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Thursday, 19 September 1974
Page: 1255


Senator STEELE HALL (South AustraliaLeader of the Liberal Movement) - I support the disallowance motion moved by Senator Durack but not for the same reasons. There is no doubt that the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) has failed to produce a policy which will guide the industry, a policy which he ought to produce at this particular time. Soon after Senator Durack gave notice of his motion of disallowance I contacted the Minister and he and his Department were good enough to send me what I think is an extremely good case for the Minister's asking for this power. To make sure that the Act is extended in the fashion he desires, he has given comparisons with other countries that are leaders in the free enterprise system in the world and which have similar, if not greater, powers in relation to the possession, use and regulation of uranium resources in their national interests. The documents which I have, and which no doubt are available in the Parliamentary Library, indicate that the United States of America and Canada have very strict controls residing in their national governments for the sort of management of uranium resources that the Australian Minister is seeking here. In fact from my initial reading of the documents, those countries would have greater powers than the Minister is seeking. I do not believe that the United States of America is limited by the reference to defence as is this provision outside territories under Commonwealth control.

I feel that it is quite proper for the Minister to ask for these powers and I can see no reason, if he had a policy which he wanted to implement, why he should not have these powers. Certainly I am suspicious, especially following their introduction by the Government, of the motives behind a number of Government moves, but in seeking to regulate the production and usage of our uranium resources the Minister would be doing no more than Senator Durack has asked, and that is that there should be limited exports under strict conditions which are subject to the national interest of Australia. One would assume that the Minister is trying to do in Australia what other countries have done before with this important and finite resource and that, in the words of Senator Durack, he would be regarding it as our national resource. If we dug it all up and sold it, it would not be our national resource but that of someone else and we would have a monetary payment in exchange for it. So there has to be some vision of Australia's future fuel and power needs, and uranium, on the assessment which we have now of Australia's fuel reserves of all forms, will probably play a very heavy part at around the turn of the century or thereafter in the supply of Australia's power needs.

One can only assume that the legislation gives the Minister the right to ask for this power and he has properly done so in the ordinary fashion. He has supported his request by comparison with other countries which have a far greater determination to stick to the free enterprise system than does the Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Australian Government. But the Minister has not produced any definite plan for the development of minerals in general in Australia and of the uranium industry in particular. In this way he is somewhat matched by the Opposition. I notice that Senator Durack did not read much of the uranium policy put out by his leader because there is nothing much in it. I have read the 5 points which he made and I thank him for providing me with them. It was courteous of him to do so. But, dealing factually with the document, he has listed 5 points. They are: Realistic export price level and royalties, satisfactory environmental assessment and protection procedures including the protection of national parks, satisfactory negotiations with Aboriginal groups and so on, the maintenance of a dominant position for Australian ownership and control, and international control requirements.

Nowhere in any argument from either side so far can I see any real statement of Australia's future needs for uranium as an energy source. I think we are burying our heads in the sand if we assume that we can do without nuclear power in a country which is poorly endowed, in terms of our long term needs, with fossil fuels. So where is the policy which will provide the long term management of Australia's fuel resources and provide for the power that will come from Australia's own uranium deposits? It does not reside with the Opposition. It certainly is only a hint from the Government of Australia.

We have had a number of particular mentions of it by the Minister himself who in 1973 indicated that he would give some indication of Government policy. He neglected to do so. He has been in office approaching 2 years. He is asking for the extension of his powers by this regulation and he still refuses to produce a plan. We in this House, and certainly the mining industry itself, stand waiting to react to the Government's policy which has not been revealed. Those parts of the industry with which I have been in contact have not been objecting to Government policy because they do not know what it is. Is it not a reasonable request to make of a government that is supposed to have developed policies over the years and to have sharpened and honed them in

Opposition? Is it not reasonable to ask it in almost 2 years of government to produce its intentions? I think it is so reasonable that this regulation should be defeated and should remain defeated until the Government can produce its plans until those who have taken the initiative and found Australia's uranium resources know what is in store for them and know what proportion of their finds are economic to them.

