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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 734


Mr DOWNER(5.50) —Mr Deputy Speaker, I thought you were very liberal in your interpretation of the Standing Orders in allowing the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Langmore) to give a long and rather disappointingly ideological diatribe against the United States Administration's strategic defence initiative project.


Mr Langmore —You obviously have not read the Treaty.


Mr DOWNER —Mr Deputy Speaker, I also draw your attention to the fact that the honourable member has apparently resorted to abuse, claiming that I have not read the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, when I spent eight years in the Department of Foreign Affairs which included my being involved in disarmament issues. That piece of information is entirely false. Perhaps the honourable member would do better if, firstly, he read the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill which is before the House since that is what this debate is supposed to be about and, secondly, he tried to examine with a little sophistication the issues relating to the strategic defence initiative. After all, it is well documented by many people that the Soviet Union has been embarking on a research and development project similar to the American strategic defence initiative. We do not know whether that will be successful. Perhaps it will be successful, perhaps it will not. One of the arguments against the American strategic defence initiative is that it apparently can never work. If it can never work, frankly, it does not really matter to Australia or to other countries; it matters to the American taxpayer, of course, and that is a separate issue, but it does not matter to anybody else if it does not work. If it does work it will be the first time in history that a country such as the United States has provided itself with an effective umbrella against nuclear attack. It would not matter how many additional nuclear weapons the Soviet Union produced, if the SDI worked they would, of course, be valueless. So again, the argument about it exacerbating the arms race if it can work is not a particularly relevant one. Looking at it the other way round, if it does not work, why should it exacerbate the arms race? If it can never work there is no need for anybody to take countermeasures against it.

As a matter of fact, since we are on this issue, I think it is disappointing that the Australian Government turned down the opportunity which other Western governments took of participating in the strategic defence initiative program. As a result of that, we could have got anything up to $200m of high technology research and development work in this country. I know that the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones), who is at the table, shares very strongly my view that we must do everything we possibly can in this country to bring ourselves up to international standards in terms of the level of technology being pursued in this country. What a shame that that one very great opportunity has been turned down by this Government. I do not want to labour this issue because I am one of those people who have been arguing that SDI is really not relevant to this piece of legislation. This legislation, instead, is about the Australian nuclear industry and the role of that industry in the international community, particularly through the sale of our uranium and the nuclear safeguards agreements that we have with a number of countries and organisations.

I think the Australian nuclear industry is extremely important to Australia's national goals. It is important to one of our goals, the goal of building a much stronger domestic economy, and it is important to another of our goals, the goal of greater regional and global stability and security. Through our own uranium sales and our own nuclear policies we can make a major contribution to that global security. As far as the domestic economy is concerned, it is argued that our uranium industry is an export industry with a value of about $400m a year. It almost goes without saying that that has implications for jobs in this country, it has implications for investment and it has implications for exports at a time when our balance of payments is in an historically bad position. Uranium exports are also Australia's entree into global nuclear politics. Australia is a small country. We do not have a great role in the international community-perhaps unfortunately, perhaps fortunately-but we can use this one commodity that we have, and we have a good proportion of the total world supply, in order to exercise some influence internationally.

This Bill is essentially relevant to the latter of those national goals, the national goal of pursuing international stability, in this case through our entree into global nuclear politics; and it puts into legislative effect Australia's non-proliferation obligations, and especially through our nuclear safeguards policy. I very strongly support all of this. I have played some part in the negotiations of Australia's nuclear safeguards agreements-in my case, the European Atomic Energy Community's nuclear arrangements.

However, I think it is a pity that, in drawing up this legislation, the Government has left something of a loophole which the Opposition has drawn attention to. The Opposition has proposed amendments to this legislation so that that loophole will be closed. What we do not want is some artificial legal contrivance being put forward by some sections of the community which will use this legislation in order to try to stop visits to Australia, in particular, by American, British and other allied ships that may or may not have some kind of nuclear potential. In order to ensure that that loophole is never exploited I think the Government should agree to the amendment being put forward by the Opposition in order to close the loophole altogether.

