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Wednesday, 2 April 1980
Page: 1371


Senator CHIPP (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democrats) - This Bill is the Customs Tariff ( Uranium Concentrate Export Duty) Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to introduce from the date of royal assent an export duty on uranium concentrate produced from uranium ore obtained from the Alligator Rivers region in the Northern Territory. The rate of export duty to be imposed will be 1 lc per kilogram of anhydrous tri-uranium octoxide, U3O8 contained in the uranium concentrate. The duty is to be imposed in recognition of the special cost of environmental monitoring and research activities related to uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers region. The Government estimates that this duty will yield about $lm per annum. This will be about one-fifth of Government expenditure on environmental regulatory services such as the work of the Supervising Scientist, the coordinating committee and the Alligator Rivers Region Research Institute, as well as various activities carried out by the Northern Territory Government which the Federal Government has undertaken to reimburse.

The Australian Democrats support this Bill. We think that equity demands that, if uranium concentrate is to be exported, the mining companies, and not the taxpayer, should contribute to the cost of protecting the environment. I am surprised and disappointed that the Labor Party is opposing the Bill. I can understand its reasons for opposing uranium mining on philosophical grounds. The Australian Democrats share those reasons. I will be saying something about that in a moment. But this Bill does not deal with uranium mining. The purpose of this Bill is to extract from the mining companies a duty so that the costs of preserving and protecting the environment can be partly met. My savage criticism of this Bill- and the Australian Democrats' criticism of it- is not that it levies a duty, but that the duty is pathetically too low. Eleven cents a kilogram, the Government admits, will provide only one-fifth of the expenditure on the environmental regulatory services. Why should the taxpayer and Consolidated Revenue be asked to fork out four-fifths of the cost of protecting or preserving an environment which a mining company destroys by taking out uranium and selling it at massive profits? If the Labor Party is so disposed, although I agree with it that it would be an exercise in futility, I would like to move an amendment in the Committee stage of this Bill, and I would like the support of the Labor Party, to increase that 1 lc a kilogram to a realistic figure.

I know that Senate itself cannot amend a money Bill, but it is quite within our competence, as I am advised, for us to send this Bill back to the House of Representatives with a request that sub-clause 6(1) of the Bill be amended to increase to a realistic figure the duty of 11c per kilogram on anhydrous tri-uranium octoxide contained in the concentrate. In fact there is no rationale in the second reading speech of why we are not asking the uranium mining companies to fork out the whole bill. Massive damage is done to the environment through uranium mining, as any of us who visit a site would well know. Where is the rationale? Where is the logic in a company making massive profits out of selling uranium, destroying the environment, and the taxpayer having virtually to subsidise that company which is earning those sorts of profits? I would like the Minister, in responding to the second reading debate, to explain the Government 's rationale for it.

However, we do support the Bill because, if it is not passed, the mining companies would virtually be paying nothing. If the Bill were defeated, the mining companies would get off the hook to the extent of $ lm a year. In other words, the defeat of this Bill would mean a straight gift to uranium mining companies of Sim a year. I do not think that Senator Primmer, who will follow me in this debate, would relish the thought of voting for something that is going to make the uranium mining companies $ lm a year richer. I would ask him to reconsider the situation. Having said that, I want to make it perfectly clear that the Australian Democrats are in no way retreating from our opposition to the mining and export of uranium.

I am very proud, if I could indulge myself for a moment, to claim that I was the first member of the Federal Parliament to raise a motion in the Federal Parliament that uranium should not be mined and milled in Australia until proper international safeguards were set up or the safe disposal of waste was guaranteed. I remind the Senate that I moved that motion when I was an Independent member of the House of Representatives in the early part of 1977. 1 am delighted that, since those early days, the opposition from caring, thinking people to uranium mining has steadily grown in this country, on several grounds. In fact I am interested as to why a Gallup poll on the popularity of uranium mining has not been taken for a considerable time. There has been a steady opposition to uranium mining among the Australian people in the last three years. I am rather curious as to the reason why those pollsters, who seem to take public opinion on any issue at the drop of a hat, have neglected this issue lately. I hope that there is nothing sinister in their reluctance to take a poll on this matter.

Reasons for opposing the use of mining and export of uranium have been stated before, but I would like in this debate to recapitulate them briefly. I believe that nuclear power is the ultimate insanity, for several reasons. It will provide energy relief for an energy-short world for only a short time. I will not put specific figures on it because it depends on whether we go to the ultimate insanity of fast breeder reactors, which Senator Collard seemed to be advocating. That would be the ultimate in madness. But to put figures on it, with variables, maybe 20 per cent of the world 's energy needs would be supplied for about 30 years. One would say, in an energyshort world, with the troubles with Middle East oil and the running out of fossil fuels, that that is a fair proposition. One could make that a reasonably respectable argument.

One must look at the other side of the coin, that is that it will leave a legacy of wastes which do cause cancer and which may cause genetic damage in unborn children for 100,000 years, or, in some cases, up to 500,000 years. That is why I use the language 'the ultimate insanity'. For a short respite, because of our negligence in finding alternative sources of fuels other than the fossil fuels over the years, we suddenly find ourselves in an energy-short world and we say:

There it is, the quick, easy answer, and to hell with the cost'. If I could make this remark in passing: I just wonder where my favourite people, the Right to Life Association, are during this debate on the question of nuclear energy. Why are they not campaigning about the genetic- damage that the Fox report and other reports have said could be done to unborn children by the wastage of the tailings into the atmosphere? They seem so concerned, and quite properly so, about the right to life, abortion and other matters, but they seem to be thunderously quiet on the question of genetic damage caused to unborn children by the waste from uranium mining and nuclear reactors.


Senator Collard - There is no evidence of that.


