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Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Page: 1625


Mr BRIGGS (6:02 PM) —It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak on the Uranium Royalty (Northern Territory) Bill 2008, which of course is a bill that responds to the concerns of the Uranium Industry Framework members. It addresses commercial concerns of uranium project proponents in the Northern Territory. It establishes a uniform royalty regime of 18 per cent for uranium projects in the Northern Territory, thereby delivering costing certainty to commercial operators in the planning stage. The proposed 18 per cent royalty would make uranium consistent with other mineral developments in the Northern Territory. It will provide for the Northern Territory government, via the Northern Territory Treasury, to collect the royalty on behalf of the Commonwealth, and provide for the Northern Territory judicial system to be used if prosecution or dispute resolution is required.

The opposition supports this bill. We are strong supporters of Australia’s uranium mining industry. As a member from South Australia, I am a very strong supporter of our uranium industry. In South Australia, we have by far the largest known uranium resources in Australia. At this time, more than three-quarters of the known and inferred resources are found in my state. Those resources have great economic potential for the future of my state going forward. Other significant resources of uranium in Australia of course are found in the Northern Territory and in recent times exploration has begun in Western Australia with the ridiculous ban being lifted, and also in Queensland, where of course the ban still exists. I will come back to that.

Australia has 1.1 million tonnes of known uranium—reasonably assured resources of uranium. To put that in context, Australia has a greater share of the world’s uranium resources than Saudi Arabia’s share of global oil resources. So when Mike Rann, the Premier of South Australia, talks about Adelaide becoming the new Dubai, he might not necessarily be wrong. However, of course, many things that Mike Rann says do in the end become wrong.

We are very supportive of this bill. We understand in this time of economic turmoil that for the mining and resource sector this framework is an important way to provide certainty. Certainly for the uranium industry, it is quality in a very short measure from this government, unfortunately, in particular from certain segments of the Labor Party. However, it should be noted that the minister in this respect is a supporter of this industry and has been working away, as I understand it, within his own ranks to convince some of his colleagues that uranium is not the beast it has been made out to be in the past by the Labor Party.

I want to reflect on the value of uranium to Australia and to the world in respect of one of the great challenges facing our country: climate change. At the moment, we are in the middle of a long and difficult debate on Australia’s response to climate change. We have seen the government’s attempts at responding to this by their announcement in the green paper and the white paper of an emissions trading scheme. It is alleged that carbon dioxide pollution is a cause of climate change. The government’s policy in this respect has been to find ways to reduce the amount of carbon being put into the atmosphere, particularly in energy-producing sectors. In that respect, the previous Howard government made many efforts to encourage both domestic and international sectors to find new ways of using different types of energy. For instance, I understand the largest solar panel powered station in the Southern Hemisphere was being built just south of Mildura. We are also part of the framework which addressed the deforestation in Indonesia.

One of the other ways to address the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere is to use nuclear power. Australia does not at this stage need to have nuclear power. Other countries have quite substantial nuclear power industries. France is a notable one among those. The other one is India. India has a large and growing economy. As the previous speaker, the member for Kalgoorlie, mentioned, it has an economy that is developing very quickly, putting more pressure on their energy needs and desires. In that respect we are a little aghast—shocked, I guess—at the Rudd government’s approach to selling uranium to India, because uranium is an important fuel for developing nuclear energy.

It does come as some surprise that this comes from a government that constantly berates us on this side of the House about our alleged opposition to policies on climate change. They sit on their pedestal and accuse us of being sceptics or whatever other language they want to use today; at the same time they refuse to sell uranium to India, which would enormously reduce the amount of carbon that goes into the atmosphere. We know we cannot solve climate change in Australia alone. We can do what we can in Australia. We can move to more energy-efficient buildings. We can increase the use of solar panels. We can move our industry to a more carbon friendly situation. We can look at issues like emissions trading schemes and so forth. However, we have less than one per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, so we cannot solve the problem of climate change alone.

