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Tuesday, 2 December 1986
Page: 3139

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(12.24) —The squalid character of this particular move by the Australian Democrats has been made very clear in the very effective speech just made by my colleague Senator McIntosh.

Senator Durack —It was better than you could have done.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It took a slightly different course-I acknowledge that-but was no less effective because of that. I think the salient points can be quickly mentioned again because they very effectively make the point as to just how hypocritical, how squalid and how tactically adventurous this particular move is without having any sound core of principle, consistency or integrity about it. The Australian Democrats argue, through Senator Sanders, that Australian uranium is going to France-into nuclear weapons. They argue that with great vigour, but not with any factual support. They do not, however, seek to ban the supply of Australian uranium to France absolutely or to ban it conditionally upon its going into nuclear weapons; they make it conditional only upon the cessation of tests in the South Pacific. So there is no coherent linkage between the argument they advance and the particular proposition they put to the Committee to vote upon.

Again, the Democrats argue that no Australian uranium should be exported anywhere in the world, not just to France but to no other country, because of their opposition not only to its finishing up in nuclear weapons but also to its forming part of the fuel cycle anywhere. But that is not the form in which they put this particular proposition before the chamber; they put it forward in a very narrow and confined way as limited to uranium exports to France, compromising their own stated principles in the process. Again, they argue that the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty should be supported at all costs. We hear all sorts of enthusiastic support for that particular Treaty and for this legislation which will enable us to ratify it and bring it into force immediately this week. But the particular motion that they move today, and the form in which they move the motion, makes it impossible for that goal to be realised. As Senator McIntosh has said, the way in which they have cast their amendments is not to incorporate some new prohibition into the legislation which people may or may not agree with. The way in which they have cast them is to make the result of passing the amendments an open-ended and effectively permanent delay of the South Pacific nuclear free legislation coming into force, because they have made its coming into force contingent upon the passage of some wholly new and different piece of legislation.

The Democrats want the Government to completely reshape its legislative program, accept the Democrats' priorities rather than its own, and go down a track which we have already indicated we cannot and will not go down and about which we have made a government decision. They do all these things and they advance all these arguments, turn themselves on top of their heads and perform in this fashion, simply in order, as Senator McIntosh said, to glean some cheap thrills and to make some quick points-they hope-in favour of their increasingly dwindling constituency outside who might be disposed to take them seriously. There is no way that anyone would take seriously this kind of transparently hypocritical, shallow and shabby little manoeuvre that confronts us today.

I have made clear, and I need to for the record, that although the question of uranium sales to France is one on which strong opinions are held-certainly very strong opinions within the Labor movement, for understandable reasons given our policy on this matter-it is a matter on which the Government and the parliamentary Party have made a decision. Accordingly, there is no conceivable basis on which Senator Sanders's separate legislation would be supported by the Government. I make it clear that the Government respects those who take a different view about this legislation, but we do, nonetheless, believe that it is well founded on its merits. I have to say, for the record, that the reason why the Government decided not to continue with the ban on uranium sales to France, making that ban conditional upon the cessation of its tests in the Pacific, has a solid foundation. I think that, once again for the record, four quick points should be made in support of that government position.

The first point is that there is no question of any Australian uranium going to the nuclear devices being exploded in those tests or, indeed, into the French nuclear weapon program generally. The reality is that France uses its own uranium, of which it produces some 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes per annum, about half its total consumption, without any need to rely on any imported uranium for that particular purpose. The reality is, further, that the safeguards arrangements or agreements with which Australia is party with France, bilaterally and through Euratom, guarantee that Australian uranium will not be used for this purpose. Those paper documents or treaties are supported by practical, on the ground inspection arrangements which ensure in practice that the safeguards in the treaties are observed and that no Australian uranium is diverted for that purpose. It is further the case, as I said in reply on the second reading and which I do not need to spell out as a result, that the physical organisation of the French nuclear fuel cycle-the separation in practice between civil and military fuel cycle installations-itself guarantees that.

The second point in support of the Government's decision on this matter is that the moral and political impact of the Australian ban in the past had been negligible. It was not a situation of the kind we have talked about in the context of South African sanctions and it was never like a South African situation. There was never any question of other suppliers being interested in joining any similar boycott and thus imposing physical pressure on the French and on French facilities, nor was there any realistic financial pressure being placed upon the French in the particular economic and price circumstances that prevailed for the duration of the ban where the spot market was providing a price for uranium that was very significantly lower at the time-it is turning around slowly over time-than the long term contract price for the Australian uranium which our ban was ensuring we were not obtaining.

The third point to be made is that the gesture that we were making was a very expensive gesture and one which, while perhaps it had a considerable amount of symbolic weight, simply could not be afforded at a time when, firstly, its moral and political impact had proved negligible, as I have just said, and secondly, when the Australian economy was in such a condition of obvious need for every available contribution to be made both to the balance of payments and to the Budget. The figures are by now well-known. It was not just a matter of the $41m-worth of accumulated liability in meeting the contractual obligation to the supplier before this financial year; it was not just a matter of the additional $25m that we were going to pay out this financial year-which between them represented a return, both to the Budget and to the balance of payments, of $66m. Nor was it even a matter of the $26m that we would have had to pay out to Queensland Mines Ltd next year and the $13m the year after. Rather, in addition to all of that, there was the question of the $200m a year or so worth of uranium which could reasonably be expected to be able to be supplied to the French civil nuclear power industry in the 1990s in a situation of renewed demand that we are all expecting will in fact occur. There was an obvious set of financial and economic constraints which may certainly have been able to be put to one side and borne on the chin if there was some utility about the policy in terms of its actual effect; but taking into account, as the other side of the coin, the manifest ineffectuality of the policy, those considerations were pretty pressing.

The fourth and final point which led the Government to make the decision that it did, looking at the issue purely on its internal merits, was that we thought there were better ways of pursuing that same objective of seeking better behaviour by the French in the South Pacific. The passage of this South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, with its protocols, being open since yesterday for signature by the nuclear powers, with all the international pressure that that places upon them-on France in particular, to behave like a reasonable international citizen-and the comprehensive test ban treaty that we are continuing to pursue very actively and vigorously in Geneva all add together as ways in which pressure can still very usefully be applied on France to get it to stop those tests in the Pacific which we all universally agree it would be far better, in the interests of humankind, and not least the region, were they to stop.

Having said all that and having put all those points on the record to clarify why the Government's position is not one of support for Senator Sanders's substantive legislation and why we made the decision we have and cannot support it, I come back to making the point, once again, that by the way in which this particular amendment is cast, it links this South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill to Senator Sanders's own try-on so far as his own legislative priorities are concerned. Because of the procedural bind into which Senator Sanders has got himself by virtue of trying to be too clever by half as a result of manipulating the procedures in that way, the only result of his presenting the amendment in this form and its being passed would be, in effect, permanent delay in the enactment of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty and the permanent non-ratification of that Treaty, which is something none of us wish to ensure.