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Mining companies say ALP policy for no new uranium mines raises doubt over future of at least three new uranium mines

TONY EASTLEY: Well, the mining industry says the future of Australia's uranium industry could be in doubt if Labor wins the next Federal election. That's the prognosis following the adoption of a no-new-uranium-mines policy at the ALP National Conference in Hobart. Mining companies say the new policy raises doubt over the future of at least three new uranium mines which were expected to come on-line later this year. As Mark Willesee reports for us, with this year almost certainly an election year, the miners say the policy shift could hurt Labor.

MARK WILLESEE: When the Howard Government scrapped Labor's contentious three-mines policy 12 months ago, it triggered a rush for Australia's uranium reserves. Plans were hatched to open Jabiluka in the Northern Territory and the Beverley and Honeymoon mines in South Australia. But with Labor a real chance at the next Federal election, the best-laid plans of the mining companies could come unstuck.

Yesterday, the ALP National Conference in Hobart committed a future Labor government to a policy of no new uranium mines. Northern Territory Labor Leader, Maggie Hickey, has reservations about the policy, but she's confident mines such as Jabiluka won't be affected because they'll be operating before the next election.

MAGGIE HICKEY: The Federal Government will make up its mind what constitutes an operating mine at the time and they have to judge each of those on its merits. But I think the policy that was passed yesterday certainly removes that nonsense that only two named mines are allowed to proceed under a Labor Federal Government.

MARK WILLESEE: What about jobs, though? It obviously means no more expansion of the industry.

MAGGIE HICKEY: No, indeed, and of course that was my objection to the policy that we passed yesterday. Despite the fact that it is a considerable improvement on what we had before, I would like it to have gone further and so would some of the other delegates, but I guess that's something we're going to have to debate at another conference.

MARK WILLESEE: Do you think, though, this policy could cause Federal Labor headaches in States like South Australia and in the Northern Territory?

MAGGIE HICKEY: Well, that's speculation and we'll have to wait and see what happens at the next Federal election.

MARK WILLESEE: Northern Territory Labor Leader, Maggie Hickey. One person who believes the policy could cost jobs is the President of the South Australian Chamber of Mines, Bob Goring (?). He maintains, with an election in the offing, Labor is moving in the wrong direction.

BOB GORING: Honeymoon and Beverley are the two prospects we have here in our State that are looking towards development, and they represent between 50 and a hundred permanent jobs each, plus the myriad of jobs that relate to them in the service sector. So there could be some hundreds of jobs at risk.

MARK WILLESEE: Do you think this policy will cost Labor electorally?

BOB GORING: I think that it may well be a negative move for the Labor Party. Some of the premises on which the decision seems to be built, such as the notion of community support for the decision, I would doubt, Mike. In the light of the greenhouse debate internationally, trends towards the use of nuclear power internationally and the history of wonderful performance in the uranium industry in this country, I think have moved the community towards acceptance of the uranium industry.

MARK WILLESEE: The Honeymoon uranium mine east of Broken Hill was prevented from operating under Labor's old three-mines policy. The mine's owners, Southern Cross Resources, hope it will be up and running before the next election. But company president, Martin Ackland, concedes the ALP's latest no-new-mines edict could cause problems for the industry.

MARTIN ACKLAND: Well, I believe the policy is not in Australia's best interest because it creates uncertainty for people who would invest in Australia and, certainly, it creates doubt for those who are striving to get mines into production at this stage, and cast doubt for those people who have taken up employment with those mines.

MARK WILLESEE: Do you think this is a bit of a return to the three-mines policy because that obviously stopped Honeymoon getting up and operational before? Is it a bit of deja vu?

MARTIN ACKLAND: We'll just have to wait and see what unfolds, but certainly it's not a green light from the Labor Party and it creates a lot of uncertainty in anyone who's in the uranium business.

TONY EASTLEY: Martin Ackland, President of Southern Cross Resources.