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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2635

Mr NEWMAN (Bass) (Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development) - by leave- The Government has received the first report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry which comprised His Honour Mr Justice Fox, Professor C. B. Kerr and Mr G. G. Kelleher as the Commission of Inquiry. The Government wishes to express its deep appreciation of the work of this Commission. The principal findings and recommendations of the inquiry, which relate to the development and export of Australia's uranium resources, have been considered by the Government and their thrust is broadly acceptable and provides a basis for future decisions on the industry. In particular the Government strongly supports the inquiry's view on the need for the fullest and most effective safeguards on uranium exports and the strict regulation and control of uranium mining and milling. This environmental inquiry has been long and exhaustive and has presented opportunities for all interested individuals and groups within the community to put their views. As the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said on 7 November, there will shortly be a debate in the national Parliament on the first report of the inquiry, and this will reflect the views being expressed in the community. The Government will take decisions on the further development of the Australian uranium industry in the light of public discussion and that debate. The second report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry should further illuminate particular issues.

The preparation of environmental impact statements for uranium mining projects outside of the Northern Territory may now proceed but the Government will not make final decisions until the Commission of Inquiry has made its second report. The environmental impact statements will need to take account of any physical and environmental safeguards appropriate to mining sites set down in the inquiry's first report. The Government and the previous Labor Government have both repeatedly stated that export contracts approved prior to 2 December 1972 will be honoured. This Government had decided that no exports of uranium from Australia would be made until the first report of the inquiry had been received. Mary Kathleen Uranium, the only mine now producing uranium in Australia, is stockpiling production and contract obligations have been met by borrowing uranium from the United Kingdom. Other Australian firms with contractual commitments, also approved prior to 2 December 1972, Peko-Ez and Queensland Mines Ltd, will be able to meet those commitments only by making appropriate arrangements for export from the Government's stockpile.

The Government is most concerned that rigid control and safeguards be applied to uranium exports, along with the lines of the recommendations of the inquiry. It will not permit the export of uranium unless it is satisfied that there are adequate and proper safeguards on the handling, transport and processing en route and in respect of the ultimate consignee. The Government is satisfied that appropriate controls would apply to the shipments under existing contracts, which will be used for electric power generation in Japan, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany, all of which are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The material will be processed in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, which are also parties to the NPT and require safeguards on the material which they process additional to those of the NPT. Also these countries are well known to have a responsible attitude to safeguards questions. The handling and disposal of radioactive waste resulting from nuclear power generation lies with the countries concerned and, we are advised, are subject to the strictest regulation and control in these countries within existing technology.

The Government is therefore setting in hand, subject to environmental requirements, action in relation to:

Export permits necessary to allow Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd to export its production; and

Export arrangements, on an appropriate basis, for the Government's uranium stockpile in respect of export contracts of Peko-Ez and Queensland Mines Ltd.

The Government believes that a strong national safeguards policy for uranium exports should be complemented, at the international level, by Australia continuing to contribute actively to constructive multilateral efforts to strengthen safeguards and restraints on nuclear weapons proliferation. In this context the Government welcomes any international initiatives for strengthening the international non-proliferation regime. The safeguards measures proposed in the report largely coincide with the preliminary thinking of the Government as given in public testimony to the inquiry earlier in the year. The Government will now be carrying forward more detailed consideration of safeguards in order to further develop Australia's national policy on the safeguards to apply to any future contracts for uranium exports. I present the following paper:

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