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Wednesday, 5 March 1980
Page: 573


Senator YOUNG (South Australia) - The purpose of the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill is to amend and also to repeal certain sections of the Atomic Energy Act. It was also shown that this was necessary in 1978. The original Act was introduced in 1953 at a time when there was a Cold War, if one wishes to describe it that way, in the early years after the tragedies of the 1939-45 period. Of course, uranium was then and is now very much a strategic material. During that period Australia was mainly supplying uranium for defence purposes to the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Legislation was introduced with some very severe measures from a defence point of view, if I may put it that way. Since then the Australian Atomic Energy Commission has moved into the area of the commercial aspects of uranium for peaceful purposes, as has happened in so many other countries. Hence it was necessary to have differing legislation from that which existed previously to cover the commercial aspects with regard to the mining, milling, processing and exporting of uranium. In 1978, as I said, certain amendments were made to the original Act of 1953. When those amendments were first introduced by this Government there was criticism by the Opposition that the Government was using this Act to cover the commercial aspects of uranium. In the current debate we find exactly the same thing taking place.

It is interesting to note the Memorandum of Understanding which was agreed to by the then Federal Government, the Whitlam Government, and the two parties, or the consortium, involved in the Ranger mine. This memorandum was drawn up in October 1975. Many areas were covered within this Memorandum of Understanding. In Clause 2 of this memorandum which is headed: 'Scope of Ranger Project', sub-clause (c) states:

The Ranger Project shall be conducted as a commercial venture and in accordance with good commercial, mining and industrial practice.

Sub-clause (e) states:

In particular, Australia-

(i)   Shall grant any necessary and appropriate authorities under the Atomic Energy Act.

I repeat that it stated that Australia shall grant any necessary and appropriate authorities under the Atomic Energy Act. It went on to state that this authority would be granted for a period of 2 1 years. It can be seen from this that the previous Australian Labor Party Government established the basis for the commercial operations to take place under the original Atomic Energy Act. So when this Government moved in to go further with the development of the Ranger uranium project, it followed on from the pattern that had been established by the previous Labor Government. When one hears the criticism of the members of the Opposition that the Government is using this Act, one wonders how hollow some of that criticism is when they were prepared to accept the basis of this Memorandum of Understanding. 1 also hasten to add that I would hope that as time goes on, we will see changes to this Act or perhaps even a redrafting of the Act. I shall deal with that matter later in my remarks.

I return to the immediate matter and to the basis of what this Bill is about. I referred earlier to amendments of some of the sections. In 1978, when previous amendments were made, some very great concern was expressed by some of the States in Australia about the encroachment of the powers of the Federal Government. One of the amendments moved at that stage had the effect of enabling commercial mining for prescribed substances as stated in that legislation. That could be done and authorised by the Commonwealth Government in the various States. This caused a great deal of concern to be expressed by many of the States. The then Minister for National Development, Mr Newman, when he first introduced this legislation made this situation clear. He stated:

The provision amends section 4 1 of the Act so that, other than with the consent of a State, the power conferred by that section to authorised mining in a State can only be exercised for defence purposes.

In other words, this proposed amendment limits very much the powers of the Commonwealth whereby a Minister can move in to a State with authority to mine or handle a prescribed substance, only if he can show very clearly that this can be done for defence purposes. I was very pleased to see that the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), the Opposition spokesman on resources and energy generally, supported this amendment to section 4 1 in the original Act. The honourable member said:

The purpose of the Bill now before the House is to sort out difficulties created when the Atomic Energy Act was amended in 1978. At that time the Government introduced changes to give the Commonwealth very wide scope to control the mining of uranium and other prescribed substances, as well as operations connected with uranium mining, without regard to the wishes of the States. This amendment led to confusion concerning the Commonwealth's ability to authorise the mining of uranium.

The honourable member continued:

Under the legislation it may have been possible for the Commonwealth to authorise to undertake uranium mining in a State even if this was contrary to State policy, and even though the exploitation of mineral resources is principally a State matter. The Government is seeking now to clarify the difficulties created by this change. At last it has recognised that there may be a Commonwealth/State conflict over such a matter. In amending this Bill the Government makes it clear that Commonwealth authority to mine uranium will be subject to the consent of the State concerned unless authority is given for the purposes only of the defence of the Commonwealth.

