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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 714


Senator MARGETTS (5.17 p.m.) —The principles behind this Customs Tariff (Uranium Concentrate Export Duty) Act Repeal Bill are curious to say the least. It appears that because the levy currently payable under the act is not considered fair—because other mining operations, particularly the one at Roxby Downs, do not pay a similar levy—the levy should be dropped and replaced by a contractual arrangement. My initial reaction to that proposition is to suggest that, if Roxby does not currently pay a levy to fund environmental monitoring, it should be required to do so. The recent highlighted problems with respect to leakage from settling ponds at Roxby provides ample evidence of the urgent need for proper monitoring of the environmental impact of uranium mines.

  Uranium mining should not be considered in the same category as iron ore or bauxite mining, for example, because of the occupational health and long-term environmental impacts of this radioactive ore. Who is going to pay for the environmental monitoring at Ranger and Roxby for the next 10,000 years? Mr Jamie Pittock from the Northern Territory Environment Centre in a media release on 27 September 1993 stated:

The environmental threat from the uranium mine [at Ranger] is getting worse as it ages and will be more expensive to manage in the future.

Mr Pittock then quotes from the OSS, the Office of Supervising Scientist, annual report of 1991-92. He states:

At Ranger the expected environmental effects of a large operating uranium mine are beginning to be discernible outside the immediate environs of the minesite.

There is no question that substantial environmental monitoring is required right now and will continue to be required for many years to come. This is part of the hidden cost of mining this dangerous substance. If companies do not pay that as a levy, or if it is done as a one-off agreement with a company, over time there will be the means for companies to leave that cost to the taxpayer, which will mean an even greater subsidy for this industry than currently exists.

  If companies do not pay that as a levy, or if it is done as a one-off agreement with a company, over time there will be the means for companies to leave that cost to the taxpayer, which will mean an even greater subsidy for this industry than currently exists.

  The other issue that I would like to raise in this context is that of cost recovery. Whilst I note that Energy Resources of Australia has entered a contractual arrangement to pay the sum of $1.5 million to assist in the funding of the Office of the Supervising Scientist, it should also be noted that the running costs for the OSS are in excess of $7.5 million. Yet again, the Australian taxpayer is contributing to the profits of Australian mining companies. The environmental monitoring being undertaken by OSS should not be considered as a luxury. It is an integral aspect of mining operations and the mining companies should be required to fund that monitoring. If, as I suggested earlier, Roxby Downs was also required by this government to be monitored, it would be possible to spread the cost.

  What surprises me, however, is that this government, which is so committed to cost recovery, applies that principle in a very inconsistent manner. In the education arena, for example, there is a concerning trend for this government to apply the cost recovery principle to the very people in this community who cannot afford to pay—students. This government, which so often espouses the principle of social justice and concern for the battlers in this community, obviously thinks it more important to fund large mining companies and their highly paid executives than the lower income earners who are battling to improve themselves through tertiary education. Why is the mining industry also not required to pay its fees?

  The other point worthy of note in this regard is the amazing comments of the minister in his second reading speech on this bill. In a discussion of the rationale for abolishing the levy, the minister stated:

. . . with diminishing export from the Alligator Rivers region, due to the closure of the Nabarlek mine and declining exports from the Ranger mine due to the poor state of the market for uranium, levy collections have become uncertain.

I would like to know how the minister can reconcile that statement with recent comments by mining industry executives and fellow members of the ALP who have claimed that Australia should open up uranium mining in this country because of a strong international market in that commodity. The Greens will be opposing this bill.