Sep 11, 2007

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007 – Second Reading

11 September 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (7.33 p.m.)—I rise to support the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007 and the amendment moved by my colleague the member for Fraser. I am surprised by the member for Hinkler who, in the chamber just now, said that his opposition to our amendment on constitutional recognition of local government is based on the fact that it is not thought out. This is a proposition that has been put to the Australian public with the support of the Australian Local Government Association and local councils right around the nation. It was opposed by the current Prime Minister and Peter Reith in a cynical exercise which stopped that referendum being carried. Of course, this debate is also a cynical exercise by a government that is out of ideas, out of an agenda for the future and, what is increasingly obvious to all Australians, out of time.

But the member for Hinkler surprised me when he said that there should be a local government meeting—a constitutional gathering similar to what occurred before the republic referendum—and at that meeting we should consider the boundaries of local government. On the one hand we hear this plea about current local government boundaries in Queensland; on the other hand we hear the member for Hinkler proposing in this chamber that the boundaries be taken away not just from the local people in particular local government areas in his electorate in Queensland but from the people of Australia, as decided by a constitutional convention here in Canberra. That is an extraordinary position from the member for Hinkler.

But it is not surprising because time after time the Howard government has refused to acknowledge local government. Indeed, in this chamber on 6 September last year I moved an amendment to a motion about recognising local government. The amendment read:

That paragraph (1) be omitted and the following paragraph substituted:

“(1) supports a referendum to extend constitutional recognition to local government in recognition of the essential role it plays in the governance of Australia.”

Of course, the government voted against that amendment, because the government has not been fair dinkum when it comes to properly recognising local government, including recognising it in the Constitution. It is extraordinary that the government is prepared to play politics but is not prepared to take any action within its responsibility of substance. But that is typical for a government that now is just dominated by politics in its own interests and not about policy in the long-term national interest.

The second part of the amendment moved by my colleague the member for Fraser supports ‘the Australian Labor Party’s belief that steps should also be taken to allow communities to express a view on the location of 25 nuclear power plants and the nuclear waste facilities that the government wants to impose on the Australian people’. We know that this has been an agenda that people on the conservative side of politics have had in Australia for more than three decades. Nuclear power is old technology. But they are not prepared to look at the future of renewables and clean coal technology. They are obsessed with latching onto the past, just as they are obsessed with turning back industrial relations into a master-servant relationship. And, when it comes to nuclear power, they are obsessed and prepared to impose it on the Australian public. The Prime Minister has said that nuclear power is inevitable. He has said that he would amend legislation to facilitate nuclear power at the Commonwealth level. In announcing his policy, ‘Uranium mining and nuclear energy: a way forward for Australia’, on 28 April 2007, he said:

The Government’s next step will be to repeal Commonwealth legislation prohibiting nuclear activities, including the relevant provisions of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This will be addressed soon.

We have not seen that legislation before this parliament. We have not seen that legislation because this is a government that always tries to hide its real agenda before an election and then impose it after an election. If it were fair dinkum about empowering local communities, it would, as part of this proposition, empower local communities to have referendums on whether or not they want nuclear reactors or nuclear waste dumps sited in their electorates. But the government goes even further than that. The government has also said that it would override state laws which currently ban the construction of nuclear reactors. And it goes even further than that. It says that where nuclear reactors are located is a commercial decision and that it will just impose these 25 nuclear reactors wherever commercially they are seen as being the best sites for these reactors. We know that nuclear reactors would have to be near the electricity grid. We know that they would have to be near populations. We know that, because nuclear reactors use 80 per cent more water than any other energy sources, they would have to be near water supplies; so they tend to be on the coast or on rivers. And we know that there is a great history of coalition governments considering sites for nuclear reactors.

In August 1969 the then Liberal government, in its cabinet submission, considered a number of sites: Jervis Bay, part of the ACT, on the coast close to Nowra; the Murrumbidgee River between Williamsdale and Tharwa; Paddys River in the ACT; Bass Point in the electorate of Eden-Monaro; and the Hawkesbury River site at Spencer, which is in the electorate of Robertson. In 1981 the government’s National Energy Advisory Committee considered sites in Perth, Adelaide, Tasmania and Darwin to be suitable for nuclear reactors. In July 1997, in a cabinet submission signed off by the then Minister for Science and Technology, Peter McGauran, now the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the government considered sites in Goulburn, Holsworthy, the Mount Lofty Ranges in the electorate of Mayo in Adelaide, the river and lakes region of South Australia, Olympic Dam in the electorate of Grey in South Australia, Woomera, the electorate of O’Connor in Western Australia, the electorate of Pearce in Western Australia, the electorate of Brand in Western Australia, the electorate of Canning in Western Australia, Broken Hill, Mount Isa and Darwin.

