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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
06/05/2010
Australia's relationship with the countries of Africa

CHAIR —Mr Walker, you witnessed some of the proceedings yesterday and this morning, so you will be aware of the requirements regarding the giving of evidence before parliamentary committees. Thank you for your attendance. I am aware that you have travelled to be here and we certainly appreciate that. There is no formal written submission. That is not a difficulty, but we welcome whatever comments you would like to make in opening and then we will go to some questions.

Mr Walker —I might start by saying I am reminded that, when Ann Harrap, our rather estimable high commissioner in Pretoria, introduced the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, at the Mining Indaba Conference held in Cape Town in February, she adopted the African convention of simply stating that all protocol will be duly observed, thus dispensing with the requirement of reeling off lists of names and the usual thanks and so on. If you forgive me and with your permission, Chair, I will adopt the same principle this morning just to illustrate that we can also learn things from Africa, as well as having something to show them.

I am here today with a twin purpose. The first one is obviously to represent my company, Paladin Energy, and the second one is as the chairman of the recently formed Australia-Africa Mining Industry Group. AAMIG has, as I am sure you are aware, made a submission to the inquiry. I am quite happy, as circumstances require, to switch hats in speaking on behalf of Paladin and/or AMMIG.

Perhaps I should start by explaining my personal credentials for speaking on matters African. I have been engaged with Africa over a period of some 13 years. Before that I was involved in a number of roles with the Rio Tinto group over some 18 years, based in Australia, Europe and also India. Having gone to Africa in 1997 as the Australian representative director of an Australian company with a diamond project there, I had 4½ years in Angola during the latter stages of the civil war which raged in that country, so I have some experience of very difficult circumstances in Africa.

More recently I was chief executive officer of a Canadian company which was involved in marine diamond mining in Namibia. I also had some activity in the DRC and in Zambia before joining Paladin. We currently have projects in Malawi and in Namibia, and an interest in Niger. That is the current portfolio, as it were.

In the submission that you received from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the strong and growing role that the resources sector, and mining in particular, has played in fostering Australian commercial interests in Africa over the past decade was noted. DFAT noted that Australian companies have projects or assets in at least 40 countries across Africa. In contrast, Australia currently has seven diplomatic missions in Africa, so I think it is fair to say, at the very least, that diplomatic representation is thinly spread across the continent. Indeed each head of mission is accredited, as I am sure you are aware, to several African countries. So, worthy though our diplomatic representation in Africa may be—and I think, at a personal level, they certainly are—the reality is that, in many countries, the existing links and relationships with Australia and with Australians are established and conducted by the private sector, more often than not through the mining sector. I think this has been recognised and acknowledged by the government. Indeed I think it was the impetus for the proposal by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, for a closer dialogue between Foreign Affairs agencies in government and mining companies active in Africa. We in the private sector believe that there is real potential to reap benefits for Australia from the synergy that such closer cooperation can produce.

I was interested in the comments made yesterday by the Mining Advocacy Coordinator of Oxfam, Ms Serena Lillywhite, who spoke, I think, in generally quite positive terms about the activities in Africa of large corporations like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto—my friend from Rio Tinto having been here a short while ago. However, she noted that meeting social responsibility demands could be a challenge for smaller or junior companies and she mentioned, in particular, Anvil Mining and my own company, Paladin Energy. So I would like today to give you an insight into our activities and the way in which we conduct ourselves in Africa, hopefully to give you some reassurance that we are in fact performing well in this regard.

Ms Lillywhite highlighted that communication between head office in Australia and the management on site in Africa is important. I think that this is true generally, but also specifically in the case of social responsibility. Paladin recognises this fact and it is part of my accountability within the company to ensure that those linkages exist and that the cultural values we espouse at head office are in fact reflected at the sites. I have that in addition to oversight of the social responsibility programs in country and our corporate relationship with host governments. I am also engaged, as a sideline, in sovereign risk assessment of countries where we may have an interest in investing.

