmond really wants to talk about resources, the Caucus or the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke ). Let us talk about uranium because he did give it one little mention. The two mines that are now in operation-we went through this matter a few weeks ago but the right honourable gentleman could not quite understand-have reserves of 100, 000 tonnes of uranium not yet sold. The right honourable member for Richmond talked about Roxby Downs.


Mr Anthony —Not yet mined?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Some of them are mined. They are all able to be mined. The right honourable gentleman did not even want to accept that last time. He did not know about it but it was within his knowledge and competence. So 100,000 tonnes of uranium is not yet sold. That uranium will take some years to sell. That is the position. The existing contracts will go until 1996. There are no worries about those contracts. But the question, of course is: Why is it that people such as those outside this Parliament and elsewhere, including the Australian Democrats which are led by a former distinguished colleague of honourable members opposite-a former Minister of liberal philosophy-are so concerned about what can happen if there is proliferation and diversion to weapons? That is the legitimate issue and argument in this democracy. It is legitimate because there are 50,000 nuclear weapons now.

The right honourable member, because of his former Government's past policy, would not know whether any part of Australia's uranium was diverted to weapons. Apart from the question of general development or what might be termed the abdication of the Fox suggestion of sequential development, which the former Government would not even tolerate, the question now relates to the control of reprocessing and high level waste disposal. The right honourable member, in all his speeches in this House, has never been able to talk about his ability to control reprocessing and high level waste disposal. He abdicated the whole field . The demonstrations we witness outside this Parliament and across Europe are not related to electricity generation. They are related to what can happen if things go wrong from the point of view of nuclear weapons by diversion in the reprocessing cycle, or pollution with high level waste disposal.

One of the things we have to do is talk about safeguards. We are going to try to strengthen them. We will have to go back to the people with whom the former Minister negotiated contracts and gave away his control over the fuel cycle. He gave away the right to consent of reprocessing in advance. Does the right honourable member for Richmond approve of the French exploding nuclear weapons in the Pacific? I ask him to answer that question.


Mr Anthony —No, I don't.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The right honourable gentleman says that he does not. Of course this is the concern of a legitimate Australian government. If the French are so anxious to use uranium for nuclear weapons and that is their sole purpose, why should they take our uranium? Does the right honourable gentleman think Australians approve of that? Does he think Australians approve of the fact that the Japanese are likely to dump quantities of Australian uranium and high level waste into the Pacific? Would he approve of that?


Mr Anthony —No.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —No, he would not. What is he doing about it? We are getting to a stage where, if I only had another 20 minutes, the right honourable gentleman would come over to this side of the chamber and join us. I cannot understand his extraordinary lack of policy. For these very reasons we have to go into a legitimate argument and discussion as to how we will be able to make a safe contribution to the world as a result of the uranium that the former Government has already committed to contracts. That is the position. Not one job has been lost under our policy. But one wonders how many risks the former Minister's policies created for the world. The Leader of the National Party comes into this chamber and berates the Soviet Union but he had no compunction in letting it enrich the uranium that was sold to Finland. He has had no compunction either at the fact that the Soviets will be reprocessing that uranium. If he is so worried about the concept of nuclear weapons would he not at least have considered controlling that cycle? The real issue as I have told the Leader of the National Party time and time again is that he has no policies. If I said to him 'Will you take back the high level waste disposal enrichment?', he would run. He would not be prepared even to argue the issue.

If I suggested to the right honourable gentleman that he talks about what he wants to do with an intelligent uranium policy he would want to dig it out of the ground in its raw state, flog it at the minimum price and let foreign ownership and control get the benefit. One mine is 100 per cent owned by the Canadians; we do not even own one cent of it. I have all the troubles in the world trying to tell Pancontinental Mining Ltd that it did not get any approval when apparently it is relying on telephone conversations and telexes in which the former Minister indicated that he might give approval. It is no good for the Leader of the National Party to come into this chamber and say that he is very concerned about the failure of the Labor Caucus to come to a decision. It will come to a decision on the matter. The decision will be in accordance with legitimate democratic discussions.

I must say to members of the Liberal Party opposite that they ought to take a good serious look at what they will do with the resources in this country if they continue to leave them to be developed and exploited by what is called the National Party. It is not a national party. It is in only a few States. The National Party never even contests enough seats to be a government of this nation. All that it is given is second position. It is about time we looked at that second position. We must not give away ownership, control and management of resources. They should take those things under their own wing and do something for Australia. That will be important. But they have this cowboy approach of 'We will shoot from the hip. It will be okay if we hit something but it does not matter as we still have the cattle and the sheep and we will try to sell a bit of sugar'. That is fine. But what about resource development, employment and all the other matters that relate to it? I make the point that we have not lost one job under our uranium policy. The issue for us is to try to amend the gaps that the former Government left in the so-called policy that it created. The former Government not only left the Ranger and Nabarlek mines with 100,000 tonnes of uranium unsold, but also within a short time it gave approval for another four mines to come on stream. I do not know how those mines were going to sell their uranium. They do not know either. But the former Government gave them approval. The right honourable member for Richmond never gave approval for Roxby Downs, the mine he mentioned, but it has 1.2 million tonnes in reserve. Let us look at this situation calmly. Let us look at what are deemed to be the peaceful uses of energy resources needs. Australian uranium will have a market about the end of the 1980s and certainly into the 1990s but not now. It is important that if we enter this fuel cycle-that is a matter for the Australian people to determine-we do it on the basis that we control the reprocessing and the disposal of high level waste. It is only on that score that we can give a guarantee that there will be no diversion to nuclear weapons.

The previous Government could have done that at all stages. If it was really interested in the development of uranium mining the Opposition would not be wondering about who is to enrich uranium and who is to reprocess it. It does not give a damn about what happens in regard to the disposal of high level waste. That is the Opposition's policy. If it had been concerned it would not have abdicated its reponsibility by giving away in advance the consent for reprocessing or the transfer from one country to another. Its interest has been development at the minimum level-that is, digging it up out of the ground and exporting it. The world is very conscious of the situation. The International Energy Agency meets quite frequently and discusses the problems of the world. It recognises that the previous safeguards have not been good enough. It recognises that a number of countries have got under the gateway of protection and have created weapons. Any guerrilla group can get the technology for nuclear weapons.


Mr Peacock —It is the IAEA, not the IEA.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The IAEA; I am sorry if I said anything different. I meant the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA is very concerned. One of the matters about which it is concerned is what is called the plutonium cycle. It does not know how to control that cycle, which comes about because of the reprocessing position.


Mr Anthony —You are forcing them into the position.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —They have to go to the plutonium cycle, if we take notice of world experts. The important point is this: Next time the right honourable member comes in with a matter of public importance he should address his mind to where his Government failed, why there has been no uranium policy, why he did nothing about protecting Australia's interests, why he gave away in advance the question of reprocessing and other safeguards control, and why he did nothing about the proliferation into nuclear weapons.