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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 241

Senator FORSHAW (4.02 p.m.) —I rise to support the motion and to support the remarks of my colleague Senator Collins, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. I too am amazed—it seems we are all amazed today—at the debate that is taking place on the urgency motion of Senator Coulter.

  When one listens to the contributions from Senator Coulter and Senator Tambling, one would think that people have been playing with mirrors. Senator Coulter stood up and said, `I move this motion, but I just want to tell you at the outset that I don't really agree with what I am moving because I don't agree with uranium mining at all. That is our policy, but I will move as a matter of urgency that there is a need for the government to maintain the named three-mine policy with respect to uranium mining.' So we have moved rather quickly, as Senator Collins said, from a position where the Australian Democrats wanted to abandon the three-mine policy, as Senator Coulter calls it, to a position where there is now a need for the government to maintain it.

  Then Senator Tambling got up and said, `I can't support this motion and the opposition can't support this motion because, whilst your party supports uranium mining, you can't support a motion which will actually maintain that situation at the existing mines.' So at this stage we have had people from the Democrats and the opposition standing up and supporting propositions which they do not support. One thing is clear: the Australian Labor Party and the government have a detailed policy on uranium mining.

Senator Ian Macdonald —For how long?

Senator FORSHAW —I will come to that. It is a policy that is not just about three named mines—Ranger, Nabarlek and Roxby Downs. Whilst we are happy to support this motion because it supports one of the features of our policy—that is, the three named mines continuing to operate—there is much more to the policy. As I said, it is a detailed policy developed over a significant period of time through the internal processes of the Labor Party, through its national conference.

Senator Tambling —Before 1982.

Senator FORSHAW —Senator Tambling interjected earlier, and continues to interject, saying, `Tell us your policy.' The policy is there; it is written down. It is a most detailed policy.

Senator Tambling —It is 10 years old.

Senator FORSHAW —It is not 10 years old. It runs to at least four pages and deals with a range of matters besides just the three named mines. I will enlighten Senator Ian Macdonald as to what the policy deals with. It refers particularly to the health and safety issues associated with the nuclear industry and with uranium mining. It is a policy that deals comprehensively with the fact that the nuclear industry has a peaceful and beneficial side as well as a potentially destructive side. The policy deals with the fact that Australia has existing contracts to fulfil regarding the delivery of uranium to overseas purchasers.

  The policy highlights the leading role that Australia has and will continue to play in ensuring the safe and peaceful use of uranium throughout the world. The policy deals with the way in which the responsible mining and export of uranium can contribute towards improved nuclear non-proliferation policies and practices internationally, and towards resolving the problems of high level nuclear waste management. So this is not simply a one-line three-mine policy, which seems to be what people continue to focus on when they debate this issue. As Senator Collins said, if the motion before us involved debating the issue of uranium mining in detail, then we probably could have had a far more interesting debate.

Senator Collins —Don't tempt Senator Coulter.

Senator FORSHAW —No. We will come to that in September. When we take the time to read the Labor Party policy, we can see that it covers all the important issues.

Senator Tambling —Except the three mines.

Senator FORSHAW —It does not deal just with the three mines, as Senator Coulter's motion suggests, but we are happy today to see that Senator Coulter has come on board and is now supporting ALP policy on the issue.

  Reference has been made to the article in today's Australian regarding the debate that took place in the Northern Territory parliament. I am very pleased to hear that Senator Coulter has not gone as far as his namesake in the Liberal Party who said that nuclear weapons are good and that one can unilaterally defend the United States bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. We are happy to have him come on board in support of our policy at this time. Consideration as to how future changes to the current uranium policy may occur, if they are to occur, is also an issue here.

Senator Ian Macdonald —This is what we want to hear.

Senator FORSHAW —It is properly a matter for the Australian Labor Party at its national conference in September. Every party represented here today has its own internal processes to determine its own party policies. The fact that there are differing opinions within the Labor Party and within the wider community regarding uranium policy is clear. It is on the record and, as Senator Collins said, it has been on the record for a long time. But the difference is that we in the Labor Party do not try to hide behind our occasional differences of opinion. We know how to debate them so as to resolve them in the proper forums. We will be having a public conference where delegates with a broad cross-section of views will thrash out the issues. Differences of opinion within the ALP are not seen as insidious threats, as they are seen by the opposition.

  The processes that we adopt are in stark contrast to those of the opposition and, it appears, the Democrats. Let us look at what has happened with policy development in more recent times with the opposition. We have the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Downer) dictating policy on matters one day and reversing that policy the next. We have shadow ministers running around the country contradicting each other. On citizen initiated referenda, the Leader of the Opposition disowned his own earlier views and claimed that he did not really mean what he said but that he wanted to avoid a split.

  On Aboriginal affairs, which Senator Tambling has referred to, the policy was reversed within 24 hours by the opposition leader. The shadow minister for health, when talking about tobacco advertising and health issues, executed more backflips, to repeat Senator Collins's analogy, than a Commonwealth games diver. When we get to that other vital issue of community debate, the republic, we see that the New South Wales Liberal Party heavies will not even allow its own members to debate the issue.

  Those opposite get up in this parliament and talk to us about policy development. The position is very clear. The matter is on the agenda for the ALP conference in September. It will be debated, as it has always been, and the issue will be determined. That is a far cry from the sort of policy development of the opposition on what is a most important issue to this country and its people. That is a far better and more appropriate process than that adopted by the opposition.

  As I stated at the outset, this motion, despite its deficiencies, is supported because it reflects government policy—a policy that takes account of the range of competing interests; of economic factors, of Aboriginal rights and self-determination, of environmental concerns associated with the nuclear industry, of the health and safety requirements of mining, and of the dangers of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Any change is a matter for the Labor Party at its forthcoming conference. That is where it will be debated and that is where it will be determined. At the moment, we have a clear and detailed policy which we are happy to support on this occasion.