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Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Page: 1629

Mr RAMSEY (6:22 PM) —I rise to support the Uranium Royalty (Northern Territory) Bill 2008. I have great hopes that it will increase the prospectivity of the Northern Territory at least in the uranium mining industry. There have been a number of obstacles to the uranium industry in Australia over a long time. These obstacles have been discussed by my colleagues, and I will cover some of them as well. The Northern Territory has only one operational uranium mine, and that is the Ranger mine. The reason it has no more, of course, is that the development of that industry has been impeded by both state and federal Labor Australia-wide.

I do have some reservations about the rate proposed to be charged as a mining royalty. I understand that it brings the uranium industry into line with the rest of the mining industry in the Northern Territory, but a royalty of 18 per cent of net profit seems fairly aggressive to me insofar as the Olympic Dam mine is running at 3½ per cent on production and the Ranger mine contributes 5½ per cent of net profit. While I cannot accurately predict what those sums will be—because profit is one of those very difficult things to analyse from a distance—it is a concern to me that the proposed royalty is as high as 18 per cent. But we will take it as progress, and we are sending a signal to the mining industry that they will have some certainty in this issue and will be able to negotiate with the traditional owners and government knowing exactly where they are heading.

The reason for such a confused approach to the uranium industry and the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia lies squarely at the feet of the Labor Party. The ALP’s approach has been convoluted, inconsistent and totally incomprehensible to many of us—and that is really saying something. The three-mines policy has now, thankfully, been abandoned federally, and I see that as a step forward. It has been abandoned nationally and by the South Australian government and now, we presume, by the Northern Territory government. Of course, it has not been abandoned by Labor Australia-wide. The Queensland government is still opposed to it and, I believe, the Western Australian Labor Party is still opposed—and many of the Australian assets in the uranium industry lie in Queensland and Western Australia. But Labor has abandoned the three-mines policy, at least in a national sense.

The problem we have is the Labor Party’s two-sided approach to the uranium industry. On the one hand they are in favour of mining uranium, but the government of Australia cannot even find enough gumption to sign off on a low-level repository in Australia for medical waste, for instance—and I will come back to that in a little while. On the one hand, they are in favour of mining but, on the other hand, they are totally opposed to nuclear power generation. They are very much like the three brass monkeys sitting on the cupboard. They see no evil, they hear no evil and they speak no evil: ‘We shall not discuss nuclear generation’. My colleague the member for Mayo has just highlighted to this House the opportunities to combat world carbon emissions. Surely, we must at least talk about and consider the one established technology that is capable of delivering real changes to our carbon emissions in the world. The ALP talk of their commitment to reducing carbon emissions, but they are not even willing to debate the technology. Once again, to use a simile, it is very much like trying to get the trucks off our roads but not being allowed to talk about the option of rail. So there is a lack of common sense in their policy stance.

Instead, the government and the Labor Party seem to be fairly convinced that one policy, the ETS, will fix the problem of carbon emissions in Australia. At the same time, they have been spraying money around the economy. Looking back at the $10 billion cash splash just before Christmas, what could we have built with that money in Australia to do something really concrete about reducing carbon emissions? Perhaps we could have considered a nuclear power plant—but that is not the only place we can go. And I am quite happy to state my stance on nuclear power generation to this House. While I have no problems with the technology of nuclear power generation, and would welcome it in Australia, I remain to be convinced that it is the most economic option for us. But we cannot make that decision if we refuse to discuss the option, and that is where the Labor Party is at the moment on this issue. Typically, the government is displaying inconsistency.

In another inconsistency, the government refuses to export uranium to India. As outlined by my friend the member for Mayo, India is a friend and a democracy and will possibly soon be the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. We will not sell uranium to India but we are happy to sell it to nuclear-armed totalitarian regimes. You would have to wonder where we are sitting in this debate.

I have touched on the establishment of a low-level waste repository. This comes back to a local issue. The last proposal in South Australia was that a national low-level nuclear waste repository be built in the Woomera region in the electorate of Grey. Before the last state election in South Australia, Premier Mike Rann ran an appalling scaremongering campaign based on a low-level nuclear waste repository in Australia. It was a cheap, short-sighted stance for political gain. It resulted in a High Court decision banning any future development of a low-level repository in South Australia.

At the time, the Premier said that this waste would damage our clean, green image in South Australia—that this incredibly dangerous waste was too dangerous to be shifted to Woomera, one of the most geologically and politically stable parts of the world, recommended by an independent panel of scientists. It was too dangerous to be shifted there but it still lies in hospital basements around Australia. There is no solution. It is an absolute disgrace that the South Australian government took the stand of opposing the establishment of that repository. In its defence I would say that the current national government, the Labor government, was not opposed to that particular solution—but it was another arm of the Labor Party that did bar it and so now we are looking at a Northern Territory solution.

The same man, Mike Rann, during the Bannon Labor years described Roxby Downs as a mirage in the desert—saying it would never happen; it would never be established. Now, of course, he is a champion of the uranium mining industry. If you had listened to Premier Rann, you would think that he in fact discovered Roxby Downs and was instrumental in its establishment. No wonder the Australian people have no idea what the ALP think about anything to do with uranium. I think the problem the ALP has with uranium is that they have groups within their midst that they have encouraged, for reasons of strength and to enlist people to their cause, who have ideological issues and use inappropriate tools to try and harm others who they see as their political foes. In the end there is a great danger in this: if you encourage way-out views into your midst then in the end you become hostage to them. That is what has happened with the ALP.

While I take some encouragement from the fact that they have gotten rid of the three-mines policy and they are prepared to adopt the new system of taxing the natural resource in the Northern Territory—I see that as a positive step forward—we still have these other problems which I have outlined. I ask them to open their eyes and ears—to fix the issue of the low-level repository in Australia, to get the Indian sales sorted out, to at least get nuclear power on the discussion table and to give the appropriate signals to the industry. We have had 20 years or more of confusion and intellectually bankrupt attitudes to the industry, and it is time to move on. Now it is perhaps a little more popular within the ALP to back a uranium industry in so much as they see it as a way of bailing out a lot of their state governments to provide a revenue flow to them. But if this all means that we are now in a position to encourage the Australian uranium industry, at least in the Northern Territory and South Australia and hopefully in Western Australia, it is a good move and it should be encouraged. I support the bill.