Perhaps I should explain that Paladin is an Australian mining, production, development and exploration company which focuses exclusively on the uranium sector. The company was established in 1993 and is incorporated under the laws of Western Australia, with a primary share listing here on the ASX. It is also listed on the TSX and on the Namibian Stock Exchange, so we are traded on the African continent. We currently have a market capitalisation of about $3 billion. Given the state of the market, that changes almost daily. We are the ninth largest mining company in Australia by market cap and currently ranked the eighth largest producer of uranium by volume of production. The company has come a long way, as you can see, in a relatively short space of time and we have ambitions to move, in the next few years, from being the eighth producer to being the fourth producer worldwide.

Minister Smith has highlighted the role that the Australian private sector, and the mining sector in particular, has played in fostering the development of economic and social relationships between Australia and Africa. Paladin has contributed to this process by investing more than half a billion Australian dollars in the establishment and expansion of the Langer Heinrich uranium mine in Namibia and the development of the Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi. The company has announced plans to spend another $380 million to further significantly expand production at Langer Heinrich by 2014, so we certainly have intentions to continue to invest in Africa.

We are very conscious of both our social and environmental obligations in developing new mining projects in offshore locations. The company has noted the comments of Mr Sweeney and the Australian Conservation Foundation in his submission to the inquiry and his comments yesterday in which he was critical of Australian companies engaged in the uranium sector and cited Paladin in particular. It will come as no great surprise to you to know that the company rejects Mr Sweeney’s assertion that it lacks the capability and commitment to fulfil its social licence obligations, and the assertion that its actions and those of other uranium focused companies could in fact result in significant and adverse impacts in Africa and further damage the reputation and future offshore access of wider Australian mining interests.

The company believes that in the interests of fairness and balance it should informed the members of the committee of its policies, its processes and the actions that it has undertaken in order to meet its social obligations and to protect its reputation and good name in Africa. I will mention in passing that we are a member of the Australian Uranium Association and therefore are committed to and abide by its code of practice. I know that you have a submission from the AUA and I am sure you will hear in more detail from the AUA in due course. We are also a member of the Minerals Council of Australia. We support and invoke the enduring values and principles that are espoused in their framework for sustainable development, and they are reflected in the programs that we operate in Africa.

Mr Chairman, I am conscious of the fact that this is perhaps a little longer than you would like as an opening statement, but there were a number of comments made to you about our activities and I thought it would be worth while just explaining to you precisely what is happening so that it is on the record and you are aware of that.

CHAIR —That is fine. Please proceed.

Mr Walker —Thank you. The company has built and operates two of the three uranium mines which are currently operating in southern Africa. These mines utilise state-of-the-art technology: alkaline leaching at Langer Heinrich and resin-in-pulp recovery at Kayelekera. I can give the committee more technical information on that if you require it. They have been designed essentially to minimise environmental impacts in their respective and, frankly, very different physical settings. For example, Langer Heinrich is located within the rather arid conditions of the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, which is the oldest and largest ecological preserve and game park in Africa, so that is something of which we are very conscious. The Kayelekera mine, by contrast, is located in undulating hills above Lake Malawi, which is Africa’s third largest lake and the southernmost lake of the Great Rift Valley system, and so, again, we are very conscious of the potential impact on Lake Malawi.

The development of Kayelekera is an interesting example of the positive transformative impact that a well-run mining operation in Africa can have. Prior to our investment of in excess of some $200 million in Kayelekera, Malawi had no modern mining industry at all, much to their distress, just a handful of small artisan operations mainly focused on coal and gemstones. It has been estimated that Kayelekera, once it is in full production, will add 10 to 15 per cent to Malawi’s GDP and account for up to 70 per cent of total foreign earnings. The country has, to date, been largely dependent on the tobacco industry, which for reasons you will understand is somewhat in decline, so in this sense it is going to significantly boost foreign earnings and supplant what is a declining industry. The project has provided direct employment for some 2,250 Malawians during the construction phase and will, long term, employ about 500 local people during the operations phase.