On ABC radio on 5 June 2006, Ian Smith, the head of ANSTO, considered four to five nuclear power plants on the east coast of Australia. The feasibility study by the Uranium Enrichment Group for the Fraser government considered Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia to all have suitable sites. In June 1979 the Court government gazetted Breton Bay, 90 kilometres north of Perth. Townsville in Queensland was identified by the Bjelke-Peterson government. French Island in the electorate of Flinders was nominated in 1968 by Henry Bolte, a former Liberal Premier of Victoria. More recently, on 22 November 2006, the Australian identified Yallourn in the electorate of McMillan in Victoria; Port Stephens in the electorate of Paterson in New South Wales; Callide in the electorate of Hinkler in Queensland; Gladstone, which is now in the electorate of Flynn, in Queensland; and Port Augusta in Grey in South Australia. In May 2006 the Australia Institute identified Western Port Bay in Victoria, Port Stephens in Paterson in New South Wales, the Central Coast of New South Wales, areas south of Wollongong around the electorate of Gilmore, the Sunshine Coast in the electorate of Fairfax in Queensland, Port Philip Bay in Corangamite in Victoria, and Portland in the electorate of Wannon in Victoria. On 16 October 2006, Clarence Hardy, the Vice President of the Pacific Nuclear Council, identified the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Gladstone, Townsville, Newcastle, Cessnock and Perth.

So they certainly have form when it comes to four decades of advocating nuclear reactors; four decades of being determined to have them imposed on local communities. It is clear that, if the coalition are re-elected later this year, those reactors will be progressed by this government. That is what they say. They say it is inevitable that we will have nuclear power in Australia. But I was surprised—I guess I should not have been surprised—that the member for Hinkler in his remarks about the amendment really did not address that at all even though nuclear reactors have been proposed on a number of occasions as being suitable for his electorate in areas such as Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

On 20 August I joined with the Labor candidate for Hinkler, Garry Parr, who committed himself to oppose a nuclear reactor in that electorate and who asked for the current member for Hinkler to sign a pledge opposing it, but of course the member was nowhere to be seen. Earlier that same day I joined with Labor’s candidate for Flynn, Chris Trevor, at Spinnaker Park in Gladstone to sign Labor’s antinuclear pledge. Gladstone has been identified as a site for a nuclear reactor but the Nationals’ candidate of course was nowhere to be seen when it came to actually signing that pledge.

The government has attempted to say different things to different communities. The National Party candidate in Richmond is purported to have said ‘it will not happen here’ but of course she was nailed by the member for Page, her National Party colleague who said that he was ‘furious’ at any Nationals candidate who opposes nuclear power and that ‘a new candidate’ would not ‘understand the process’. What a put-down by the member for Page about his colleague the candidate for Richmond. That is why on 30 August 2007, with the Labor candidate for Page, Janelle Saffin, I held a press conference in Ballina to outline and reinforce Labor’s absolute opposition to these nuclear reactors which will be imposed around the coast of Australia.

They say one thing in their electorates and another thing here. They are very brave when it comes to statements in a local paper in their electorate but they come here and they are sheepish. To give one example of that, the member for Corangamite has said in his local paper this week that the Prime Minister has made it clear the government will not be building nuclear power stations. How extraordinary. I joined last week with Darren Cheeseman, the federal Labor candidate for Corangamite, to point out that the Surf Coast Shire in that electorate was the first council to seek a ballot on the location of a nuclear reactor after the Prime Minister’s pledge to allow local ballots. The local Liberals are opposing that of course.

They say they support democracy, they say they support input but they do not actually carry it through when it comes to the crunch. Perhaps there is a no more extraordinary statement and no better example of the government’s duplicity in this than that of the member for Gilmore. If you log onto the official website of the member for Gilmore, you can get two contradictory positions: one in which the member for Gilmore is quoted as saying ‘no nuclear power plants for Gilmore’ but in another supporting nuclear power plants for Gilmore—an extraordinary proposition. The member for Gilmore knows her party’s position, as all opposite know. Twenty-eight of them have actually ruled out nuclear reactors in their electorates: the members for Braddon, Curtin, Fadden, Fisher, Hume, Kingston, Leichhardt, McMillan, Menzies, Moreton, Bowman, Fairfax, Flinders, Gilmore, Gippsland, Grey, Herbert, Longman, Maranoa, Moncrieff, North Sydney, Petrie and Wentworth. They all say, ‘Not in my electorate.’

It is extraordinary because the member for Bennelong, the current Prime Minister, actually said in parliament, in response to a question about the member for Gilmore’s website, that it would be up to Ryde council to determine whether a nuclear reactor was approved. Around the Lane Cove River is the potential site for a nuclear reactor but we have this duplicity in the government of not being prepared to stand up for its principles when it comes to this. What it comes to is that the government want to have you believe that you can have 25 nuclear reactors but they will not be actually located anywhere. They will not be in anybody’s electorate, they will not impact on anyone and they will not have any nuclear waste associated with them. But we know, because the government have form and have introduced special legislation to this House to impose a nuclear reactor on the Northern Territory, that they are prepared to do that.

That is a low-level waste dump. What we are talking about here is high-level waste. Over the weekend we saw, once again, the government, while they were walking away from it, signing up to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership being promoted by the Bush administration. That is a partnership that would see Australia become the world’s nuclear waste dump. If the government are fair dinkum about their stance re local democracy, then they will not only vote for this legislation, which Labor is supporting; they will vote for Labor’s amendment and they will come clean before the election about where the 25 nuclear reactors will go and where the associated high-level, toxic nuclear waste dumps will go. The Australian public deserve to know prior to the election, not have the government tiptoe through and hope that no-one notices how hypocritical they are being on this issue.