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Thursday, 4 May 1989
Page: 1866


Senator VALLENTINE(11.02) —I wish to speak tonight fairly briefly about the Uranium Review Committee which is under way within the Australian Labor Party at the moment. I am prompted to do so by a visit I made to the Pilbara this weekend to attend a bush meeting at Yule Brook where I met with the representatives of many Aboriginal groups. I went there at the invitation of the Pilbara community to speak particularly in a debate at the bush meeting on the question of uranium.

The honourable member for Kalgoorlie, Mr Graham Campbell, was also in attendance at the meeting. He did not seem to understand that that was the agenda item for the morning and he quite deliberately tried to railroad the meeting to talk about all sorts of other issues which were of course important to Aboriginal people. His performance was less than acceptable to the Aboriginal people and really quite embarrassing for a Federal parliamentarian. He got very angry and stormed out of the meeting. He was asked by the Chairperson of the meeting to come back and was told to sit down and listen to the views of the Aboriginal people. Two members of the State branch of the Australian Labor Party were also in attendance at the meeting. I think that they too were quite embarrassed by their colleague's behaviour. Pam Buchannan and Larry Graham were there. They spoke in very supportive terms about Aboriginal people and the need to listen to Aboriginal people. They also stated quite clearly their own personal opposition to the Labor Party in Western Australia changing its position on uranium mining. Obviously, this is something of great concern to the Aboriginal people in the Pilbara.

The members failed to mention the review committee which is at present under way in the Labor Party. I found it quite surprising that they did not give the people there the information that they needed to make any submission to the inquiry. They did not even mention it at all. Of course, I mentioned it and suggested that if the community had strong views about uranium it should certainly be making a submission to the inquiry. It made me look further at the process of the inquiry. What I found was quite disturbing.

First of all, the inquiry is a quick tour around the capital cities of Australia. I think seven different cities are on the agenda of this eight-person committee. But people who wish to make submissions have had only two weeks' notice and it seems to have been kept almost a secret. I do not know how much advertising the Labor Party has done within its own circles, because I am not privy to that information, but certainly as far as the public are concerned there has been very little information available. I suppose that that is a deliberate silence on the part of the Party. It does not want to be embarrassed by an overwhelming anti-uranium response, which will begin to happen as soon as people hear about the committee.

In the Pilbara there are two of the three likely uranium mines which are ready to go ahead in Western Australia. There is the one at Rudall River, where Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd has done all of its exploration and is ready to go as soon as there is either a change in policy or a change in government. The people there are opposed to mining, or to the disturbance of their land which also happens to be within a national park. They do not want uranium mining to go ahead under any circumstances. They have not been given an opportunity to present themselves before this Committee unless they are prepared to go to the expense of travelling at very short notice to Perth to do so. Of course, Menyingee, near Onslow, is another mining site which has been explored by a French mining company called Total, and is ready to go. Again, that is in the Pilbara region which is in the area where this meeting was held last weekend. I think it is really very unfair that the people in the region have not had some special time set aside so that they could make submissions to this inquiry. They could at least be given more notice and some assistance to get to Perth if that is the only place in Western Australia to which the Committee can go. Preferably, of course, the Committee should go up and sit under the trees and listen to the voices of the Aboriginal people. The third mine site, which is all ready to go in Western Australia, is at Yeelirrie, which is near Kalgoorlie and that is under the auspices of the Western Mining Co. There is no hearing in the goldfields region.

There have been only a few hours set aside for the public to make submissions to this inquiry which is going around the country very quickly. Many people therefore feel that there is an air of inaccessability about the inquiry which is very limiting indeed. I wonder how much information has been given to people in the Party. There is also time set aside for people within the Party. Overall, it is a very, very short amount of time. I understand that the members of the committee were told fairly early that they would be presenting their report in November or December to the Federal Executive. It is therefore a puzzle as to why they have to rush around the country now in the space of only one month, without giving the people who wish to make submissions adequate time to put those submissions together.

There is also the question of the attendance of the members of the Committee at the two hearings which have taken place so far in Brisbane and Sydney over the last couple of weekends. Two of the members of Parliament who are members of the Committee have been in attendance at both of those meetings. They are Jeanette McHugh and Peter Milton, and Robert Mills from South Australia. However, as far as the other members of the Committee are concerned, there has not been consistent attendance. Senator Bob Collins has not attended either of the hearings, and Mr David Parker, the Deputy Premier of Western Australia has not attended either of the hearings. Senator Collins did not even bother to arrange a proxy to hear the points of view of people this weekend at the Sydney hearings. I think that that is a very poor showing indeed. I understand that it was very difficult for Senator Collins to get to the Sydney hearings because of other commitments in the Northern Territory, but there should have been better consultation by Mr Ian Henderson, who is organising this inquiry on behalf of the Labor Party, to ensure that the members of the Committee could at least attend the hearings, so that they could pick up the flavour of the submissions being presented.

Of course, there are some people on that Committee who are there to listen very supportively to what is coming forward despite the lack of notice and despite the lack of consultation from the people who are making submissions and whose views are overwhelmingly in the anti-uranium direction. I think it is very important for people in the community to understand that written submissions can be made even after the committee has visited their particular State on its whistle stop tour. I think it is also very important to remind members of the Committee, and of the Labor Party in general, that public opinion in Australia is further and further against uranium mining. Overseas public opinion is further and further against nuclear power. It is not an option on moral grounds, on environmental grounds, and certainly not on economic grounds.

I think the people in the Labor Party who are pushing this barrow, consistently as they have since 1982, need to be reminded-and I will be reminding the people at the hearings in Perth in a couple of weeks' time-that this is still a very important issue in the electorate and that the Labor Party will be making a grave mistake as people are quite reasonably surmising that the decision has already been made and that this Committee is merely a whitewash. I think it would be a great shame if the Labor Party made the mistake of pushing its uranium policy further and further into the direction of mining. The three mines policy is, of course, totally illogical. Either one is for uranium mining, with all its consequent difficulties, or one is opposed to uranium mining. That is the preferred position of well over half the Australian population.