In the past 12 months, in accordance with its undertakings under the development agreement and its environmental impact assessment, the company has spent more than US$10 million on social development projects, most notably in construction of a new water supply project for the northern regional town of Karonga. It utilises Australian filtration technology and guarantees the 40,000-odd residents of Karonga for the first time in almost living memory a clean, reliable, assured source of water which is designed to meet the town’s needs until at least 2025.

We currently employ four Australian environmental or community development officers, who are based in Karonga and work in the fields of agricultural outreach, educational support, HIV-AIDS, and health and hygiene campaigns. We have built or renovated schools, built new teachers housing and established health clinics. The social development program essentially focuses on four key areas which are not a million miles from the Millennium Development Goals as you would understand them, these being food security, HIV-AIDS, education and local business development. We also have established and conduct a formal process of negotiation and consultation with local traditional authorities and the community as well as the government of Malawi. This is an ongoing regional program which is conducted informally almost on a daily basis and formally on a quarterly basis.

I think it is fair to say that we also well understand the importance of environmental protection. The development agreement which was concluded between the government of Malawi and Paladin in February 2007 followed the completion of an environmental impact assessment and the issuance of an environmental certificate in April 2007 by the government of Malawi. The environmental certificate is subject to conditions of reporting environmental management, training and compliance with the development agreement undertakings.

The quite well recognised, internationally recognised consulting group Knight Piesold undertook the EIA process, which included baseline social impact work. Obviously, it was conducted in accordance with the requirements of the government of Malawi’s Environmental Management Act 1996. The EIA process, which is set out in the Malawi act, is comparable to the EIA requirements of Australia. The Kayelekera EIA was subjected to extensive stakeholder review by government agencies, NGOs, the general public and international experts, including the International Atomic Energy Agency. Both the Kayelekera mine and its EIA have been designed to meet not only local regulatory requirements but also international standards and guidelines, such as those stipulated under the Equator Principles. Paladin has committed in its EIA to operate according to the legislative requirements of the government of Malawi, IAEA requirements and guidelines and also international finance corporation performance standards and guidelines. The Australian company Behre Dolbear is acting as an independent technical consultant to our banking consortium. It has reviewed the EIA and it also conducts routine audits to ensure that we are in compliance with the various standards and conditions that were assessed therein.

I have mentioned the importance of water management at Kayelekera and I think it is worth mentioning further that, on the recommendation of the IAEA, we contracted with Coffey Mining Pty Ltd, another Australian company, whose senior principal consultant, a gentleman by the name of Peter Burgess, is very highly respected internationally. He has continued to act in that role as a consultant to us, has reviewed our water and tailings management plans and made recommendations—above and beyond what was already approved—for further improvements to the process.

In terms of the specifics, the Kayelekera mine will function as a zero-discharge facility under normal operating conditions—that is, there will be no direct discharge of any contaminated or potentially contaminated water from the site into the nearby Sere river or any other external environment. The water management system has been designed to optimise water re-usage onsite, to divert clean water from the system and to limit to a minimum extraction of water from the Sere river. The mine is equipped with storage facilities for clean and dirty water, with the latter being treated prior to storage for re-use. The principal water storage pond, which has a 1.5-metre thick clay base and is lined with a high-density, six-ply polyethylene thermoplastic membrane—and it is a an extremely large dam, so if you have the opportunity at some stage to see it you will appreciate this—is designed to ensure that there is no possibility of an accidental spillage. This has been tested: not so terribly long ago, around Christmas time, in the northern region of Malawi there were a series of earthquakes, seven or eight quakes in excess of magnitude 5, the largest being 6.2, and the facility withstood that series and intensity of quakes with no damage. So the system is designed to handle a one in a hundred year 24-hour storm event and is equipped with sufficient storage facilities to collect this volume of water. It will collect water to be treated for processing, or if it is clean water it will be diverted off the site.

