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Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Page: 1613


Mr RANDALL (5:51 AM) —I am continuing my contribution on the Uranium Royalty (Northern Territory) Bill 2008 here this evening, which Hansard will record I began last evening. Last evening I spoke generally on the royalties regime. I said that the royalties have been set at 18 per cent, that Australia has something like 40 per cent of the world’s uranium deposits, that the use of uranium in power generation saves the world something like 400 million tonnes of CO2 gases per annum and I spoke about the benefit to our economy. I was progressing towards speaking further on the bill. I note that it was such a riveting contribution that the member for Brand has again made sure he is in the chamber to hear my contribution this evening. I have just made a quick appraisal of his contribution because he was the only speaker from the Labor Party on this bill. I notice that, as much as I am sure he has a particular view, he stuck to the party line, saying that he does not want to see it outside the three-mines policy.


Mr Gray —I didn’t say that!


Mr RANDALL —I must not digress, because I only have 15 minutes left.


Mr Gray interjecting


Mr RANDALL —Pardon?


Mr Gray —Digress as much as you like


Mr RANDALL —I’ll bet you would like me to. As I said last evening, the fact is that Western Australia has an abundance of potential uranium mines because it has an abundance of proven and unproven reserves of uranium. We think that there is an opportunity to do something about that, particularly as the new Barnett government made it very clear that, on election, it would give approval to mining of uranium in Western Australia. As I said last evening, it was interesting that the Carpenter government ran a very strong anti-uranium mining campaign, thinking—I understand from reading the commentary—that it would have a big effect, particularly on the female voting demographic, in the latest Western Australian election. It did not, because the Labor Party lost and the cobbled together coalition, now under Premier Barnett, is in power. So it obviously did not have the effect that Mr Carpenter thought it would.

In fact, the case in Western Australia is such that approval has been given to mine a deposit which is the fifth-largest known deposit in Western Australia. It is called the Mega Uranium deposit and is at Lake Maitland. It is a project in the eastern goldfields, about 100 kilometres south-east of Wiluna, and it is estimated that this deposit is worth somewhere between $1.3 billion and $4.6 billion, depending upon the uranium price at the time. Of course, we have the normal suspects. We have Greens MP Giz Watson saying in the state upper house that she vows to fight the company’s bid. The shadow minister for mines, Jon Ford, has said that Labor remains opposed to uranium mining in Western Australia, although I do note that some of his colleagues in the same house, such as Vince Catania, have a different view, as does the Minister for Resources and Energy in this place, the member for Batman. He finds it quite interesting that many of his colleagues are so opposed to uranium mining when they see the benefits to the world in power generation and that countries that are particularly deficient in energy stocks are obviously moving towards generation through the use of nuclear means.

The Australian Uranium Association has previously identified eight major deposits in Western Australia. I have already listed one of them. Leaving Western Australia unable to mine uranium for some years has been described by the association as ‘economic vandalism’. When making the announcement that he had lifted the ban, Premier Colin Barnett said:

WA prides itself as a world leader in mining, yet an outmoded and philosophical objection to uranium mining was put in place, denying the State a significant economic opportunity.

To put that into context, it is a bit like your state of Queensland, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, saying, ‘We are not going to export coal because it is going to produce all these terrible greenhouse gases in other countries.’ If that were the case, and we had that ‘not in my backyard stuff’, I suspect we would see the pollution in China heavily reduced if it was not burning a lot of Queensland coal. But, no, the other side seem to be absolved from the pollution issue of using coal but still have this left-wing obsession about producing power from what is essentially a clean, non-polluting material source in uranium. We hear all the arguments against it such as: how about Chernobyl? How long ago did Chernobyl happen? Since the effects of Chernobyl and the leak at Long Island, there has barely been a recorded leak anywhere else in the world. In fact, the Chernobyl factory in the USSR, as it then was, could be thought of as an FJ Holden in comparison to the nuclear facilities that are built now, which are absolutely state of the art and highly technologically efficient. I will speak more on that later in any time remaining.

We know that more countries do move to nuclear power because their demands grow. It has been made very clear, for example, that France is building something like its 61st nuclear reactor because it is so energy deficient. France produces about 70 per cent of its power from nuclear means. There are countries all throughout the world using nuclear power. For example, recently I visited a nuclear facility in Argentina. Argentina produced its first nuclear reactor in 1953. That was the year I was born; that is how old the technology is. The Argentineans had to come here just recently, because we are so bereft of this technology, and help to upgrade Lucas Heights. We had to get the Argentineans in because we do not have any local expertise in this area. Argentina is a country that, for lots of different reasons, is reasonably energy deficient as well. They are expanding. While we were there they told us that they were building two further facilities.

