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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 538


Mr RUDDOCK(6.21) —The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill 1987, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Transitional Provisions) Bill 1987 and the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 1987 relate to the restructuring of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. Unfortunately, I think they have been born in obsession and certainly from a doctrinaire point of view so far as the Government is concerned, and I think it has given us Bills which are neither fish nor fowl. The impact that they are likely to have upon our national economy is likely to be significant in ensuring that we remain in a very disadvantaged position in terms of our national trade. As we have heard in the speeches that have been delivered by those members of the Left opposite, the Bills in no way appease their obsession about the nuclear fuel cycle and its likely impact; the Bills in no way compromise those members in terms of their objection to the fuel cycle. We hear speeches such as that which we have heard from the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Scott), which I think give very much that view on behalf of the Left. We know that they are concerned about the use of the nuclear fuel cycle. Senator Sanders endeavoured to put into the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill amendments that were designed to put a Left perspective, but he lost that opportunity in the Senate. We can see why this Bill must be very difficult for Government members.

I have very strong objections to it on a personal basis, largely because I think it is not in any way adequate for ensuring that Australia is able to utilise its nuclear fuel capacity to the fullest extent. I recently had the opportunity of visiting Japan. I visited the city of Hiroshima, which is one of the two cities in Japan that have felt the nuclear bomb. I saw much of the devastation that occurred. I was able to appreciate-I think in a first-hand way, and a very emotional way-what people in Japan went through when that bomb was let off in their territory. In no way do I want to see nuclear war nor do I want to see a situation in which nuclear bombs are let off in this world for the purposes of hostilities or in the pursuit of those hostilities. Nevertheless, Japan is a nation that has experienced the nuclear holocaust, but it is still realistic enough to recognise that the nuclear fuel cycle has a very valuable role for peaceful use. Yet we have legislation that is designed to abandon the Atomic Energy Commission, which was established in 1953 for the purpose of enabling Australia to undertake a great deal of original research and which would enable us to look at a number of opportunities for Australia to get value for its uranium resources. One of those was the uranium enrichment research projects which were based upon centrifuge technology and in which the Australian Atomic Energy Commission was involved over a long period.

From the speech of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) we know that the purpose of this Bill is to ensure that the new organisation which is to be the successor of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission-that is, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, ANSTO-will have a much more limited charter. The package of Bills also implements transitional arrangements and repeals those parts of the Atomic Energy Act 1953 which the Government deems it no longer appropriate to have in place, those relating to securing the secrets of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. It also provides for a new organisation with functions which, it is stated, will accord with government policy. I am pleased that at least it permits of government policy of the day because I would like to make it very clear that the policy of any new government in relation to atomic energy will be very different from the Australian Labor Party policy that we have entrenched through this legislation.

This legislation is to reflect, as the Government says, the realignment of the Atomic Energy Commission activities away from work on the nuclear fuel cycle towards greater emphasis on the application of radioisotopes and radiation in medicine and industry. In other words, the purpose of this legislation is to narrow the scope of the activities of the Atomic Energy Commission. It provides for a governing board of directors and an advisory council of 11 people; it also provides for a statutory basis for the Nuclear Safety Bureau and the Safety Review Committee, the functions of which are to be expanded on those of the present Atomic Energy Commission Regulatory Bureau and Safety Review Committee respectively. Of course, it is noted in the explanatory memoranda that this new Organisation will not have what the Government cares to describe as the repressive security provisions of the present Atomic Energy Commission Act.

That is the nature of this legislation, but if one wants to see something of the way in which it is likely to operate I think it is reasonable to look at the Minister's second reading speech. He makes it clear:

While moving away from nuclear fuel cycle activities, in line with the Government's policy, which is that Australia not become involved in any stages of the nuclear fuel cycle other than the mining and milling of uranium and the disposal of waste, the Atomic Energy Commission has continued to apply its substantial expertise to research activities into the uses of radio-isotopes and radiation. However, the Commission's research program has been without firm legislative directions for the future.

So the firm legislative directions are designed to ensure that that body now has a very narrow charter indeed. They are particularly designed to ensure that under government policy any role in the area of uranium enrichment cannot be pursued. As the Minister says in his second reading speech:

The Government recognises that nuclear technology, when applied to areas such as medicine, science, industry and agriculture, can make an important contribution to the social and economic well-being of Australia and accordingly these are the areas in which ANSTO will focus its activities.

Those are key words in this speech because I believe that what is important is that in this legislation we should be looking at the social and economic well-being of Australia. I do not believe that the social and economic well-being of Australia is served well by narrowing the scope of this Organisation. It is important to recognise that we in Australia now face extraordinarily difficult economic times. We have an enormous debt as a nation, and we will have to endeavour to trade our way out of the difficulties that we face. That is the social and economic environment in which we as a nation find ourselves. It is at the very time when the steps that should be taken by Australia to overcome our economic problems are the expansion of our trading activities and ensuring that when we have products such as uranium we obtain full value for those products. We are limiting the scope for Australia to ensure that we further refine that product, add value to it and obtain for Australia an economic advantage. When one recognises that what the Government has done is to ensure that the new body will not be able to play a role in enhancing Australia's capacity to play a part in uranium enrichment, one will recognise the way in which our social and economic well-being as a nation is being significantly disadvantaged. I plan to talk a little more about that matter, but it may be convenient to resume my remarks at 8 p.m.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.


