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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3173


Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(2.55) —This Government's uranium policy is founded on confusion and built of deceit. It is a disgrace to Australia, and the rest of the world questions how our national Government could be so ludicrous and so stupid. It marks the Government's complete and utter abandonment of its responsibilities to the nation. It shows with bitter clarity just how ruthless, dictatorial and relentless this Government is prepared to be to buy off its opponents within the Australian Labor Party at the expense of the Australian people. Australians should be very clear about this. This is not a policy that gives direction to the nation. It is not a policy which has anything to do with the issue of nuclear proliferation or nuclear war, nor is it a policy that takes into account the interests of the Aboriginal people or gives guidance to our vitally important mining industry. It is a policy cobbled together behind locked doors to save the Bannon Labor Government of South Australia while appeasing the hysterical left wing opposition to the world's single most important energy mineral.

There could be no greater contrast between the way the Liberal-National Party Government arrived at its policy on uranium and the path that is being followed by this Government. Our consideration of uranium policy was one of our first moves when we were elected to government in 1975. We fully supported the Ranger uranium environmental inquiry under Mr Justice Fox. This was the most exhaustive inquiry of its type ever conducted in Australia.


Mr Hunt —Initiated by the Whitlam Government.


Mr ANTHONY —It was. The report has become recognised internationally as the most comprehensive document on the subject of uranium mining. When the Fox report was released we examined it minutely and we encouraged wide public discussion on the issue. Then in 1977 the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, announced in this House a detailed, precise and completely consistent policy on uranium which embraced all the issues involved, such as protection of the environment, consultation with Aborigines, safety, our international energy responsibilities and international safeguards. How has this Government dealt with the same issue? Last year the national conference of the Australian Labor Party arrived, after coming close to self-destruction. Its uranium policy is one of the most confusing and contradictory documents ever presented to Australians as an excuse for a policy. I remember reading about the former Minister for Communications who was woken up early in the morning and told of the policy. He thought that he was a little befuddled by sleepiness, so he rang up one of his colleagues to find out whether it was his mind or whether it was the policy that was absolutely crazy. With all due regard to the former Minister for Communications, whose ability I respect greatly, it turned out to be not his mind but the policy that was absolutely crazy.

Many Australians, not the least of them the majority of Labor Party members, were under the impression that the policy would halt uranium mining. That was the belief of Labor Party members. Those who now form this Government have made no attempt to correct that confusion. When they came to government-in fact, probably well beforehand-they realised that the policy with which they were saddled was completely unworkable. Out of that realisation came uranium policy mark 2. Admittedly, it was not as stupid as the first one-it could not possibly have been that bad-but it came pretty close to it. It would require more time than I have today to explore all the contradictions and hypocrisy of Labor's mark 2 uranium policy.

I draw attention to the scornful way in which this Government has ignored those who are most vitally affected by its decision on uranium. Three groups in particular have been affected. They are the mining industry, the people of the Northern Territory and, especially, the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. There can be no doubt that those who have most clearly seen the yawning chasm between Labor's promises and its actions are the Aborigines. We have all listened for years to members of the Labor Party pouring out their hearts about Aboriginal welfare, Aboriginal rights and Aboriginal health-all the matters involved with Aboriginal affairs. I know they have done it with sincerity. But this Government, which claims to govern for all Australians, has sold out the Aborginal people of the Northern Territory. It has sold them out to buy off the armchair socialists and the vegetable plot conservationists who oppose uranium with all the blind fanatacism of Ayatollah Khomeini's suicide squads. That is how far honourable members opposite will go. Nothing will stop them.

