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Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Page: 5903

Senator FARRELL (1:51 PM) —The background of the Uranium Royalty (Northern Territory) Bill 2008 was thoroughly canvassed in the report on that bill by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee. I have read that report and, with respect, agree with the analysis of the evidence presented and the recommendation of the majority that the bill be passed in its current form. This legislation is vital to the uranium industry in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory holds, as Senator Minchin just indicated, 13 per cent of Australia’s uranium deposits. These resources are significant and they need to be carefully managed by the government to ensure that the uranium mining is done safely, efficiently and profitably.

As a South Australian senator I take particular interest in the mining industry because of its importance to my home state. Olympic Dam is located in South Australia’s far north and is the largest uranium mine in the world. The Beverley mine is also in operation and is the second largest uranium mine in Australia. The Honeymoon and Four Mile uranium mines will also begin commercial production in the future, which will further grow South Australia’s reputation as a reliable uranium exporter.

South Australia’s rise as a mining state did not happen overnight; it was the result of the South Australian government identifying mining as a priority in its strategic plan and proactively setting up a policy and regulatory framework to encourage mining investment. The South Australian example demonstrates how government policy can play a leading role in the development of mining industries. It is important for the government to clearly state its commitment to mining, to acknowledge the many benefits of mining and to put in place consistent and responsible laws governing the operation of mines to ensure that they are safe and provide a benefit to both the community and investors.

This legislation simplifies uranium mining in the Northern Territory. It does so by mirroring the Northern Territory’s Mineral Royalty Act 1982. The Northern Territory government will administer the legislation on behalf of the Commonwealth. The bill also provides some consistency to the royalty scheme so that mines that produce different minerals will need to adhere to just one taxation scheme, which will provide more certainty for investors. Polymetallic mining operations will benefit the most from these changes because they will be operating under a consistent set of rules rather than having to negotiate multiple regulatory systems. It will allow these mines to focus on mining and not on the complexities of the Northern Territory and Commonwealth legal systems.

Australia has the world’s largest supply of uranium. In a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics the Executive Director of the Australian Uranium Association, Mr Michael Angwin, predicted that production of uranium would increase from the current level of 10,000 tonnes per year to 30,000 or 40,000 tonnes per year by the year 2030 as a result of rising world demand for energy. While I acknowledge that the global financial crisis has put the brakes on world economic growth for the moment, the demand for energy is predicted to continue to increase substantially. Asia is catching up with the industrialised world and its economic progress will significantly increase demand for Australia’s energy resources. Australia has the world’s largest supply of uranium at a time when world demand for energy is expected to increase exponentially. This will present many opportunities for Australia. As a nation we should develop the situation by laying the foundation for the world’s best practice when it comes to uranium mining.

The Australian Labor Party has been cautious in the past when it has come to the mining of uranium, and rightly so. It is a hazardous material and needs to be managed carefully so that it can be used responsibly for the benefit of the world. I understand that the coalition are supporting the government’s bill, as Senator Minchin indicated, but of course they have taken the opportunity to attack Labor’s record on uranium mining as being inconsistent. These accusations are untrue. When it comes to mining uranium, it is critical that the appropriate safeguards are put in place. The opposition points to the Hawke government’s three-mine policy and the current Labor government’s refusal to export uranium to India because they have not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty as evidence that Labor is not committed to Australia’s uranium industry. I can point not only to this legislation but also to the expansion of uranium mining in my home state of South Australia to prove that these critics are wrong.

The opposition accuse the government of being cautious when it comes to exporting uranium, and they might have a point. When it comes to uranium, mistakes can prove to be very costly. Labor’s policy is unapologetically pro-exporting of uranium but this issue requires the government to show leadership and overcome legitimate concerns in the community about the export of uranium. Many people in the community—and I am sure that the Greens would proudly claim to be amongst them—are opposed to uranium mining under any circumstances. If it were up to them, Australia’s mining export industry would be banned and the substantial wealth generated from these mining operations would be lost. Of course, that would be the practical effect of Senator Ludlam’s first amendment. They keep an eagle eye on Australia’s uranium industry, scanning for even the slightest adverse consequence from mining uranium to use to bolster their cause.

The Australian government is showing not just the people of Australia but also the world that it is committed to setting the world’s best practice standard when it comes to successfully exporting uranium. The fact that the Liberals complain that the government is not going far enough and that the Greens complain it has gone too far is just more evidence that the Labor Party occupies the middle ground on this issue. We support the legislation and oppose the amendments of Senator Ludlam.

Debate interrupted.