Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1932


Mr REEVES(3.33) — The history of the Liberal and National parties on this issue of uranium and the nuclear industry is quite appalling. It is marked by confusion, ignorance, indecision and lack of direction. We need only to look at the history of the National Party and some of the statements made by the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony) on employment to see how confused and ignorant that Party is on the position with relation to employment. Some five years ago, in 1978, this man who claims to know so much about the nuclear industry predicted that 500,000 jobs would be created in Australia in the nuclear industry. At present 450 jobs are involved in the nuclear industry in the Northern Territory. Of course the Northern Territory has the only operating mine in Australia. It is a far step from 500,000 jobs. That is the level of the right honourable member's knowledge of the employment prospects of the nuclear industry.

On 6 July last year when he was the then Minister for Trade and Resources he spoke about the Pancontinental Mining Ltd development at Jabiluka. He said on 6 July 1982 that that project would create directly 700 jobs. Just three weeks later, at the opening of the Jabiru township-when he was talking about the same Jabiluka mine, the same project, the figure had dropped to 540 jobs. He lost 160 jobs in three weeks. That is the level of his knowledge about the prospects of employment in the nuclear industry. There is just ignorance and confusion.

Let us look at trade. I have a letter from the Managing Director of Pancontinental. He talks about the record of the previous Government and the Korean contract and says:

The Korean saga is a good example of the negative attitude of Government.

He is talking about the Liberal-National Party Government, the Government that had the gung ho approach to the nuclear industry. He says:

Some time ago, Queensland Mines entered into a negotiation with Korea Electric Power Corporation. Commercial terms were agreed between the parties and as such were satisfactory to both buyer and seller. However, the Australian Government refused to accept the pricing conditions contained in this agreement and the Korea Electric Power Corporation purchased the uranium from elsewhere.

That is the level of the certainty of the Liberal and National parties' policy on trade in uranium. In a letter to me on 26 September this year concerning Pancontinental's attempts to negotiate contracts, Mr Grey said:

The source of the misapprehension may be that we were active in the market place in the sense of contacting utilities, but we were not negotiating.

He is talking about July last year. He continues:

While sometime earlier--

That is, before July-

we were given permission to negotiate sales contracts subject to final government approval, sufficient uncertainty remained as to preclude negotiations actually taking place.

He is talking about the National-Liberal Party Government, the parties that now claim to have this certainty of policy about uranium and the nuclear industry, this gung ho policy. Confusion exists in the National-Liberal Parties about policy in this area. I have scoured the policy of the Liberal Party to see if I could find one mention of the nuclear industry or of the word 'uranium' and it is not there. It does not even mention uranium or the nuclear industry. Honourable members opposite come in here and talk about it being such a great bonanza for the Australian economy. They should go through their own policy document to see if they can find one mention of the words 'uranium' or 'nuclear industry'. There is not one mention of them. The National Party, to its credit, has at least mentioned the nuclear industry. It says:

Development of Australia's uranium reserves to meet world demand, subject to high standards of safety and peaceful use in accordance with international obligations.

I repeat that it states: 'Development of Australia's uranium reserves to meet world demand'. As the Leader of the National Party well knows, world demand for uranium has collapsed. Even on the most optimistic predictions it will not improve until about the end of this decade.


Mr Anthony —Why is the price going up?


Mr REEVES —The right honourable member says that the price is going up. That shows his ignorance on the issue. The price dropped to $17 a pound. It has gone up to $21 a pound or $23 a pound. It is still about $2 a pound below what it was three years ago.


Mr Anthony —It is going up.


Mr REEVES —Sure it is going up by $1 or $2 a pound but it has to get up to $35 a pound before it meets any floor price policy. The price is not going up; that is the situation.

Dr Tony Owen, who is lecturer at the Centre of Applied Economic Research at the University of New South Wales, produced a paper on the future of the uranium export market. This is what he had to say in his paper:

The supply of uranium is already exceeding demand and will continue to do so for at least another decade.

. . . .

. . . annual world production of uranium exceeds consumption by more than 50 p. c. and much of the excess has gone into stockpiles.

The prospects for the uranium supply industry appear to be poor until the turn of the century, unless the rate of growth of electricity demand in the OECD countries returns to its pre-oil crisis levels.

Even if this occurred, technological advances could reduce the demand for uranium.

The uranium market in the '80s and early '90s is likely to be characterised by oversupply and price stagnation.

Those are the views of one very eminent commentator who has done a lengthy study on the issue of the future of the uranium market until the year 2000. He says that it will be characterised by over- supply and price stagnation. Let us look at what Pancontinental, the company which is supposed to create this big bonanza in Jabiluka in the Northern Territory, is reported as saying in July 1982:

But the company itself acknowledges that prices are too low to ensure that new mines meet demand on the mid-1980s. Over-production in the past has created stockpiles which will take years to deplete.

Even the company acknowledges that it will not be able to get the contracts necessary to start the so-called bonanza, the Jabiluka mine, in the foreseeable future. In August this year the Eighth Annual Uranium Symposium was held in London. That Symposium was addressed by Mr Mike Townsend, who is the head of the British Civil Uranium Procurement Organization, an arm of the Central Electricity Generating Board in England. This is a symposium of the nuclear industry, not an anti-nuclear group. He is reported in the Mining Journal of 2 September 1983 as follows:

He readily acknowledged that since 1970, supply-demand forecasts for the industry have, on face value, been extremely inaccurate. Indeed, during this 13 year period, production has been far in excess of consumption, for most of the time by at least 50%. With the benefit of hindsight, it was evident that this situation was brought about by a combination of misconception and design.

The report continued:

The world recession and the severe financial restraints on the vulnerable nuclear construction programme were not properly appreciated until quite recently. Thus, forecasts of installed nuclear capacity made since 1979 have shown a dramatic decline to the extent that the capacity for 1990 (as forecast in 1979) is now unlikely to be achieved until around the turn of the century. Cancellations and delays in new generating capacity (particularly in the US) have markedly reduced anticipated consumption.

The article went on:

If inventories are not used to fulfil any requirements and if there is no over- production from existing mines, then new mine production facilities might be required in 10 years time.

I repeat-in 10 years time. The article stated further:

However, in the event of a more widespread redistribution of inventories, increased production from existing facilities and . . . capacity, then additional new production capacity might not be needed until 1995.

Here we have the Liberal and National parties telling us that we should open up all these mines. A member of the nuclear industry in the United Kingdom says that new mines will not be needed until 1990 at the very earliest and it is most likely that they will not be needed until 1995, and that the current oversupply situation will not reverse itself until the end of the century, which is some 17 years away. Of course, the Leader of the National Party would not be able to count that far because, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) observed yesterday, the numeracy of the Leader of the National Party does not go beyond 10; he wears shoes. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The discussion is concluded.