The Government of Australia is noted for its anti-mining bias which was revealed particularly in the Budget documents. The immediate response to that has been the retreat of shares in the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd below $5. If the Government wants a practical public assessment made by practical people in the market place there it is. There is a complete lack of knowledge of Government intentions in relation to mining and suspicions are built on that lack of knowldege of policy. As editions of the 'Australian Financial Review' of the last few days since the Budget will show, the view in the Australian mining industry is one of extreme pessimism. We have one more instance of how this pessimism is built. This particular Opposition policy announcement which I have mentioned at least offers support for the free enterprise system of mining development but it too does not in any way solve the situation. It offers no leadership at all in relation to the national need. It deals only with the mining industry. Certainly the 2 major aspects must be considered. So what is the Australian national attitude to be to the development and exploitation of our oranium reserves?

Canada has taken action in this particular regard. Yesterday I was furnished with a copy of the most recent uranium policy in Canada, so I am informed. I would like to read to the Senate the brief details of the Canadian uranium policy. They are as follows:

A formula will be established 'to enable each nuclear power reactor, operating, committed for construction or planned for operation 10 years into the future to operate on an average annual capacity factor of 80 per cent for 30 years from the start of the period '.

Each mining company will have a reserve margin for domestic supply allocated to it by a Uranium Resource Appraisal Group within the Energy Department. This margin would be based on the 'ratio of each company's uranium resources to the total Canadian recoverable resources from all such companies estimated by the Uranium Appraisal Group'.

The Croup will audit Canadian resources. Unlimited export will be permitted for such reserves in excess of the reserves calculated pursuant to the above formula.

Export contract approvals are to be limited to a maximum of 10 years from the date of contract signing, with contingent approval possible for an additional S years.

All terms of export contracts, including prices, will be subject to Government review and approval.

The policy was unveiled now because it is expected that there will be 'some additional announcements on export contracts soon'. The Federal Energy Minister in Canada said: 'We wanted to get this in the open because we have reason to believe there are some big deals cooking now*. What a different attitude that is from the attitude taken by the Australian Government. The Canadian Government wanted to get its policy into the open because there are some big deals cooking now. There are some big deals cooking about Australia 's uranium resources and this Government does just the opposite to getting its policy into the open at this particular time.

I wonder whether a certain amount of bait has been held out to the Senate, to the Parliament and to the mining companies in general to obtain general approval of this ordinance, because the Minister has been making public statements about the setting up in Australia of a uranium enrichment plant. South Australia has figured very largely in discussion about the siting of that plant. I believe that that is a very real possibility in the future because South Australia took a distinct lead in the early days of uranium and its development in this country. I would like to give the Senate a few facts about the beginnings of the uranium industry in Australia. South Australia's interest in uranium dates from World War II when Sir Marcus Oliphant, the present Governor of South Australia, advised the United Kingdom Government to spend funds on uranium exploration in South Australia, where the only deposits of uranium then known in Australia were located. Through the Commonwealth Government arrangements were made with the South Australia Mines Department to carry out this investigation, with the assistance of Commonwealth defence forces and other State and mining Commonwealth departments.

The work failed to contribute materially to the war effort but the South Australian Government was encouraged to continue the search at government expense. The results led to the establishment of the Radium Hill mining project in 1954, producing uranium oxide yellow cake from the United States-United Kingdom combined development agency over a period of 7 years. The project was financed by the United Kingdom and the United States Governments. The efforts of the South Australian Government encouraged the search for uranium in other parts of Australia. The concurrent active participation in the search for uranium by the Commonwealth Government resulted in the establishment of the

Rum Jungle operation in the Northern Territory about the same time as Radium Hill, and later the mines of Mary Kathleen in Queensland and on the South Alligator River in the Northern Territory, all of which had contracts to supply the United Kingdom or the United States government agencies. All these early uranium contracts terminated about 1964 as a result of stockpile sufficiency and lower cost supplies being available chiefly from Canada in respect of the United States and United Kingdom markets.

