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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 72


Senator FERGUSON (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Senator Minchin. Will the minister advise the Senate how government support for uranium mining is benefiting the Australian economy? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?


Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I thank Senator Ferguson for that very good question. As the Senate knows, and as our friends from Finland would know, Australia is blessed with enormous natural resources, and the development of these resources has been a key to our economic growth and development for most of our history. As Senator Ferguson alluded to, our uranium industry is a very good example of the economic benefit that we get from the development of our resources sector. Our uranium industry generates over $360 million per annum in export earnings—that is $1 million every single day—and it directly employs some 743 people, just about all of them in regional Australia. We are a world leader in the production of uranium. We produce some 21 per cent of world production—second only to Canada—and it provides a vital source of power to many countries around the world.

The proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium mine in Senator Ferguson’s and my home state of South Australia has the potential to create around 8,400 permanent jobs, direct and indirect, and contribute an extra $1.4 billion per annum to our state’s economy. In that vein I welcome BHP’s comments reported yesterday that the expansion potential of the mine was a key element in their decision to bid for Western Mining Corporation. I urge BHP to support this project in its entirety if their bid is successful.

Australia contains about 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium deposits but they are of course of no value whatsoever if they are left in the ground. Given the opposition’s new-found interest in economic issues, one would expect that the opposition would support the expansion of uranium production to boost Australia’s exports. Instead, of course, we are confronted with a Labor Party hostage to one of the most idiotic and indefensible policies we have ever seen from a major party. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, confirmed on the weekend that the Labor opposition will retain its extraordinarily archaic three-mines uranium policy. This is a policy which says that three mines are good but four are very bad.

Under this ludicrous policy of the Labor Party, the proposed Honeymoon uranium development, also in South Australia, would not be able to proceed simply because it does not fit within this arbitrary three-mines policy—the three mines we have are good but Honeymoon would be very bad because it would be number four. Mr Beazley still has learnt nothing. He still will not stand up to the left of his Labor Party and dump what is an extraordinarily outdated and antidevelopment, anti-export policy. He has the hide to lecture us about exports but refuses to overturn his own anti-export policy. Even worse, the Labor governments of Queensland and Western Australia are totally opposed to any uranium mining in their states at all. I am pleased to see that, as usual, there is dissent in Labor’s ranks. On Saturday we saw South Australian Labor Premier, Mike Rann, reported as saying that there was absolutely no doubt that the three-mines policy needed to be reviewed at the next conference. South Australian Treasurer, Kevin Foley, said, ‘I for one in the Labor Party would like nothing more than for the three-mines policy to be scrapped.’

Uranium mining is just one policy area where the Labor Party is stuck in an extraordinary time warp. They have not moved a single inch in nine years in opposition on this, on Telstra, on industrial relations reform and on economic reform. They are stuck with out-of-date policies and led by an out-of-date leader.