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Igniting A strategic partnership with India by selling uranium for clean power: one big foreign policy idea for 2020 Summit.

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The Hon Andrew Robb AO MP Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs (to 22 September 2008)

If the Foreign Minister, Mr Smith, is going to take one idea to the 2020 Summit this weekend, it should be to commit the Australian Government to selling uranium to India for peaceful power generation.

This means reversing one of the first foreign policy actions of the Rudd Government of overturning the Howard Government's commitment to sell uranium for power to India.

It is estimated that by 2050 as much as 35 per cent of India's total energy needs could be met by clean nuclear power plants.

This issue alone can make Australia a strategically important partner to India. It is the thing India really wants from us. It is a big issue.

Mr Smith now says Australia's relationship with India is a priority and he wants ''to take that relationship to a new and different level''.

But the Government needs to follow up its rhetoric with actions not just meet-and-greets.

For the Government to make sure that its words match with its actions, they need to reverse their ''party political'' decision not to honour the Howard Government's agreement to sell uranium to India for power generation.

By reversing Australia's commitment to sell uranium to India, the Rudd Government has already done substantial damage to the Australia-India relationship.

India is understood to be deeply offended by the Rudd Government decisions, and the manner in which it was conveyed.

Influential foreign affairs commentators from India have denounced the decision in the strongest terms, labelling the scrapping of the pledge to sell uranium as ''retrograde ideology, pathetic hypocrisy, misplaced non-proliferation zealotry'' and accusing our Prime Minister of parroting ''the same lame excuse, as if he has not read the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty text''.

It makes absolutely no sense to sell uranium to China and Russia, and not to India.

It makes absolutely no sense to claim climate change to be the great moral challenge of our time and then block the adoption of nuclear technology which is greenhouse gas free, and which already provides 16 per cent of the world's electricity needs.

How can the Rudd Government claim that Australia's relationship with India is a high Government priority when it snubs this direct and heartfelt request from the highly respected Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy?

Any agreement to sell uranium to India, with sufficient safeguards, will be good for Australia, good for Australian jobs, good for Australian exports, good for India, good for the region, good for climate change and good for nuclear non-proliferation.

Mr Smith needs to get a positive outcome on this issue at the 2020 conference or his rhetoric will be exposed as hollow.