Notable in this era was the South Australian Government's establishment of the research laboratories, now called the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories, which became the recognised authority for the investigation and design of uranium extraction processes which were incorporated in all the early uranium mining plants. The history of mining in Australia has shown clearly how the profits from mining have led directly or indirectly to the establishment of many of Australia's basic manufacturing industries. Broken Hill 's silver, lead and zinc led to the great iron and steel industry of this country. More recently the Weipa bauxite has led to the development of the aluminium industry. They are just 2 examples of the growth outside the particular initiating factor that occurs from the mining industry. Therefore, we in Australia and particularly in South Australia have an early history of initiation and honorable development of uranium discovery and its development to the marketable stage. If it is possible environmentally and for other physical reasons to have a uranium enrichment plant in Australia, South Australia would certainly like to share in its development.

It is no good having these nebulous talks on the future planning of a specific- at this early stage still futuristic- plant as a type of lead-in to a general transfer of power to the Federal Minister without his revealing what he will do with that particular power. The result of the refusal to pass this ordinance may be a completely negative response from the Government. One would assume that the Government might say that there will not be a uranium industry. I can see a certain amount of pig-headedness in the Government's response, especially in the Budget- if I can digress to prove a point- because this Senate was blamed for an additional impost in postal and telephone charges because it had delayed the imposition of those charges for several months. If the Government has taken that vindictive attitude in relation to postal and telephone charges it could take a similar attitude to the denial of this ordinance. That is something, of course, which honourable senators will have to take into account when they vote on this matter. I still believe that the overriding factor is the lack of knowledge given to this House and to the country by a man who is known generally as the Strangler'. I might say that when I went to see the Minister about this matter I found him most courteous. I found him a very genial man to talk to -


Senator McAULIFFE (QUEENSLAND) - And knowledgeable.


Senator STEELE HALL -He could be. On a personal level I could not fault the response of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). He was good enough to see me to try to take me as far as his lack of policy would let him. He and his Department certainly responded with as much information as he desired to give. I make no criticism on that particular point. I do criticise the Minister's lack of policy development but I do not relate that to the personal response I got from him. I wish to make that point clear. It seems to me that, therefore, we are involved in a negative sort of argument. I hope that the Senate will support Senator Durack and will disallow this ordinance. As I have said, that is a negative sort of argument. It is a reaction to the complete and earlier negativism of the Minister himself who will not provide the national Parliament or the mining industry with the information they require. I draw the attention of the Senate- perhaps Senator Durack has already done so- to the heading ' Reasons for Atomic Energy (Prescribed Substances) Regulations'. Under that heading, the Minister starts on a very sombre note when he says:

Consistent with its Party platform, on the basis of which it was elected to office in 1972 and reconfirmed in that office last May, the Labor Government lays great emphasis on the need to approach the development of Australia's uranium industry in an orderly and coherent manner.

What did he mean when he referred to the basis of his Party's platform? How far are we to view its development in relation to the uranium industry? The lack of information from the Minister means that we must assume that he will apply his Party's policies to the fullest extent. We must therefore view the effect of those policies to the fullest extent on the industry which we are discussing.

It seems clear that the industry itself must respond. There are precedents around the world which the Minister has to support his action in asking for the ordinance. There are other precedents around the world illustrating to the industry that something is expected of it in relation to Australia's future needs for uranium. It seems to me that if the Government will not give a lead the industry must attempt to do so. It must scan what other countries have done in their national interest in relation to uranium development and must suggest methods whereby the industries in Australia can be involved in a viable, economic mining enterprise and still work within the national interest. They are not given that lead by the Liberal Party of Australia whose document is as nebulous and as lacking in real information as the Minister's approach. I have suggested to one member of the industry, who has been good enough to see me, that at this stage a good deal of responsibility devolves on the industry itself. I would hope the industry could collectively develop policies which it could suggest to the Opposition and to the Government and hopefully develop an economic enterprise which will preserve Australia's reserves through into the day when we must inevitably rely heavily on atomic energy.







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