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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 866

Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science and Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(9.33) —in reply-I thank the honourable members who have made a contribution to this debate. Let me take up some of the points that have been raised. The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) made the point that the Government was speaking as if there were good and bad uranium. Nobody has ever suggested that and it is absurd for him to put the proposition. The Government's position has never been that there is no market for uranium but, rather, that the share of the market which Australia could reasonably expect to obtain in the immediate future can be supplied from Ranger expansion to 6,000 tonnes of uranium 308 per annum and Olympic Dam production from 1988 of around 2,000 tonnes of uranium 308 per annum. These two mines provide the basis for a two-fold increase in Australian exports from around the end of the decade.

I think there is a somewhat exaggerated view from the Opposition about the unlimited prospects of the uranium industry. Particularly after the events of Chernobyl, a number of nations in Europe and, indeed, in North America, are rethinking the nuclear program. That is not to deny that the very serious problems related to acid rain and things associated with the very heavy use of fossil fuel make it necessary to look for alternative energy sources, of which nuclear power is a very important alternative option. I think it would be very unwise to put all our eggs into the nuclear basket.

The honourable member raised a question relating to staff of the Office of the Supervising Scientist. Because of the cost of providing housing or laboratory facilities in the Northern Territory it is not cost effective to have all the staff located in the Northern Territory. About two-thirds of the staff are there. A lot of the work that is being done is very sophisticated-requiring such things as computer modelling-and does not have to be done on the site. It can be done anywhere where there is the appropriate computing capacity. The staff doing a lot of that work are in Sydney where they are in a position to use the expensive and modern facilities that are in that place. It would be far too expensive to replicate these in the Northern Territory. As I pointed out by interjection, the Office of the Supervising Scientist was establised by the Fraser Government. The Hawke Government has maintained the Office and has progressively increased funding as evidence of this Government's commitment to the environmental protection of the area. My colleagues the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards) and the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) I think have adequately answered the issues raised by the Opposition, and I see no point in reiterating them.

The honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb) indicated that he was concerned with the sevenfold increase in the levy. It is public knowledge that Ranger returns $50m annually and that Nabarlek returns to its parent company $11m annually. The level of the levy is based upon the principle that the polluter pays. One can gather from the contribution of the Opposition this evening that honourable members opposite may no longer agree with this principle. I was particularly concerned with the remarks of the honourable member for Parkes, who is no longer gracing us with his presence, and I just draw some objection to his methodology. Particularly if one is talking to a hick audience, it is not hard to select a few titles of research projects--

Mr Downer —Are you suggesting that we are a hick audience?

Mr BARRY JONES —No, I am saying that it is a well practised art. I put it to the honourable member that it is the worst kind of anti-intellectual populism, and he knows that perfectly well.

Mr Downer —I raise a point of order. I ask the Minister to withdraw his suggestion that the members of this House listening to this debate and, indeed, the people listening on their radios to this broadcast are a hick audience.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —I did not take it from the Minister's words that he was referring to honourable members within this House, and that is the extent of the Standing Orders.

Mr BARRY JONES —If I had been, I would have called it an honourable hick audience, naturally. It is not hard to select a few titles of research projects, read them out to a lay audience, especially if the titles are long, complex and use unfamiliar words, and then by appealing to the lowest common denominator provoke some cheap score by saying to a farmer or to a pensioner: `That is what they are spending your hard-earned money on'. This kind of hick town approach really is appalling. I think the honourable member for Parkes, who was educated as a scientist I think with an MSc, knows better and ought to be ashamed of that kind of approach. When he tries to link the modest expenditure on research projects in this area directly to Australia's unfortunate overseas debt of $101 billion and then says in effect that one has really caused the other, he knows better than that. I commend to him the words of the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) that the arithmetic does not add up. That kind of cheap appeal to populist feelings, a hick town principle, will not do this country any good. It is an appalling thing when he says: `It's all right because when there is a change of government we will not have any more research and we will cut back on research'. I hope that we do not hear any more of that kind of approach in debates of this nature.

In Australia we have a reasonably good record in research. It would be tragic to see that go. If we look at the titles of the papers and monographs that have been produced and we look at them in the broad context of what they are trying to do to understand the total environment, which is an extraordinarily fragile and complex thing, we see that every one of those projects could be vindicated if we had the time to do it. But I think the whole purpose of the legislation is quite simple and straightforward. I note that the Opposition is not opposed to the principle involved and it will be voting for the Bill. I just thank honourable members for their contributions.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.