The Government, in selling the Northern Territory Aboriginals down the drain, has also sold the Northern Territory and the Australian mining industry down the drain. The bitter irony in all of this is the performance of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding). This Minister has set new records in self- righteousness and arrogant assertions that he alone knows what is best and right for the Aboriginal people of Australia. Yet he stood by while this Government sold those people for whom he is responsible down the drain. He has even actively participated in this disgraceful action. One of the major components of the previous Government's uranium policy was the requirement that companies seeking development approval for new uranium mines had to reach agreement with the Aborigines affected by such mines. This happened with the Ranger mine in the Northern Territory and with the Nabarlek mine. The two proposed new mines- Jabiluka and Koongarra, both in the Northern Territory-have also reached agreement with the Aboriginal people. It is estimated that if these four mines were all producing at full capacity the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory would receive in excess of $100m a year in royalties and benefits from the mining industry. Yet all of this has gone down the drain under Labor.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs stomped round the Territory earlier this year telling the Aboriginal people: 'No compensation'. Then, following the decision on the uranium policy, the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment ( Mr Cohen) precipitately declared Stage 2 of Kakadu National Park in an attempt to pre-empt debate on this matter, locking up further mining opportunities and depriving the Aboriginal people of the further benefits that might have been received from well designed, carefully developed mining projects in that area. Has there been any consultation with the Aboriginal people about this decision or about any aspect of the uranium policy? Of course there has not been. On this question honourable members opposite have totally ignored the Aboriginal people and their benefits and concerns. The Aboriginal people's hopes for a secure future, a steady income and a degree of independence have been taken away by this Government.

The second group to suffer as a result of the arrogance and the ruthlessness of this Government is the mining industry. The discrimination that is part and parcel of the current uranium policy is clear for all to see. What is perhaps less obvious is the severe blow that has been struck at many mining companies as a result of the declaration of Stage 2 of Kakadu National Park. Before this decision was taken, the Government received protest after protest from some of our biggest mining companies, which had spent millions after millions exploring the area for mineralisation. Of course, the Government's decision has closed off all of that. Millions of dollars have been lost by Australian companies. Their protests did not matter; the Government went blindly ahead and made the decision . This, again, is a transparent pay-off to the left wing of the Labor Party. It is unbelievably stupid.

The Opposition fully supports the concept of the Kakadu National Park. Indeed, it was a Liberal-National Country Party Government that created it in the first place. There is clear evidence that the conservation zone we had implemented over the Stage 2 area was working and allowing a potentially very rich region of mineralisation to be explored and possibly to be developed in the future. The orderly process of exploration which was under way was fully consistent with the park concept. Orderly mining, under strict controls and with strict requirements for rehabilitation, would have provided at least part of the income needed to ensure that the park reached its full potential. The Government's decision on Stage 2 of the park and its policy overall have dealt a severe blow to the Australian mining industry and to Australia's international reputation.

The brunt of all these blows has, as I have noted, fallen on the people of the Northern Territory, the Aboriginal people in particular and the mining industry generally. They are paying for the Government's effort to give some sort of warm inner glow to the left wing members of the Labor Party. The Government has tried to bury the truth of its decision under a flood of attempts to justify its policy. Most of these attempted justifications deserve to be treated with utter contempt. The only one with any pretence to rationality is the claim that there is room on the world market for Australia to sell only an extra 3,000 tonnes of uranium a year and that this amount would be supplied by Roxby Downs in South Australia. Yet if this were true, it would demonstrate again the Government's arrogance and its belief that the Government, not private enterprise, knew which mines to develop and how best to develop them. The companies managing the Jabiluka and Koongarra mines have been prepared to find contracts, the terms of which are acceptable and reasonable, but, of course, big brother has stepped in and squashed the opportunity for these companies to develop at all.

The Government's figuring-that is, that there is a market for only 3,000 tonnes extra by the year 1990-is open to the most serious questioning. In the time I have available I will give the briefest outline of the best information that the Opposition has been able to get. It presents a totally different picture from that being presented quite dishonestly by the Government. Australia's share of unfilled demand for world uranium could be, at a conservative estimate, an extra 4,700 tonnes a year by 1990 and 11,200 tonnes a year by the year 2000. That is a far cry from Labor's claim that there is a market for only 3,000 tonnes extra. This is calculated on only 20 per cent of the world's market. As everybody knows , we have the richest and probably the most competitive uranium in the world to sell. There is a great opportunity and enormous promise for Australia.


Mr Chynoweth —You mean profit?


Mr ANTHONY —Enormous profit; enormous promise too. We will all benefit. All I can say is that in this whole policy area the Government stands condemned for its deceit, its dictatorial tactics and its arrogance. No matter what the Government says about uranium, we all know that it is a hotch potch of contrived excuses and reasons to cover up its hopeless policies.


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