I have already mentioned Mega Uranium, and there will be jobs that will come from it. We have heard previous members talking about jobs. In this current climate we need more jobs and, with falling prices in commodities hitting Australia, particularly in a resource-rich state such as Western Australia, extra jobs would not go astray. We have just had 3,400 jobs cuts at BHP Billiton, the majority of them in Western Australia. There were 450 cut at Ravensthorpe and 300 at Mount Keith. This will cost the Western Australian government about $200 million in mining royalties from Ravensthorpe alone. While WA plans to open up its uranium market, creating jobs when they are most needed, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, who has decided to put her hand up and go to the people this week, is blinded to the needs of her own state. She is staying in the way of the development of uranium mining in Queensland. So Queensland still has this philosophical ban, which can only harm the economic wellbeing of Queenslanders. Uranium mining creates billions of dollars of export revenue and thousands of jobs. It is estimated that Queensland’s vast reserves of uranium would increase its export revenues by $1.9 billion in the period to 2030—a fair bit of money and obviously something that the Queensland people would want to take on board.

Selling uranium not only meets the energy needs of many developing nations but drastically cuts their carbon emissions. For India, nuclear power can supply 35 per cent of their domestic power. There is a report which says—and we need to put this in context, because it is a very important statistic—Australia produces 1.5 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. That is not a lot in the whole scheme of things—1.5 per cent. Yet if we were to sell India the uranium they wanted to generate the electricity they need from uranium rather than coal, it would totally offset the carbon emissions that Australia produces. Let me say that again: if we allow India to use our uranium instead of generating power through coal, Australia would totally absolve itself of its 1.5 per cent of emissions by offsetting it with what happens in India. I would have thought that was a pretty sensible proposition, and this can happen in other parts of the world, but for some reason India is on the black list.

The five countries that are allowed the A-bomb, the nuclear bomb, are China, Russia, the US, Britain and France. We say we will not sell to India because they are currently having a fair old blue with Pakistan on their borders, largely out of Kashmir, yet it is okay to sell to those other countries. I can understand us not selling to Pakistan, because Pakistan currently is in a very parlous situation, particularly on its northern border with Afghanistan, and is seemingly quite unstable. Yet India, as it says in this article from the Age on 28 January, ‘has demonstrated a responsible attitude by not spreading its nuclear expertise’. We know that Pakistan actually had some of its scientists helping to advise Iran, so Pakistan was quite irresponsible.

Certainly we would not be trying to sell uranium to North Korea, because of their threats and their jingoistic behaviour to the rest of the world. But there is India, a Commonwealth country, a democracy, and we are saying: ‘India? No, no—you can’t do that.’ Yet what has India done just recently? Only recently, according to the same article from the Age, India did a deal with Kazakhstan, one of its chief competitors in this area, and signed a civil nuclear pact allowing supplies from the uranium-rich Central Asian country to fuel the nuclear plants in India. So Kazakhstan is going to sell its uranium to India, but we are so holier than thou because of the ideological left-wing bent of the Labor Party that we are not going to sell it to them—and who are we harming? Ourselves. We are economically harming ourselves, because exports not only produce jobs but bring foreign earnings. But it would be not only economically responsible but, as I said, environmentally responsible. It is noted by even Tim Flannery, who I will come to in a moment, as a means of reducing greenhouse gases.

The coalition continues to support the previous government’s commitment to selling uranium to India, subject to safeguards being put in place. If you can get a deal and a safeguard arrangement which India say they will enter into, why wouldn’t you do that? I just find it quite unbelievable. In fact, another article I have speaks quite clearly about the confusion surrounding the Labor Party’s position on uranium sales, because it:

… has the potential to damage Australia’s credibility on nuclear diplomacy. If the Government wants to play an active role in improving international nuclear safeguards, it needs to adopt a more consistent approach.

Again, this is a comment from an article written by Daniel Flitton in the Age on 28 January. In other words, its credibility on this issue is being eroded because of its inconsistent approach. So I say to those opposite: we are largely talking about the royalties arrangement for the uranium in the Northern Territory and setting aside a percentage, but we could be doing this all around Australia. As I said, Olympic Dam is one of the biggest resource pits in the world, providing a massive amount of income to this country. There are lots of olympic dams around the country and there are lots of deposits in my state of Western Australia that have not even gone any further than being pegged because of the previous bans, and yet here we are, so out of touch with the power generation of the rest of the world.

The clean coal technology that is being touted by the Rudd government has not happened. In fact, they really have not put any money into it and there is nothing happening on that issue. Australia has a massive amount of gas reserves, but when you put it in context it is only three per cent of the world’s known reserves. It is still a massive amount of gas, and we know that Woodside is looking at its next Pluto train in the Pilbara, but we need to have a number of alternatives—and not just alternative energy sources like solar and wind but baseload power which will come out of facilities such as uranium reactors that will produce electricity to meet Australia’s energy needs.

In the Australian on 5 February 2009, scientist Tim Flannery, the former Australian of the Year, went so far as to say that the government’s approach to selling uranium to India was immoral. He said:

Australia’s moral position of selling them—

India—

coal, which is a bloody poison, but not selling uranium doesn’t make any sense.

        …         …         …

… there’s no doubt coal is a much more damaging prospect for India than uranium.

How about that!

In the last few seconds I have, the issue I want to discuss is uranium storage. Australia is well placed to store spent uranium. We are keeping isotopes in hospital basements, and that is not the way to store spent nuclear material. We need a decent storage regime. (Time expired)