Mr RUDDOCK —I must say that I am having difficulty in grappling with the new title ANSTO-the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. However, the Government, in restructuring the old Australian Atomic Energy Commission, said that it recognises that nuclear technology when applied to areas such as medicine, science, industry and agriculture, can make an important contribution to the social and economic well-being of Australia and that it saw those as being the areas on which this new body, known as ANSTO, should focus its activities. I was making the point before the suspension of the sitting that in my view the social and economic well-being of Australia would be better served if ANSTO was able to undertake a wider brief.

It seems to me that with so many people arguing that the only prospect that Australia has in the short term of reasonably trading itself out of its present balance of payments difficulties is to take the products that we now produce-in this case uranium but in other cases perhaps iron ore or some of our agricultural products-and ensure that there is a value added component. That is, what we export should be refined to some extent in Australia before it is sent to some other country. The way in which that is most likely to happen in the area of uranium, where in fact we are selling yellowcake to Europe and to other countries which have nuclear reactors, is to sell an enriched product, a product which we could produce in Australia. We would get a better price for such a product. That is the simple answer. If we are concerned about Australia's immediate social and economic well-being, why should we not be selling enriched uranium which we could produce in Australia?

It seems to me that the Australian Labor Party has introduced a Bill that effectively does not stop uranium mining. It does not stop the production of uranium-based products around the world but it will limit Australia's capacity to sell what it has got at the best price. As I said when I first addressed the House, this Bill is neither fish nor fowl. It is an attempt on the part of the Labor Party to appease its left wing by producing a bill which limits nuclear activity but which does not go the whole way. The legislation seeks to prohibit ANSTO from undertaking any research or development in the design or production of nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. While I might quibble about that, I do not believe that we were undertaking this sort of research through the old Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the particularly important aspect of which, I think, was in the area of endeavouring to get for Australia the specific skills in uranium enrichment.

In any event, one finds that countries which have had a nuclear experience-countries such as Japan which has experienced the effects of a nuclear bomb-have no fear about the use of uranium in terms of supplying the needs of their own communities. When those needs are great, as they are in Japan with respect to electricity and the like, the countries concerned see those needs as very important and the available technology is used. This Government has particularly tried to restrict that availability by limiting the functions of ANSTO. Clause 5 (1) states:

The functions of the Organisation are-

(a) to undertake research and development in relation to-

(i) nuclear science and nuclear technology;

(ii) the production and use of radioisotopes, and the use of isotopic techniques and nuclear radiation, for medicine, science, industry, commerce and agriculture;

and I might mention this-

(iii) such other matters as the Minister directs;

When we look at the functions that are then qualified, we find that sub-clause (2) states:

The Organisation shall not undertake research or development into the design or production of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devises.

Sub-clause (3) states:

In undertaking its functions the Organisation shall have regard to the national science and energy policy objectives of the Commonwealth Government.

The Bill contains some further limitations in relation to functions which I do not think are pertinent. Although limitations are placed on the Organisation, the Minister can direct it to carry out certain types of research and development. That is a very important point which is qualified by the direction that in undertaking its functions the Organisation shall have regard to the national science and energy policy objectives of the Commonwealth Government. I suspect there is some element of pragmatism in that, and that again gives further weight to the argument that I have already mounted that this Bill is neither fish nor fowl. It gives no positive commitment to wider uranium research and development, but obviously wider activities can be undertaken when one looks at those clauses.

I welcome the fact that the Government has not closed off all of the options. But I suppose, in a sense, that is probably the reason that the Opposition is, in a pro forma way, allowing this legislation to proceed unopposed. I make the point very strongly that when there is a change of government in this country in the near future, as undoubtedly will occur, the policy objective of the incoming government will not be the policy of the present Government. In respect of clause 5 (3), one should note that the policy of the Opposition will be to implement the recommendations of the 1984 Australian Science and Technology Council report on Australian involvement in the nuclear cycle. This will be a priority. We will also support the mining and milling of uranium subject to stringent Australian health and safety standards and we will remove the veto on the development of new uranium projects. The export of uranium will be permitted subject to existing safeguard agreements which were put in place by the Fraser Government. More importantly-and I have made this point in terms of Australia's economic and social well-being-we will co-operate with industry in assessing the feasibility of establishing a commercial uranium enrichment industry in Australia for peaceful purposes under international agency supervision.

I make the important point that if we in Australia are to have any form of realistic future in a very difficult world and if we are going to turn our economy around, we cannot be cutting off our nose to spite our face. It seems to me that the legislation that we have before us is part of this ostrich in the sand mentality of the present Labor Government. The Government is trying to limit the clear opportunities that are before us rather than widen them by encouraging Australians to think about the ways and means by which we can create export opportunities and overcome the present difficulties that we face in the economic sphere.

I very much regret that we have legislation of this sort before us that is designed to limit Australia's involvement in an area in which we have very considerable expertise and very considerable capacity to be able to put on to the world markets a product which could be very much more valuable than it is at present. I think the Government would be well served by changing its rhetoric and becoming much more supportive of rational policies in this area. It is trying to involve itself in these intellectual exercises to appease the Labor Left instead of concentrating on the major economic issues that face the nation.