This is what I said previously. I was very pleased to see that the honourable member for Blaxland accepted the need for this to be done and also that he made such a responsible statement. Having said that, I was very surprised to read Senator Tate's speech, wherein he was critical of this amendment. Without going into detail about what Senator Tate said, he made it very clear that he was concerned that the Commonwealth basically would be handing over to the State this area of mining. He stated:

It can be frustrated, it can be fettered, it can be trammelled by the petty parochial policies which may emerge in any State due perhaps to that State's lack of vision, its lack of comprehension of a national project -

This is with regard to States- and, even more dangerously and perhaps more predictably, simply because of a contrary political attitude to the national government, whichever government it may be. I see no reason why the Commonwealth Government's participation in the development of such an important and critical resource, ought to be dependent upon a State government's consent . . .


Senator Peter Baume - That is another senator speaking?


Senator YOUNG - Senator Tatesaid those things. One can see a conflict of opinion between that statement of Senator Tate and the statement

I quoted previously of the shadow Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Keating. One wonders from the comments of Senator Tate whether he is adopting what was previously a policy of the Whitlam Government- that of a centralist approach, whereby it wanted to keep all power with the Federal Government, in Canberra, rather than let power go to the States. Further on in his speech, Senator Tate made reference to the Federal Government not gaining any experience in mining and operations generally in regard to uranium.


Senator Missen - Do you think he has just spilled the beans?


Senator YOUNG - It shows the conflict of opinion running within the Labor Party on the uranium issue. We know that there are many members of the Labor Party who, quite frankly, would like to get up and support the mining of uranium. This does not take place. Nevertheless, one is aware of this not only in the Federal sphere but also in the States. My own State of South Australia has witnessed the tragedy of what can happen in politics. Men such as Hugh Hudson and Des Corcoran were very much for the mining of uranium, and that is one of the reasons why they were politically destroyed in South Australia. They were political opponents of mine, but they were two good men. This is one of the problems within the Labor Party, and it does create some confusion. I accept Senator Tate's logic, because of the basic philosophy of what he expounded, but I find it very hard to accept what he went on to say about the Federal Government not gaining any experience if it hands these things over to the States.

Here, I contradict what Senator Tate says because we know very well of the involvement of the Federal Government in the Ranger project. We know very well that from this project the Federal Government will get all the experience it will need. Certainly up to this stage it has had a lot of experience in its development with regard to environmental aspects and so many other things. The Federal Government also has gained experience in the exporting of uranium. Under section 51 of the Constitution, the Federal Government has complete and supreme power in this area. We know also that the Federal Government- with the guidelines set down by Mr Fraser, the most rigid of any country proposing to export uranium- will be keeping a very close eye on the control and marketing of uranium. So, when it comes to the actual operations, marketing and exporting of uranium, the Government has gained experience.

Having said those things, I still cannot understand why we find this conflict of view of Senator Tate- with regard particularly to the experience of the Federal Government and with regard to handing back what is really a State right. With regard to the amending of section 41 of the original Act under clause 3 of this Bill, the Commonwealth will still have power when power is required to move in under the defence legislation. I fully support what has been proposed with regard to clause 3 of this Bill.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.


Senator YOUNG - Before the Senate rose for dinner I was speaking on the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill which repeals some sections of the Atomic Energy Act. I had dealt with clause 3 of the Bill which amends section 41 of the Act. This amendment has been made, as I said before, because of the great deal of concern amongst some of the States about the powers the Commonwealth had under the Act. Hence the Act is being amended to place a limitation upon the powers of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will be able to operate in regard to the mining of proscribed substances and uranium only if it uses the Defence Act. This would be done only if Australia were in a critical situation.