In the event that we have a storm which is so enormous that it is simply not possible to contain it within the storage facilities, we have provision for release. In that event we apply to the government of Malawi for permission to discharge. Water is treated, analysed and is raised to potable standards—in other words you can drink it as it comes out of the plant. It is, as I say, analysed to ensure that it meets discharge criteria and, again in response to comments made yesterday, this is a common practice for mine site water management in Australia, including the procedure which is in place when the Ranger uranium mine releases excess stormwater that results from extreme events in the Northern Territory’s wet season. The point I would like to make is that there is not a distinction in terms of what we do in Malawi versus what is a practice here.

Mr Sweeney mentioned yesterday that the Kayelekera’s tailing storage facility would be capped and abandoned, and faced risk of failure in the long term. He compared Paladin’s approach unfavourably with the requirements of Ranger’s tailings, which he said should be secured for some 10,000 years. In fact I spoke to Mr Burgess, our consultant, last night and I am advised by him—and I should say that he consults both to Ranger and also to us—that he believes the appropriate figure is not 10,000 years but 1,000 years, which is a demonstrably lower target. His point is that there are dams in existence in Cambodia and other places which are 1,000 old and you can actually test their durability.

Mr FITZGIBBON —So that is a suggestion that the description of Ranger’s tailing dam is incorrect?

Mr Walker —That is his assertion, yes. In his view, because of its location and the design parameters that are involved in the Kayelekera tailings storage facility, he believes it is capable of meeting a similar target of 1,000 years of stability without erosion. In other words, what has been put in place in Malawi is of a comparable standard to what has been put in place here, and arguably better.

The tailings storage facility is both a tailings and water storage facility, and therefore is required to meet design and construction guidelines. The guidelines that were adopted in this case are the Australian National Committee on Large Dams guidelines. The dam is also compliant with an IAEA document which is the Tecdoc 1403 named The long term stabilization of uranium mill tailings, a paper which was prepared in 2004. The point is that we are not only in compliance with Australian standards but also with international standards.

CHAIR —I assume that follows an IAEA physical inspection by their personnel?

Mr Walker —Yes. There is a gentleman by the name of Peter Waggett who, again coincidentally, is an Australian and who is based with the IAEA in Vienna. He will be on site in Kayelekera conducting a training program for 30 Africans from across the continent at the end of this month. He certainly has visited the site in the past and he has inspected all of the facilities, including the tailing storage facility. There is certainly no question that the IAEA is satisfied with where we are.

The last point that I would like to make is that I think it is worth sharing with the committee the following comment, because this is something that is quoted quite routinely. When we issued the environmental impact statement, there was a review of that statement which was prepared by Dr Gavin Mudd of Monash University, who, I think it is fair to say, is a reasonably well-known anti-uranium campaigner, and by a gentleman by the name of Howard Smith, who is the engineering and environmental officer for the Northern Land Council. They had a number of quite severe criticisms which they made of the preliminary EIA.

The preliminary EIA was put out for public comment. There was then a response to it and a number of changes took place as a result of that process. I do not believe Dr Mudd has been to Malawi, but certainly Mr Smith was in Malawi in November 2008. Subsequent to that visit, when he went to the mine, he was kind enough to send me a note which outlined his views of what he saw when he actually visited the mine for the first time. I think it is worth while sharing that with you. He said:

With regard to technical matters, I have expressed a number of concerns over some operational matters that may or may not come to fruition once the plant is in full operation. It would be unreasonable to assume that operations will be completely without incident, but following my visit, I am now confident that Paladin is capable of running its operations at Kayelekera in a manner that will lead to minimal impact upon the environment over the life of the mine. The key to this rests with the standard of training and education that Paladin provides to its workforce and the company’s commitment to continuous improvement over subsequent years of operation.

