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Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Page: 6890


Senator LUDLAM (Western AustraliaCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:04): Before I commence, I seek leave on behalf of Senator Rachel Siewert, as discussed with Senator Bushby and Senator Colbeck, to table the Dive industry statement in support of marine sanctuaries.

Leave granted.

Senator LUDLAM: I thank the Senate for that. I rise tonight to speak to the most recent report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. I am not a present member of the treaties committee—and I miss it a bit. I want to add my voice of thanks to the members and the secretariat for producing the most recent report on an issue that is very close to my heart, which is that of the uranium sales agreement with India.

It is not often that the Australian Greens would not table a dissent to a report from a government chaired committee, such as the treaties committee, on the subject of a nuclear sales agreement. Instead, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who is the Greens representative on the treaties committees—and I thank him and his staff for their work—tabled an additional comment. In other words, we substantially agreed with the unanimous findings of the treaties committee. I note that Labor committee members, including the member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, also tabled their own additional comment.

This is a profoundly important report. It is yet to be seen whether the new Prime Minister will have a different view to that of his immediate predecessor on the wisdom of selling uranium to a country that has firmly remained outside the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament legal architecture—the non-proliferation treaty or NPT. There are huge issues that have been canvassed in this treaties report. It is incumbent on the government to read the report before they recklessly press ahead with a nuclear sales agreement with India. They do not even have to read the fine print. They should read the report itself and read the advice of those, including some quite unusual voices, who gave very strong evidence to the committee.

The reason that we did not fundamentally disagree with the treaties committee findings is that the committee has recommended that sales agreements to India not proceed until a number of very important conditions have been met. I would like to firmly put on the record that the Australian Greens do not believe that this trade should occur at all. The industry is on the way out, and this is something we should not be getting any further into. The conditions that the treaties committee unanimously agreed should be applied before Australia even considers signing up and starting this trade are quite instructive. They read:

Committee recommends that … sales to India only commence when the following conditions are met:

India has achieved the full separation of civil and military nuclear facilities as verified by the IAEA;

India has established an independent nuclear regulatory authority under law;

the Indian nuclear regulator's existing policies and arrangements have been reviewed to ensure its independence;

the frequency, quality and comprehensiveness of onsite inspections at nuclear facilities have been verified by the IAEA as being best practice standard; and

the lack of sufficient planning for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities has been rectified.

These are tremendously important concerns, which are thrown into the path of the headlong rush that former Prime Minister Abbott had been engaged in to embark on this most dangerous trade with a country that has remained outside the disarmament and nonproliferation architecture. Not only that but it has a rather uneasy proliferation record, having effectively lied to Canadian authorities in order to design and build its first fleet of nuclear reactors and then immediately embarked on a process of plutonium separation for nuclear weapons.

This is not some kind of abstract cold war calculation. India is engaged in a nuclear weapons arms race with its neighbour Pakistan, with which it has fought several wars since the 1950s. On both sides of that uneasy border, nuclear weapons are occasionally threatened by standing military and political figures from both sides. Yet Australia would propose to sell uranium into that subcontinental nuclear arms race in which nearly two billion people are implicated.

The treaties committee took some unusual evidence from some figures who you would consider would be very much part of the pro-nuclear establishment, such as Dr John Carlson, the former director general of ASNO, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office—somebody who I had significant run-ins with when he occupied that office. I take my hat off to him, because I have not seen language quite as strong as this deployed by somebody like Mr Carlson. He told the committee:

Within the first decade or two there could be tonnes of plutonium derived from Australian uranium that would be well beyond any information available to Australia. The same situation applies to the uranium recovered from reprocessing, most of which could be recycled many times. Without a proper accounting system, once material loses its initial identity, there is no way of knowing where that material goes, or even quantifying it. There is no substitute or "equivalent" for accounting and tracking.

Mr Carlson used to run the Australian government's Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office.

Another gentleman, Mr Ron Walker, who was the chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Board of Governors—again not somebody who would make these kinds of comments lightly—wrote to the committee in May of this year and warned that the agreement:

… has a number of loopholes which mean that under the terms of the NCA India could use our uranium in the production of material that could end up in bombs.

ASNO itself, under its current director, the very capable Dr Robert Floyd, has conceded that:

… such a hypothetical situation could occur.

That is Australian uranium being dug out of the ground in central South Australia or in Kakadu in the Northern Territory and being sold into a subcontinental arms race, where regulators, former regulators and former IAEA board of governors members have said: 'Whoa. Do we really want to be fuelling this nuclear arms race?' It is not something that I believe could be supported, but you could argue that, with proper accounting structures within the NPT framework, you could in fact account for Australian obligated nuclear material down to the very small quantities that you need to keep track of to ensure that fissile material is not being separated and making its way into nuclear weapons.

But how about this? K Subrahmanyam, former head of the National Security Advisory Board in India, said the following in 2005:

Given India's uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, it is to India's advantage to categorise as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be re-fuelled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons-grade plutonium production.

Clearly, Australian uranium would boost India's nuclear weapons capacity. So—no matter what kind of safeguard agreement you sign, and no matter how carefully you track it down to the grams of separated plutonium and uranium—there is a senior Indian nuclear official saying, 'We are freeing up our domestic sources of uranium for nuclear weapons and we will be importing uranium from countries like Australia to fuel our civilian reactors.' No safeguards agreement in the world is going to protect Australia from being complicit in a nuclear weapons arms race if that is indeed the ambition of the Indian authorities.

So that takes in some of the weapons arguments canvassed in the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties report. The treaties committee was unable to form a view on whether these sales would even be legal under the treaty of Rarotonga. You would have thought that that was a red flag at the outset—that that would be enough to be a show stopper. Instead, there is strong language in the report. I think that being unable to tell if you would be breaching international law around the sale of this material to India should have been a show stopper.

It is probably very little known in Australia just how closely the Indian population have come to suffering a catastrophic meltdown of the sort that we saw at Chernobyl and Fukushima. In 2012, the Indian Comptroller and Auditor-General pointed out that, without substantial reforms to the regulatory regime in India, that was precisely where they were headed. If senators have not heard of the fire at the Narora nuclear power plant in 1993 or the fire at Kakrapar in 1991 and the catastrophic floods in 1994 and the collapse of the dome at the Kaiga nuclear power station in the Western Ghats in Karnataka: if the reactor had been operating when that dome structure had caved in, injuring 14 people, that place would have joined the names that now live on in infamy—Fukushima and Chernobyl; it is only by extraordinary good fortune and bravery of those on site at the time that we have not heard of those places.

This is by no means a green light for yellowcake sales into India. It is, in fact, precisely, the reverse. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will have a lot on his desk in coming days. We would urge him that the one thing that he could do to prevent a further increase in insecurity and instability on the subcontinent is to get behind the extraordinary progress being made by the Indian solar industry and back out of the nuclear industry, which is on its knees.