But a country like India, which is developing very quickly and is very, very large, contributes an enormous amount to the problem of carbon emissions. So it makes very little sense for this government to refuse to sell uranium to India. It refuses on the basis that India refuses to distinguish between sales for the civilian use of uranium—that is, in nuclear energy power plants—and sales of uranium for use in military weapons. This is because India is not a party to the NPT—the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It has its own domestic reasons for that. However, the United States of America has seen fit to find a way to make sure that they can sell uranium to India for civilian purposes, with an investigation regime to make sure that it is not being misused or used for military purposes. This is something which I am sure the Indians—being very good friends of Australia—would undertake with us.

So it makes no sense at all, in my view, to let an issue like the NPT stand in the way of giving India the uranium it needs to develop an industry which will reduce the amount of carbon being leached into the atmosphere. It seems to be an ideological bent of some on the other side that it has had to do so. We know that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts came into public life as a great opponent of nuclear power and uranium mining in this country. Unfortunately, it seems that he is well listened to when it comes to these matters. The basis of the argument is that India would not use uranium for the right purposes. That has got to be the basis of the argument. So it is okay to sell uranium to China. And I am all for that; that is very good for my state, South Australia. It is very good for the economy and it creates jobs. However, to argue that, on the other hand, you cannot sell it to India because they have refused to sign the NPT—when the Americans have already said that is okay—does not make much sense.

So let us look at some facts. The Rudd government is happy to preside over $2.5 billion a year in exports of carbon-polluting coal to India, but it will not sell it uranium. Within seven years, India will become the world’s third largest carbon emitter. Already Australian exports of uranium contribute to a saving of nearly two billion tonnes of carbon emissions by the world’s nuclear industry. They are the countries that we have deemed that it is reasonable to sell to—China, but not India. It is estimated that our potential reserves could save the planet 11 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030 alone—significant savings of the gas which is alleged to be causing this climate change. India’s objective by 2050 is to have 35 per cent of its power nuclear generated. But we refuse to help them. We would rather see India continue to contribute to climate change by burning fossil fuels. It is a policy driven by ideological purity; it is not driven by the real need to address climate change. What we see all too often from this government is a political approach to this issue. We have seen it in recent days with the emissions trading scheme. We had an inquiry one day and, the next day, we did not and the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Economics was hung out to dry.

This is all about the Prime Minister having to placate the left wing of his party on this issue. Many in the left wing of the Labor Party came into politics, became interested in politics, in the early eighties, opposing uranium mining. In previous generations it was Vietnam; in the early eighties that group came in for being opposed to uranium mining. What we have seen in this approach to sales to India is purely ideologically driven. It is detrimental to our country, it is detrimental to our climate and it is very detrimental to my state of South Australia—as I said earlier, we have about three-quarters of the known and inferred resources. In particular, there is the great mine site of Olympic Dam in the north of South Australia, which is one of the state’s greats. I was fortunate enough, in a previous incarnation, to visit my colleague’s seat of Grey with my then boss. It is a fantastic site. It employs many good South Australians. Roxby Downs is a great town. Many good people live in Roxby Downs. In fact, a very good AFL footballer, Luke Darcy, comes from Roxby Downs. But I digress. My point is that Olympic Dam is a great asset for South Australia. It creates many jobs, it is great for our economy and of course the Premier of our state loves to brag about Olympic Dam.

While I am talking about the Premier of South Australia, I must mention that he is a good example of the kind of Labor Party member that I was talking about earlier. In 1982, when he was an adviser to the then Premier, John Bannon, Mr Rann spent some time writing a book about the dangers of uranium. So we see that Mr Rann, the greatest salesman of uranium, only 20 years ago was writing a book about its dangers. That sort of sums up the ideological challenge within the Labor Party with people like the minister for the environment—people who spent most of their lives opposed to uranium mining but have been able to win the way, unfortunately, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister in this respect. I think it is to the great shame of the government that they have taken this decision.