On the basis of what I observed during my visit to Kayelekera … in November 2008, I am satisfied that the operational systems that I saw in place at that time are appropriate and suitable for the mine. I also believe that management at Kayelekera are committed to making the project a success and that with a strong emphasis on continual improvement they will be able to maintain operations in a manner that leads to minimal impact upon the environment.

I thank him for those observations, as I have done. I hope these comments this morning have been helpful to the committee. I am happy to take any questions.

CHAIR —In regard to that quote that you read, when was that sent to you?

Mr Walker —There was a newspaper article which appeared in the Melbourne Age probably four or five months ago. He was quoted in that. As a result of that I spoke to him, because I knew that he had been to the site. We had a conversation about his impressions and he gave me verbally, over the phone, the comments that I outlined to you there. I said to him: ‘It would be very helpful, if you would be prepared to do it, if you could give me your views of what you saw in writing. I would be very pleased to receive them.’ He agreed to do so and subsequently did so.

CHAIR —Could you provide us with a reference to the newspaper article? I am sure you have it on file.

Mr Walker —Yes, of course.

Mr FITZGIBBON —Mr Walker, I return to the disagreement between your company and the ACF over tailings dams. You put the view that the Ranger tailings dam is more designed to be secure for 1,000 years. That is obviously a fact or otherwise, isn’t it? Can you steer the committee in the direction of getting the facts, because I have a sense that the ACF is going to disagree with the submission you made this morning. Surely someone independent can give us the facts.

Mr Walker —I sought last night to try to establish that. I feel slightly that there is an issue, in the sense that I do not represent Ranger or the Rio group. I had a conversation outside immediately after my friend from Rio Tinto finished his evidence, to ask him if he was in a position to confirm it, which he was not. The best person I could get to in the time that was available was Peter Burgess. As I said, he is an acknowledged international expert who has done work in both cases. He is familiar with both of them, and that was his view. I prefaced it by saying that was the view expressed to me by him. I would prefer to be able to point you specifically to it, but, as I said, it is not my company. But I am sure it can be provided to you.

Mr FITZGIBBON —Maybe the onus is on the committee to make a third-party independent inquiry.

CHAIR —The committee members are all aware—and I am sure witnesses are—that we are not inquiring into the operation of the uranium industry in Australia. But, equally, Mr Sweeney’s comments were made in the context of his assertion that, if you cannot get it right here, how are you going to get it right in Africa? I think we just have to be conscious—obviously we are all are—that we are not here to report on what is happening in Australia, except in the respect that we are looking at Australia’s relations with Africa and clearly the operation in both continents of companies like yours is open to comparison.

Mr Walker —I sought to indicate to you—and I again apologise for the length of that statement—

CHAIR —Don’t apologise. It is on the record; that is what we wanted to hear.

Mr Walker —It was an attempt to demonstrate to you—and this is the key point I am trying to make here—that it is not that we consciously look to operate to different standards there from here. We look to operate to standards which are appropriate for that project in its physical environment and, where it is possible and appropriate, we apply Australian standards because, in our view, they are the leading standards in the world in this area.

Mr FITZGIBBON —You mentioned your independent auditing of your environmental standards, but I missed who you said you have do that work for you.

Mr Walker —Behre Dolbear is the company.

Mr FITZGIBBON —Can I drill down to the role and activities of the IAEA. Again at the risk of misrepresenting them slightly, I think the ACF was saying yesterday that it makes no sense to be pursuing uranium mining on a continent where something like 60 per cent of the world’s current conflicts exist. I think the suggestion was that if there is ever a risk of nuclear proliferation it is in Africa—my words, not theirs. What is the role of the IAEA and what does it do to ensure the security of the product?

Mr Walker —It is a UN agency and it is the agency that is vested with ensuring nonproliferation and the safe management and movement of uranium product around the world. We are engaged in the mining and production of yellowcake—uranium oxide—which is the start of the chain. Uranium oxide is a relatively low-radioactive material which is transported in mild steel 44-gallon drums in a container. Obviously, there are requirements about handling it, which we follow. The transportation protocols are established by the IAEA. The IAEA interacts not with individual companies but with governments, so the relationship is with the government of Malawi or the government of Namibia, in this case, to ensure that there are processes and protocols in place to safeguard and protect product. We are required to comply with those requirements, which of course we do.