This Bill makes other amendments to the legislation. I refer to clause 4 which totally repeals section 54 of the Atomic Energy Act 1953 and also to clause 5 which repeals section 58. It has been interesting to hear senators on both sides of the chamber during the course of the debate refer to the legislation as draconian. One accepts the comments that are made in relation to the current situation, but one must appreciate that the original legislation came into being during the Cold War which occurred just after the 1939-45 World War which tragically cost so much in so many ways throughout the world. Both of the sections which are to be repealed are very powerful and give the Commonwealth extreme power. For example, no action could be taken against the Commonwealth for an unlawful arrest under section 54 of the Act. The Commonwealth also had power, when it suspected that somebody was to commit an offence, to straight away say, if it saw fit, that the party was guilty of an offence. Therefore I am in complete accord with the repeal of these sections.

I now turn to clause 6 of the Bill which repeals section 60 of the Act. Previously projects relating to the mining of uranium or any such type of material came within the provisions of the Approved Defence Projects Protection Act which virtually gave the Commonwealth supreme power. The amendment will place great limitations upon the relevant Minister and he will in future have to declare the projects that he considers of vital importance. These projects will have to be published in the Government Gazette. I also take notice of the amendment that was foreshadowed yesterday by Senator Hamer. He wants to go further. Rather than just having such a direction gazetted, he wants the Parliament to have the final say on whether or not the direction will become law. Upon consideration I can say that I will give my full support to Senator Hamer's amendment at the Committee stage of the Bill.

I want to deal briefly- I may be accused of digressing- with what Senator Melzer has said. She spoke on this legislation last night and spent quite some time on the workers problems- if I could put it this way- at the Nabarlek mine. She stated that the cause of a great deal of the problems was the extreme powers contained in the Atomic Energy Act. I may stand corrected but, as I understand the position, Senator Melzer is not entirely correct in what she says. I will not enter a debate on what she said were the problems of the workers as I know very little of the specific cases she mentioned. All I want to say is that she was wrong, as far as I am aware, in saying that the problem at Nabarlek was created by the Atomic Energy Act. As I understand it, the whole operations of the Nabarlek mine come within the Northern Territory mining code. There is a great difference between that code and the Atomic Energy Act. Whilst, as I said before, I do not want to debate with Senator Melzer the rights and wrongs of the examples she gave, I want to say that she was wrong to lay the blame on the Atomic Energy Act. The Nabarlek mine does not come under the Australian Energy Act; rather it comes under the Northern Territory mining code. I hope that the Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick) later on will correct me it I am wrong but as I understand the situation what I have just said is correct.

The Australian Labor Party has also moved an amendment containing three paragraphs to the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill. I will not discuss the amendment other than to say that it is very premature. We in this chamber are aware that the previous Minister for National Development, Mr Kevin Newman, established, firstly, what is known as NERDDC- the National Energy Research Development and Demonstration Council. Later he established a review committee within NERDDC to go into the whole area of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission research establishments. No doubt there was a reason. This independent committee was to take public evidence and to come forward with proposals for the Government and the particular Minister. The suggestions that had been made not just by this important committee but by a wide variety of people who had taken the advantage of giving evidence to it were looked at.

The committee's report is a big volume of many chapters. No doubt the Minister and the Government are studying this report very closely. No doubt the Minister at some time will be coming out with some positive proposals as a result of this report of the review committee of NERDDC. I can only say to the Opposition that its amendment- without going into the pros and cons- is very premature. Hence, I will certainly not be supporting the amendment moved by Senator Walsh for the Australian Labor Party when he spoke on this legislation yesterday.

I bring one other thing to the attention of the Senate and the Minister. As I read the three paragraphs of the amendment moved by the Labor Party I notice the exclusion of any commercial operation for the mining, milling or sale of uranium. The amendment refers to the establishment of a government corporation to conduct the present commercial activities of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, such as the production and marketing of radioisotopes. I just wonder whether the Opposition thought that if it were to use back door methods and if we were to accept its proposed amendments indirectly we would be saying that we are opposed to the mining of uranium. I want to make it perfectly clear that I and my colleagues are in favour of the mining of uranium. I will not go into a debate on that; I simply say that being in favour of the mining of uranium in this country to meet our responsibilities to an energy hungry world, I give my full support to the Bill presented by the Government and I look forward to further amendments being made to the Act or perhaps a redrafting of the Act being undertaken as a result of the report which has been brought down by a special committee established by NERDDC.







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