We have a very good relationship with India—whether it be trade, whether it be cricket or whether it be through opportunities for further economic development. Of course, India and China are the two great developing nations of the world. They are facing difficulties at the moment, like all countries are, with the economic conditions; however, they are developing very rapidly. Their middle classes are developing very rapidly, which means they need more generation of power as they grow. We should be helping in that respect, as we help China by selling them uranium for their nuclear power plants. We should do so with India as well, because the figures on the savings are quite significant. I am very disappointed with the approach of the government in relation to the uranium industry, in particular in relation to the sale of uranium to India.

The other aspect I am very disappointed about with the government is that we hear from the great number of Queenslanders on the other side who run the government and who are influential in this place—the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and others who have taken over from the New South Wales Right, although they seem to be exerting their influence again in recent times—but the only state now remaining which refuses to mine uranium is Queensland. Queensland is now in the middle of an election campaign, and hopefully after 22 March—I think that is the date of the election—we might have a new government that will lift that ban.

We have seen this week the Queensland government lose its AAA credit rating, and it is now $1.6 billion in deficit. It is going to drag on Australia’s economic performance, and of course it is another big debt. But we have seen the ideological approach from the Premier of Queensland on this issue. We know that there is much uranium in Queensland and, if mining were permitted, it would add $1.5 billion to the gross state product, it would generate an additional $204 million in state revenue, it would increase export values from Queensland by $1.9 billion and it would increase Australia’s GDP by $950 million. Can you imagine the number of jobs that would support? That is the new language, of course. We hear about job creation ‘supporting jobs’ these days. It would increase Australia’s consumption by $910 million and it would help avoid 900 million tonnes of CO2 emissions—the equivalent of Queensland being carbon-free for more than five years. If only they would lift the ideological ban on uranium mining.

Nationally, over the period to 2030, permitting uranium mining in South Australia, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland will increase GDP by $14 billion, increase consumption by $12 billion, and help avoid 15 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions—the equivalent of Australia being carbon-free for 20 years. Those are quite extraordinary figures, I am sure you would agree, Madam Deputy Speaker. So it is a great pity that the Queensland government retains this ban. Fortunately, late last year we saw the WA government’s ban overturned, with the election of a Liberal Premier, with the support of the National Party—and a fine premier Premier Carpenter is turning out to be, as well.


Mr Keenan —Premier Barnett.


Mr BRIGGS —Premier Barnett—sorry. He has overturned that ban and we have seen the WA uranium industry already take steps forward.

Finally, I wanted to reflect on another indication of Labor’s lack of commitment to the uranium industry and nuclear power. It comes on the back of the member for Kalgoorlie having raised it. I understand the member for Kalgoorlie raised the fact that the Rudd government has recently appointed Professor Ian Lowe to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. You might say that it is not a surprising thing to occur; however, you have to look at Mr Lowe’s views on uranium. They are quite extraordinary. He is completely opposed to uranium mining, and you would think that to have someone of that ilk on ARPANSA is a sure sign of the ideological deals that have to be done by—


Mrs Elliot —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In relation to Professor Lowe, he was reappointed as president by the previous government, in October 2005.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms S Bird)—That is not a point of order. The member has the call and is in order.


Mr BRIGGS —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your protection. I appreciate that. It is interesting that the minister got up with a point of order when only two people from that side of the House want to speak on this bill. Generally we have quite a long speakers list.


Mrs Elliot interjecting


Mr BRIGGS —I do not think that is right, Minister; I think you need to be a touch careful. I know you are in trouble in your portfolio. I have got aged-care homes knocking at the door saying, ‘She’s coming’ and then, ‘She’s not coming’—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member has the call and will speak to the bill.


Mr BRIGGS —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for being diverted by interjections. It is tempting to raise concerns with ministers who are, I understand, under a bit of pressure at the moment. I do apologise for being diverted.

In summary, we on this side of the House are very supportive of the uranium industry in Australia, particularly in South Australia. It will add to our economy and provide many jobs. At a time when we need to be looking at ways to create jobs, we are all for the development of the uranium industry. I grieve the Labor Party’s approach to this. I know they have ideological problems on this issue. I hope they are able to resolve them so that we can move this industry forward.