Mr FITZGIBBON —I would not want to nominate a specific country but generally speaking, the goal or aim of the international community would be to ensure that we know exactly how much product is coming out and where it is going. Because the IAEA relationship is with government rather than a company and because there is a level of corruption in some countries in Africa, should that conjure some concern?

Mr Walker —The uranium-producing countries in Africa are currently Niger, Malawi and Namibia. Niger and Namibia have been mining and exporting uranium for 40 years, so it is not exactly a new industry in those countries. Malawi is new. We have only just started exporting from Malawi in the last few months. Niger has had an interesting political history.

Mr FITZGIBBON —It has a military junta, doesn’t it?

Mr Walker —There is currently a transitional government in place, which has been put in place as a result of a military coup, removing a president who acted unconstitutionally. The military moved only when the ECOWAS-inspired peace process failed, and it failed because he rejected it. In that sense, the military has acted—it remains to be seen but look at past history—to restore democracy to the country. Having been in Niger twice in recent months, the impression I have from talking to people there, both in the new government and in the diplomatic circles, is that this is in fact what will occur. I think it is fair to say that both Malawi and Namibia are stable. There has been some instability obviously in Niger but there is nothing that would suggest that that has in any way compromised the mining processing or transportation of uranium. Certainly the IAEA has not made that view.

Mr FITZGIBBON —The bottom line question is: can people be confident that uranium mining on the African continent poses no greater threat to nuclear proliferation than does uranium mining on the Australian continent or in Canada?

Mr Walker —I think that is a reasonable assertion, yes.

Mr MURPHY —In terms of corruption, I would like to ask what advice you might have for other Australian businesses that are contemplating engaging with Africa and doing business. I am referring mainly to the subSaharan region of Africa.

Mr Walker —One of my responsibilities is to look at countries that we are contemplating investing in to try to come to a view as to whether or not we can operate there. It is a core principle of the company that we will not pay a single dollar in bribes. We are opposed to that, for obvious reasons. The reality is that that simply means that there are some countries in which you cannot operate. You exclude yourself because you say that there is no way that we can operate there.

Mr RUDDOCK —There are some countries where there is no bribery, even in Africa.

Mr Walker —My next point was going to be that there are other countries where clearly there is bribery and corruption and there is no question that you will be asked. You will be pressed at various levels, whether it is facilitation payments or whether it is of a much higher order, but—

CHAIR —Are you suggesting that they might run two sets of books?

Mr Walker —There is not enough time left to go there. The reality is that there are some countries where certainly you cannot operate. There are other countries where it is possible to operate. You have to persevere and you have to be firm, but once you have declared it and if they see it is in their interests for you to be there then at the end of the day, although it may take longer to get there, it may take longer to get the processes completed, you can do it. So I think the answer to your question is very simple—and you have heard it from other people—and that is: do your homework, understand the country that you are going into, understand its processes and its culture, be wide-eyed but operate as you would at home.

Mr MURPHY —Are there any countries that you would put on the public record that you should not do business with?

Mr Walker —Bear in mind that we are solely a uranium focused company and therefore the only countries that we look at are countries that have potential for uranium exploration. That is obviously a reasonably limited number in the African context, so I would not pass judgment on other countries and I do not exclude any of the countries that we have looked at so far.

Mr RUDDOCK —I am interested in this question about how you satisfy yourself that you are obtaining objective information on which you can make the assessment that you have told us is important. Assuming I were an investor going to Africa for the first time, how would you advise me to go about making those assessments?

