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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 349

Senator TAMBLING —My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Will the minister confirm that since assuming his new portfolio responsibilities he has had discussions with miners, Aboriginal leaders and other interested parties with regard to the government's three-mine uranium policy? Will the minister restate his previous position on dropping this stupid policy, and will he argue for changes at the Labor Party September national conference?

Senator COLLINS —I think in order to do that I would first of all have to become a delegate. I am not, so I probably will not be. I was, along with my esteemed colleague Senator Loosley, a member of the ALP's policy committee which was set up to examine this question, I think in 1991—it seems an awfully long time ago. The recommendation of that committee, which was extremely public at the time, was that there should be a change. That has been my public position for a very long time. At the end of the day it is a matter for the ALP's conference to determine its view on uranium.

Senator Ian Macdonald —They have to tell the government what to do, do they?

Senator COLLINS —In response to the interjections opposite, it is interesting that the coalition is very proud of the fact—

  Opposition senators interjecting

Senator COLLINS —It boasts all the time about the fact that the rank and file members of its parties delegate all of the responsibility to this group of Rhodes scholars and brilliant political strategists opposite, led of course by the ultimate political strategist, Dr John `Fightback' Hewson. We in our party look at where that kind of framework in terms of party deliberations has led the coalition—10 years now in opposition, so it is a brilliant structure! I concede, and I have always conceded that—

Senator Faulkner —That's something to boast about!

Senator COLLINS —That is right, something to really boast about. If the rank and file of the Liberal and National parties ever want to get out of opposition, I would not think they would want to see this situation perpetuated for very much longer.

  This issue is a matter of active debate. As Senator Tambling knows full well, I have been involved in that debate for the entire time that I have been a politician, which has been something like 16 years. Yesterday I addressed the party's policy committee on this subject. There has been some news about that this morning. Clearly, one of the members of the policy committee decided that he would release it to the press. Senator Tambling knows that my public position on this issue could not be clearer.

  In respect of Aboriginal opinion on mining generally, it is not often related to the actual commodity being mined; it is a question of mining itself. It would not matter whether the mine was producing iron ore, marshmallows or uranium. Aboriginal people are extremely concerned—and rightly so—about the potential impact that mining has.

  I have said in this house on many occasions that there has been a significant shift of opinion in Aboriginal communities over the last decade in favour of mining in many places. Principally, the reason for that is that Aboriginal people are in a position of being able to negotiate in real terms, courtesy of having a Labor government in Canberra. That situation would never have been achieved otherwise. Aboriginal people have seen the benefits that can be brought from mining, whether it is uranium or anything else. This government will continue to encourage those projects where local Aboriginal people in the area support them.

Senator TAMBLING —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister failed to address the first part of my question, that being: what discussions has he had with miners, Aboriginal leaders and interested parties since assuming this portfolio? I also ask: what commitments and expectations has he given to those people that there will be a change in the three-mine uranium policy?

Senator COLLINS —I did answer that part of the question. I repeat: I have been having that dialogue nonstop now for 16 years. As I told the ABARE conference in my opening address, there have been times in my parliamentary career where I felt that I have in fact dealt with nothing else but resource access, traditional rights and the rights of indigenous people.