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Monday, 23 February 2009
Page: 1458

Mr ROBERT (7:12 PM) —The purpose of the Uranium Royalty (Northern Territory) Bill 2008 is to establish a uniform royalty regime of 18 per cent for uranium projects in the Northern Territory, thereby delivering some costing certainty to commercial operators who are planning uranium mines in the north of Australia and ensuring that the proposed 18 per cent royalty is consistent with other mineral developments in the Northern Territory. The bill will provide for the Northern Territory government to collect the royalty on behalf of the Commonwealth and will also provide for the Northern Territory judicial system to be used if prosecution or dispute resolution is required.

Before elements of the bill are looked at, it is useful to look at the royalty rates for the states. The difference in royalty rates for the states is staggering, although the way those rates are determined is complex. For most common ores, Victoria has a standard rate of 2.75 per cent of net market value, yet the Northern Territory has 18 per cent of net value as a royalty. Western Australia varies: for bauxite, 7.5 per cent of value; for cobalt, it will depend if it is a concentrate or sold in metallic form or is a by-product of nickel; for copper, five per cent if it is a concentrate and 2.5 per cent if it is in metallic form; for gold, 2.5 per cent of value; for iron ore and lump ore, 7.5 per cent of value; for fine ore, 5.625 per cent of value; for beneficiated ore, five per cent of value; and for kaolin ore, five per cent of value. And on and on the discrepancies go: cobalt is four per cent of ex-mine value in New South Wales compared to a fixed rate of 2.75 per cent in Queensland and 18 per cent in the Northern Territory.

It may be an aside, but the Northern Territory has an enormous royalty on its minerals, 18 per cent, compared with the rest of the states. Manganese, nickel, silver and zinc have a fixed rate of 2.7 per cent in Queensland—though there is also a variable rate—and 2.75 per cent in Victoria, but again the rate is 18 per cent in the Northern Territory. That is certainly a Labor government getting its pound of flesh.

The high royalty rates for minerals in the Northern Territory notwithstanding, the opposition indeed supports the bill. We understand, in current times of some economic uncertainty, that the mining and resources sector is looking for certainty in the way business is conducted. Certainty in this industry is in short supply as far as this government is concerned.

I note that in his second reading speech the Minister for Resources and Energy pointed out that uranium and uranium mining have the potential to make an important contribution to abating greenhouse gas emissions. That is a staggering statement to make considering the rest of the rhetoric the government has rolled out. I would accept the statement at face value, knowing full well that nuclear power provides a huge abatement to greenhouse gas emissions, but Labor’s policy on uranium does not hold true to that statement. In fact, I am a little unsure about what Labor’s policy is, considering the discrepancies between federal policy and that of the states. I will give some credence to the minister; he is right about the importance of uranium—about little else though, I can only surmise.

Uranium is an energy source that will be absolutely critical to the world—make no mistake. It is the only truly clean, low-emission baseload power source available. It is used extensively across the world. There are something like 430 reactors in over 40 countries. I am led to believe that over 35 reactors are now being built in 10 countries. Eighty-five per cent of power in France is nuclear, and I believe the other 15 per cent is power generated by hydro schemes, most of which is exported. I believe the death rate in the nuclear industry is 0.5 per cent of that in the coal industry. Evidence suggests that the cumulative carbon savings from nuclear power over the three decades to 2030 will exceed 25 billion tonnes globally.

One would have thought, with a government minister saying that nuclear power would make a significant contribution to abating greenhouse gas emissions, that we would have had a sensible discussion in this parliament about nuclear power. I see nothing sensible about the current mess that the government has got itself into with respect to the discussion on nuclear energy. Labor has a long and illustrious history of completely stuffing up its policy on uranium mining. We should be thankful, though, that finally in 2007 the Labor Party overturned its ban on new uranium mines after a tortuous process on the floor of its convention. So I acknowledge them coming into the 21st century.

Given that the federal ALP vice-president and South Australian Premier Mike Rann has indicated he is prepared to export more uranium to meet China’s growing demand and that the former Carpenter government’s politically motivated ban on uranium mining has been consigned to the annals of history, there is only one, moribund Labor state government standing in the way of true progress. It would not take a rocket scientist on the Labor benches to work out who it is. After one or two months of saying that they would go full term, that the next election would be in September, Premier Anna Bligh met with the Governor today and there will be a Queensland state election six months early, on 21 March. It is indeed this state, driven by ideological bias, that still will not come into realm and begin to look at mining uranium. It is estimated that Queensland’s vast reserves of uranium would increase export values just shy of $2 billion over the next 20 years. The CO2 emissions that would be saved by using this uranium rather than oil or coal power stations would be immense.

The Queensland Premier will look the Australian people in the eye and talk about how concerned she is for jobs, yet she deliberately stands in the way of the development of the uranium mining industry in Queensland. She had the hide, the effrontery, to stand in front of the Queensland people today and say, ‘We have an election on 21 March. It is going to be about jobs. I am going six months early because we need a stable government in these economically difficult times.’ Yet she stands in the way of thousands of jobs in the uranium mining industry in Queensland. If that is not some form of duplicity, I am not sure what is. May I suggest to the Queensland Premier—and I can only hope she will be Premier till 21 March—that she ditch this hardline stand that is preventing development in the industry and that she come into the real world. Mining jobs need to be safeguarded. Ridiculous policies that seek to stop mining in one state, while other states have it, are ludicrous.

What does the federal minister say on this issue of the intransigence and recalcitrance of the Queensland Premier? You could cut the silence with a knife. At a time when the mining industry is contracting and tens of thousands of jobs are being lost, one of the states richest in minerals, Queensland, is leaving jobs buried in the ground. Labor’s response to uranium and uranium mining is inconsistent. It is not helping development and it is not helping the growth of the great state of Queensland.

Whilst we acknowledge the importance of this piece of legislation—and the uranium royalty legislation is indeed supported—the Rudd government would have greater credibility if they worked with Queensland to get something done about allowing the resources of that state to be unshackled. They would also have credibility if they moved to allow us an understanding as to why uranium is not being sold to India. They have overturned a decision by the Howard government that would have allowed uranium sales to be made to India for peaceful, low-emission, baseload energy generation. By stopping the sale of uranium to India, it forces India to use a power source that emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So, rather than seeking to assist in the problem of global warming, this policy by the Rudd Labor government is making it worse. The irony would be incredibly amusing were it not for the fact that, as scientists tell us, global warming is a serious threat to the future of the planet.

I am led to understand that hypocrisy is not a word that is classed as parliamentary. But you would have to suggest that this seems duplicitous at the very best. By persisting in telling India, ‘We are sorry, but we do not trust you to sell our uranium on the same terms and conditions as it is sold by Australia to China under the conditions of the International Atomic Agency inspection project,’ trade is being jeopardised. Cleaner energy is being jeopardised. The abatement of carbon dioxide is being jeopardised. This stance will cost jobs. It will cost export earnings. It will cost investment opportunities at a time when the three biggest concerns for this country are jobs, jobs, jobs.

So whilst this bill is supported with respect to the uranium royalty program, the Labor Party across this country needs to get coherence in its policy platform. The Bligh Labor government of Queensland needs to come to the party and come into line with everyone else by allowing uranium mining and export for the benefit of the people of Queensland. This Labor government needs to permit uranium to be sold to India rather than telling the Indian government, ‘We are sorry, we do not trust you with our uranium. We do not trust you to generate clean baseload power.’ If this government is to be taken seriously with respect to clean power and uranium, it needs to have a sensible debate on the issue, and the policy needs to be coherent across the nation.