Mr Walker —It is time for a plug for Austrade. I think that, where we have Austrade officers, that is an extremely good place to start. It is a question of whether or not you have any prior experience. If the hypothetical assumption is that you do not, then I would certainly be talking to Austrade officers in order to get a preliminary assessment. I think that it is then necessary to visit the country, as we do. I think you talk to a range of people. You talk to other people who are doing business there, who have been in business there. You talk to other embassies, because more often than not we do not have representation in countries. So you talk to whoever you can, whether it is the Canadians, the Brits, the Americans or whoever. I have to say that the pleasing thing is that people are generally helpful. I try to talk to a wide cross-section of people in government and outside of government—in NGOs, for example. I am certainly not opposed to NGOs. There are some good ones. In particular, you need to talk to people who are already doing business there. You can form a picture by establishing that sort of broad-scale dialogue. You will get a pretty clear picture of what the prevailing climate is in that country. I think that gives you a pretty good steer as to whether or not it is possible to operate there.

Mr RUDDOCK —I often use material prepared by Transparency International. They rank countries. Would those rankings generally reflect the sort of advice that you would receive following your processes? In other words, would you say, ‘You wouldn’t deal with those in the bottom 30, but you might deal with those in the top 30’?

Mr Walker —You would certainly have less concern about those in the top 30, generally speaking. Likewise, when doing desk research I look at Transparency International. It is a source; you use it. As you know, there are people who cavil at the methodology or whether it is up to date and so on. It is a numerical score. It is indicative, but I certainly would not be suggesting that one should make decisions based solely on that. I think it is part of the mosaic that you need to put together.

CHAIR —We heard from ANSTO, at the beginning of our public hearings, about their links with South Africa with regard to a nuclear reactor, a research reactor and the production of isotopes. Do you have any engagement at all with the nuclear industry in South Africa, as distinct from the uranium mining operations?

Mr Walker —No. We are an exploration and development mining company.

CHAIR —I appreciate that.

Mr Walker —We are focused specifically on the front end of the operation. The links that we have with people are through the international forums and so on, but we are not in any business sense linked in.

CHAIR —I understood that. They were quite positive about Australia’s place in the international community in terms of nuclear research. We have a synergy with South Africa and they see some good opportunities there in the future for collaboration. I thought you might also have some insight.

Mr Walker —All I can offer is to say that certainly the South Africans have done some very good work, particularly in small reactors. I certainly would not disagree with the ANSTO assessment.

Mr MURPHY —I should have given you the opportunity to respond to those recommendations which were put forward yesterday by the Australian Conservation Foundation. I wonder whether you want to have a look at those, take them on notice and respond to any of them. It would be helpful to the committee were you to do that.

Mr Walker —I understand. Yes, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

CHAIR —There is one other question. It arises from the submission from the ACF. They quote a comment made by the Managing Director of Paladin Energy. They say:

The Australians and the Canadians have become over-sophisticated in their environmental and social concerns over uranium mining, the future is in Africa.

I know you have already spoken at length about your company’s operations, which would suggest that you are at odds with that remark. What is your response?

Mr Walker —I suspect that there are a number of people sitting at the table who are not unfamiliar with the idea of being taken out of context. Perhaps it would be useful if I could read into the record the question that was asked of Mr Borshoff and what he actually said.

CHAIR —What was the context in which the question was asked?

Mr Walker —I am happy to explain it. He was in fact being interviewed by Alan Kohler on ABC television in April 2006. Kohler asked him:

Is it ironic … that uranium is the only product in which Africa is a less risky place to look for it and mine it than Australia?

John Borshoff replied:

Australia and Canada have become overly sophisticated. They measure progress in other aspects than economic development, and rightly so, but I think there has been a sort of overcompensation in terms of thinking about environmental issues, social issues, way beyond what is necessary to achieve good practice.

I do not resile and John does not resile from that statement, but I think his statement in its full context suggests a slightly different scenario to the one that is otherwise being conveyed.

CHAIR —Thank you. Your attendance is appreciated.

Proceedings suspended from 12.46 pm to 1.29 pm