The people who do not want visits by American or other allied ships that may have some nuclear capacity are the same people who argue that we should have no uranium industry in this country at all. I know that those people-I know many of them myself-are people of goodwill. They are people who are genuine in their commitments to try to play some part in promoting global peace, but they are people who live permanently with their heads buried deeply in the sand. Unfortunately, in order to pursue their objectives they are mounting scare campaigns which really amount to some sort of intellectual terrorism which, in particular, is frightening the young and impressionable people of our country. They are doing that with grossly exaggerated arguments about the effects of selling uranium to countries under our safeguards agreements and how that uranium apparently will come raining back down on Australian cities in the form of nuclear weapons. That whole argument, in any case, is built on the completely false premise that somehow Australia can stop the nuclear industry. We simply cannot do that.

Let us just look at the facts. More than 30 countries use nuclear power to generate electricity. In some of those countries more than 50 per cent of the electricity they use is generated by nuclear power. Are those people who are saying that we should not mine and export uranium seriously suggesting that we should put out the lights in all those countries and that we should increase the price of conventional fuels to the rest of the world, in particular the developing world, which can ill afford that sort of increased cost?

We all know about the disaster at Chernobyl and we have all heard of the near disaster at Three Mile Island. There is no doubt that there are risks with the nuclear industry; nobody would ever deny that. But in spite of Chernobyl that industry still has an extraordinarily good safety record and an extraordinarily good environmental record. That, let us face it, is not something that we can say for the coal industry. The numbers of mining disasters that there have been in our country and in other countries are witness to the fact that that industry has with it many great dangers. As environmentalists quite rightly continually point out, one of the consequences in Europe of the large number of coal-fired power stations is now the presence of acid rain, something that I would like to believe all European nations were doing something to try to stop. I regret that one or two countries are obstructing efforts by the Europeans to stop the creation of acid rain through the coal mining industry or the coal-fired power stations. Of course, the other side of this argument is that Australia is not the sole source of uranium. If a country really wants uranium it can get it from just about anywhere; there is no question of that. The fact that Australia has some 20 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves does not mean that, if Australia were to cut off its supply of uranium, the other 80 per cent would somehow be unobtainable. Clearly it is very easily obtainable from all sorts of sources and I mention South Africa as one. But I hope that those people who are opposed to the mining and export of uranium from Australia will concentrate on this matter because they are also the people who are often very vocal about South Africa. They should appreciate that Namibia particularly is a major source of uranium and that the South African Government does not impose the stringent safeguards on the export of uranium that our country applies.

I think all of us, when we are debating these issues of uranium mining and exporting and our nuclear safeguards arrangements, need to appreciate the very great importance of energy policies to global stability. After all, many people will remember that it was energy shortages that was one of the causes of the Second World War. Of course it was not the only cause but those energy shortages were, without doubt, one of the causes. To this very day one of the reasons tension in the Middle East is of such great concern, particularly to the Europeans and the Americans, is that it is such an important source of energy supplies. In other words, the reliable supply of energy is enormously important if we are to contribute towards a stable international environment and Australia ought to be contributing to that. We tried to contribute to it through our exports of coal and, to a much lesser extent, oil. Unfortunately, we are sometimes hindered by actions taken on our waterfront. We ought to be doing the same thing with exports of uranium because by exporting it ourselves we can try to ensure that those supplies remain predictable and reliable to countries which have the need to import energy.

It is also important to remember that the nuclear industry exists already and that it will not go away however much we pray, however much we wish or however much we may just close our eyes and hope. That industry is here to stay and for as long as it is here to stay uranium will be needed. If we cut off supplies of uranium, if other countries cut off supplies of uranium, those countries which already have a nuclear industry will inevitably be forced to invest in fast breeder reactors and in doing that increase the risk of weapons grade plutonium being produced, because that is one of the by-products of fast breeder reactors.