Senator CHIPP - I am interjected upon by an honourable senator saying that there is no evidence. If Senator Collard would like to look at the Fox report, which his Government holds up as a basis on which to proceed with uranium mining in Australia, he will see that it makes one categorical statement: that wastes from uranium mining do cause cancer. There is no question about it. There is no equivocation in the report of three very distinguished people. The report says that it may cause genetic damage in unborn children.


Senator Collard - I suggest you read some of the evidence.


Senator CHIPP -Senator Collard interjected and asked me what evidence. I quoted the Fox report, and I am being fair. I said that it was not an unequivocal statement that the Fox report made, but it said that it may cause genetic damage in unborn children. If Senator Collard and other members on the Government side want to say 'All right, we will run that risk. We will go ahead and mine and mill uranium, knowing we are running the risk of causing genetic damage to unborn children' that is a moral judgment that they make. Let them make that moral judgment. What I say is that it is a hideous judgment to make, to run any risk at all of allowing genetic damage to unborn children, because that is a right that our generation does not have. We do not have the right to take any risk at all with innocents who are not yet born and not yet contemplated.

If there is one out of a thousand chances that the mining and milling of uranium can cause damage to unborn children, I would say that sheer morality would demand that we not do it, and look for alternatives. One could go on and say that the way in which we have not looked for alternative sources of energy almost amounts to criminal negligence. A Liberal senator asked an excellent question the other day of the Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick), as to the proportion of research that is being spent on nuclear research compared to solar energy. He queried whether it is something like one to 100. That is the present situation.

Further, nuclear energy is put up as being the salvation of those underdeveloped countries that are short of energy. I will not develop that argument because I think it falls to the ground when I simply make that statement. In the developing countries which have installed or intend to instal nuclear reactors, these reactors are or will be in the big cities. They will provide a marginal amount of energy for big cities. The peasants of those countries where increased energy assistance is desperately needed will get virtually no extra energy at all.

We are concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We believe that the international safeguards- and I would put those words in quotation marks- are not worth the paper they are written on. Can any honourable senator on the Government side tell me that simply because countries such as the Philippines, South Korea or Iran sign a bit of paper they will be good boys and will not misuse our uranium? I should be grateful for any assurance that we may believe that. I mentioned those three countries because we have contemplated selling and, in fact, have tried to sell our uranium to those three countries- the Philippines, South Korea, and even Iran before the madness swept that country. At the time those countries were presumed by the Government to be safe to sell our uranium to. I asked a question in the Senate about the morality of selling uranium to the Philippines. President Marcos- by naming the President I run the risk of offending Standing Orders- is the most corrupt leader in Asia. He is a man without compassion and a man who, with his wife, has amassed millions of dollars by corrupt means. We are contemplating selling our uranium to the Philippines, which is building a reactor on a geophysical fault, two miles from the lava flow of an active volcano and with, it is alleged, faulty concrete supplied by relatives of Madam Marcos.

I asked Senator Carrick, as the Minister representing the then Minister for National Development, whether we had a moral responsibility to the innocent peasants and people who will have to live in the vicinity of that reactor. The answer I received from the then Minister, Mr Newman, was that the question of safety was a matter for the Government of that country. Apparently the philosphy of this Government is that if we can get a quick buck for our uranium it does not matter which countries we sell it to. Apparently it does not matter what they do with it; it does not matter where they build their reactor; and the thousands of innocent people who could be genetically damaged or who could contract cancer as a result do not matter a damn. The only criterion seems to be to get a quick buck at any cost.


Senator Jessop - How do you feel about coal mining? It is far more hazardous with respect to carcinogenic material.


Senator CHIPP - Senator Jessop's remark is an absurd analogy. It is like the analogy that the Republicans or Jimmy Carter's followers immediately drew when Senator Kennedy announced his candidature for the Presidency. They simply said that there were more deaths at Chappaquiddick than have ever been caused by a nuclear reactor. One could go on with those absurd analogies.

In conclusion I say that we are against exporting our uranium because of the risks, slight though they might be, of a catastrophic nuclear accident. We have had examples of accidents. We are also against nuclear energy because of the possibility of nuclear terrorism. The Canberra Times of '24 December 1979 stated:

After an intensive three-month inquiry at the Tennessee nuclear plant, federal investigators have been unable to account for a missing amount of highly enriched uranium large enough to make at least one nuclear device. They have recommended revoking the plant's operating licence.

The Australian on 22, 24 and 26 December 1979 produced a series of articles on nuclear terrorism. Those articles included the point that 35 nuclear threats have been made against United States cities since 1970. I admit that most of those threats would have been crank calls, but four of those calls triggered off high level responses by authorities. The calls included threats to destroy cities such as Los Angeles and Boston. The authorities took the calls seriously because they knew that thousands of kilograms of nuclear material were unaccounted for. Some of this material could have fallen into the hands of criminals, the Mafia or political groups. There are many other examples of terrorist activities in this area which give rise to great concern.

One shipment of highly enriched uranium disappeared between New York's Kennedy Airport and Frankfurt, West Germany. Five days later it turned up in London. One hundred and seventythree kilograms of bomb-grade material went missing from a nuclear facility at Apollo, Pennsylvania. To me that is another worrying matter. We are in a different league from coal mining. If a truckload of coal gets lost between New York and Pennsylvania, so be it; but if a couple of kilograms of highly radioactive material, plutonium, is lost a whole city can be held to ransom. Therefore, the Australian Democrats are unequivocal in their opposition to uranium milling and mining and to nuclear activity until at least those sorts of problems can be solved. We hold the view that they could never be solved. This Bill simply levies a duty on uranium mining companies to contribute to the environmental protection of the area they will destroy. Our only objection is that the levy is not high enough. ( Quorum formed).







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