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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2954

Mr PEACOCK —My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister. Is it correct, as reported in yesterday's Australian Financial Review, that the Government's uranium decision has blocked negotiations on contracts to supply uranium worth more than $500m to three United States of America power utilities? Is it also true that details of confidential commercial negotiations with these utilities were contained in a Cabinet submission prepared by the Minister for Trade and were revealed by the honourable member for Melbourne at the Victorian Australian Labor Party Conference? On what basis was the information provided to the honourable member for Melbourne? Was he authorised to reveal it to the ALP Conference? Was the information freely available to all members of the Labor Caucus when they voted on the uranium issue?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The honourable member's question is a very fair one. No information was provided to the honourable member for Melbourne. There was, in the course of recent determinations by the Government, a submission by my Department as to the present position in respect of uranium contracts, two of which were approved. That was a factual documentation and presentation of the position. There was no release of any confidential information. There was certainly the Cabinet submission which, of course, is confidential to Cabinet. I was also concerned to read in, I think, the Australian Financial Review that three contracts which I had suggested be approved were not approved. That is completely erroneous. The only proposition that was given to Cabinet at the time was that Energy Resources of Australia Ltd had two specific contracts. Of course , the Government approved those contracts, which has caused a fair amount of controversy, as the honourable member will be aware. The issue is that those contracts were in negotiation for a long period. The initial negotiations started in the time of the Leader of the National Party. It was on the premise that the company had been in the market for some time prior to the election of the Government that those two contracts were approved. They are contracts for a limited tonnage. In no way was any information given to anybody else.

It is, of course, a fact of life in the uranium market that a number of power utilities, particularly in the United States, are showing interest in Australian uranium. At the same time the market price is very much below what we regard as an effective floor price. If that is the position, there is obviously difficulty in obtaining a price which we regard as an effective floor price and which is somewhat consistent with the floor price set in the life of the Government of honourable members opposite. The spot price for uranium is now about $10 a pound below that floor price, so honourable members can understand that nobody is jeopardised with regard to contracts. Of course, the issue is still of continual interest to uranium producers in Australia. I noticed that Mr Grey of Pancontinental Mining Ltd felt that he had been unfairly dealt with on the basis that no approval had been given for him to develop a mine. He understood the position at that time.

Mr Peacock —He does not understand it now. It is very confusing.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —He understood the Labor Party's position at the time of its election. Let me make this very clear. It goes without saying, as we have said in the course of debates of matters of public importance, that 100,000 tonnes of uranium from existing mines has still not been sold. Market forecasts predict that there is not much chance of that being sold within the next eight years. So we must ask ourselves where we think markets will be if new mines are opened. That is a very interesting aspect, particularly bearing in mind-

Mr Lusher — How would you know? You would not know.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —It is a fact of life. I know that the honourable member would not know, but I take some interest in the matter.

Mr Lusher —You ought to let the people who have got the stuff go and sell it. That is in the national interest.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Hume will cease interjecting.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I know that it is National Party policy to dig up all our resources and flog them at any price to foreign investors at any time. The National Party ought to be indicted for that because all it has done is waste the assets of Australia. To come back to the question, which was fairly asked, there has been no leakage of information and no information has been given out.

Mr Peacock —Someone has dropped it to Gerry Hand, or he has made it up.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —He would not have to make it up. The contracts the company felt it could have got are probably a matter of public knowledge. If one went to the annual general meeting of that company, it could well say: 'We were anxious to negotiate further contracts'. So it still is and so it still can. That is the important part. The Government's position is very clear. The two contracts have been approved. No other contracts have been approved. The matter is now the subject of an inquiry by Professor Slatyer, who will be reporting in May or June of next year. Following that, there will obviously be further discussions from the point of view of the Government as to the future of uranium contracts.

Mr Porter —At what price will you sell it?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —As and when it is determined that there can be an effective market, I would say that we will sell it at a price above the present price.