By supplying uranium, by ensuring that there is a regular supply, we are in turn ensuring that countries will at least have the disincentive to outlay the vast amount of extra capital needed to build fast breeder reactors. That is a very important point which needs to be made. In other words, it reduces the need for other countries to take more steps in the nuclear fuel cycle than they have already taken. All of these things are precisely why the Australian Science and Technology Council, in its well known 1984 report to the Government, recommended-I think it was its first recommendation-`that exports of Australian uranium should not be limited'. It is extremely regrettable that the Government responded to that recommendation by saying that it would not accept it. It would not accept it because people on the left of the Australian Labor Party maintain the sort of hysteria against the nuclear industry which is totally unrealistic. By responding to that hysteria, by caving in to that pressure, the Government has closed uranium mines in Australia. Two of them are in my State of South Australia-the Honeymoon and Beverley mines-but it has also closed the Yeeliree mine in Western Australia, Koongarra and so on. The consequence of that is the loss of $1,000m worth of investment in our country. One would think the Government would be doing everything it could to attract investment just now but it is not.

It also means the loss of some 3,000 jobs in the building of those mines and some 1,400 permanent jobs. It is extremely regrettable that that recommendation of the ASTEC report has been turned down by the Government. But at least it has maintained the Roxby Downs mine in my electorate and the Ranger mine, in particular, in the Northern Territory and it has continued the safeguards policy that was put in place by the Fraser Government in the safeguards treaties that were negotiated by it.

I would argue-I am sure that the Government would agree-that this safeguards policy is enormously important for international stability. As I said earlier, it gives Australia a window into nuclear politics. Our clear objective and every Australian's clear objective is to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. Of course we aim to do that through the non-proliferation regime. As far as our exports of uranium are concerned, that regime comprises two essential treaties-one is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to which something like 134 countries are signatories and the second is the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards.

Our uranium exports are subject to the rigors of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and they are subject to the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards. By making our exports subject to that regime we are making a major contribution not only to it but also to the whole concept of non-proliferation. Safeguards as they exist, whilst not perfect, are the best guarantee there possibly is for the peaceful use and the peaceful development of the uranium and nuclear industry. The safeguards cannot, of course, be 100 per cent foolproof; I think we would all appreciate that fact. However, I add that since our safeguards policy has been in existence, apparently there has not been one single example of that policy being abused but we can never be 100 per cent sure that it would or could never be abused.

The alternatives are easily provided uranium, without safeguards, from countries such as South Africa and Nigeria. One can see that by Australia providing uranium it also provides, with its responsible safeguards, the very best bet that the nuclear non-proliferation regime will have some meaning in our future. It is quite logical that we should follow the recommendation of the ASTEC report to go further in the nuclear industry in this country. As yet I do not think there is a case for the building of nuclear power stations in Australia but I think there is a case, as ASTEC recommended in its ninth recommendation, for providing some more nuclear fuel cycle services. Again the Government has apparently rejected this recommendation not because, I assume, the recommendation is in any way illogical, not because it is easily contestable-I think the case for it is incontestable if one is serious about the effectiveness of the non-proliferation regime and if one knows, as I know, that Australians are committed to that regime-but because it wants to keep the left wing of the Australian Labor Party happy.

I regret very much that so many people in the Government, so many people in the Public Service and people in ASTEC as well are having their sensible recommendations hindered and stopped simply because a small minority of people in the Labor Party are demanding compromises and concessions in order to shut them up when it comes to election time. For Australia to get further involved in the nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear fuel cycle services, as ASTEC states, does make an awful lot of sense and there is plenty of scope for us to do it jointly with other countries which are as committed as we are to that non-proliferation regime. Take the example of Japan given by ASTEC. I very much regret that the Government has rejected that recommendation.

In conclusion I reiterate, so there is no doubt at least in the minds of honourable members of my view in this matter, that an enormous amount of humbug is spoken and written about the whole nuclear industry in both this country and other parts of the world. It is here to stay for many years to come and we have just got to contribute to it in the best way we can to ensure that it works. If one turns away from it, it will still be there but others will be contributing to it, not us-not responsible, constructive and positive Australia but irresponsible countries which have no concern for the non-proliferation regime. I would not like to contemplate the consequence of that. It would certainly reduce the security of all of us in this chamber-all of our families, all of our friends-and perhaps it would reduce substantially the security of mankind. We have an obligation, albeit a moral obligation, to contribute to that non-proliferation regime. I am glad to see that the Government has half-heartedly, but at least to some extent, understood that obligation and, in some ways, has implemented it through this legislation.