Transcript of Media Conference, Marrickville Town Hall, Marrickville – World Environment Day
5 June 2006
Subject: World environment day, climate change, renewable energy, nuclear power, ALP policy on uranium mining
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today is World Environment Day. It is a day in which people throughout the world, not just Australia, should think about what they can do to contribute to a better environment. It is also a day when they can think about how they can pressure governments to deliver environmental benefits.
One of the things we do as individuals is think about how we can make the lives that our kids are going to inherit better in terms of economic and social considerations, and in terms of the environment.
What we need to do as a global community is think about future generations and address the challenges, particularly the challenge of climate change.
Two weeks ago, the government received a report from the Australian Greenhouse Office that showed that if you take into account land use changes and exclude them, there has been a 25.1% increase in Australia’s greenhouse emissions between 1990 and 2004. That is a disastrous result. It is no wonder that the Howard government is looking for distractions in the nuclear energy debate in order to distract from its failure to take serious action on climate change. We have the renewable energy industry in Australia, the true clean energy alternative falling apart literally, with decisions by Roaring 40s not to continue with proposed investments in South Australia and Tasmania.
It is quite clear that if the government was fair dinkum about addressing climate change they would ratify the Kyoto Protocol, they would substantially increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, they would introduce a National Emissions Trading Scheme and they would take real action to reduce our emissions that are spiralling out of control.
JOURNALIST: What do you define as real action? Given that so much of our power generation is based on coal fire, the fact that the Prime Minister is starting a debate on nuclear is surely something close to real action?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, because I’m not sure that the Prime Minster is starting a serious debate on nuclear energy. He won’t actually say where the nuclear reactors will go and he won’t say where the waste will go. What this highlights is that once you actually examine and focus attention on nuclear energy, it simply doesn’t stack up.
They have released a report now from ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) into the economics of nuclear energy which excludes very specifically both the costs of waste disposal and the cost of decommissioning the plants, and they have taken into account the need for public subsidies, or complete public support for insurance of the industry. It is a bit like ordering a meat pie and asking for the cost if you exclude the meat and the pastry.
It is simply an absurd proposition and what’s more, they are asking ANSTO and Professor Gittus whose associations with Lloyds Insurance and the nuclear industry are well known. I’m sure the Prime Minister’s panel which he will announce tomorrow will be stacked with people who are proponents of the nuclear power industry. It’s a bit like saying we’ve got these alternatives that we need to examine in football codes, but we’ll ask the AFL commissioners to determine which football code is the best for Australia. It really is an absurd proposition.
The Prime Minister isn’t doing anything serious to address these issues for base load capacity and there are other alternatives there. There is clean coal, geo-sequestration and those technologies which need examination; there is solar thermal which has enormous potential. I met last week with people linked with the Liddell power station in the Hunter Valley who are using solar thermal to contribute to base load capacity there. There are alternatives there and Australia simply isn’t pursuing them.
JOURNALIST: So nuclear energy debate is not an option?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, the debate will of course continue. There has been a debate for 60 years. The problem is that after 60 years the proponents of nuclear power haven’t come up with resolutions to the issues of the extremely high economic cost, of safety, of disposal of nuclear waste and of contribution to nuclear proliferation which in a climate of international terrorism are more acute than they have ever been before. I welcome the debate which has been going on for 60 years but the proponents have got to come up with those solutions.
When you hear the Prime Minister say that people are just saying it’s a scare debate by talking about where the nuclear reactors will go and where nuclear waste will go, then what that does is highlight the weakness in their argument. If you look at the document released yesterday, the cabinet document from Peter McGauran signed off with a personal hand written note of ‘good work’. It has in it an explicit acknowledgement that the government didn’t want the fourteen sites to become public because the public would reject them. When you look at the detail of those sites, the sites around Goulbourn for example, were specifically questioned because of their location near to Sydney’s water supply. It’s another acknowledgment that when you look at the detail, nuclear doesn’t stack up and it shouldn’t be a distraction from the absolute failure of this government to address climate change.
JOURNALIST: Given Australia mines the uranium, why is it an issue in terms of contribution to nuclear proliferation? If you mine it you export it, you essentially do contribute in one way or another.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Going back to the Fox report in the 1970s, it acknowledged that the contribution to the nuclear fuel cycle was a concern to nuclear proliferation and that’s why Kim Beazley has spoken about the need to give proper consideration to the failure of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. You don’t have to take nuclear proponents’ word for that; the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El-Baradei, Noble Peace Prize winner, has pointed towards the concerns that are there with contribution to nuclear proliferation. So there is no doubt that we do have to take the issue of proliferation seriously. It is just one of the four reasons why I believe Australia is as a far into the nuclear power cycle as we should go.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the Snowy Hydro, was Howard right to scrap the sale?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It certainly is the right decision. I think that in terms of the Prime Minister’s performance earlier in the week he was arguing that the sale was a terrific thing. One of the concerns that I have is the impact of climate change on water flows. It is very hard to look forward ten or twenty years to what the water flows will be. So I think that it is a good decision by the state and federal governments to withdraw from that sale. Of course it leaves open the issue of the capital funding that is required and quite clearly there is a need to have a resolution to those economic issues as well.
JOURNALIST: And what is the resolution to those issues? Should the states be contributing to capital funding?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it needs to be worked out by the Commonwealth and the states. I do note though that the Prime Minister has said that Snowy Hydro is a national icon. When it comes to contribution to actual water policy, we’ve had over the weekend Senator Heffernan talk about the need for a national takeover of all water policy in Australia. Now there are more than 200 water authorities around the nation, so taking over that job would be an enormous task. But I think the record of the Commonwealth is particularly poor and I would raise more concern about it getting more power.
The truth is that when it comes to the crunch, the Commonwealth has failed. Just a few years ago the Queensland Government was proposing Commonwealth support to help buy out Cubbie station and the water licences that had been issued there. The Commonwealth failed to come to the party. The Commonwealth has failed in terms of the national action plan on salinity to spend the money that was allocated. The Commonwealth has failed in terms of actually spending the money of the Australian Water Fund into real projects and when it comes to the Living Murray initiative there is yet to be any water flow down the Murray as a result of the Commonwealth’s involvement. So you have to look at what the Commonwealth says, but you also have to look at what the Commonwealth does. The Commonwealth up to this point has failed on water policy.
JOURNALIST: You have said that Australia has gone as far as it should in terms of the nuclear proliferation cycle. Are you saying that the ALP’s mines policy should stay at three mines? What difference does it make if it is three or five?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the Labor Party does not have a three mines policy and people should actually have a look at the policy and have a debate on that, rather than something that was there some time ago.
The Labor Party has a no new mines policy. I have made it clear that I support that policy and I will be arguing for that policy at the National Conference next April.
JOURNALIST: But what difference does it make?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It makes a difference that Australia shouldn’t be in my view further involved in the nuclear fuel cycle, that we shouldn’t expand and open new uranium mines. I am firmly of the view that that is a principled stance to take. We have to balance the issue of no new mines with the economic considerations and the equally important principle that Labor does not support repudiating economic contracts. Labor’s current policy is that we would not approve any new mines. That is clearly up for debate at the National Conference next April and there are different views and they will be put and debated out within the party.
Where our position is absolutely clear though is that we will not support nuclear reactors for Australia because we believe it simply doesn’t stack up. It is up to the Prime Minister, if he wants this debate, to state where the nuclear reactors will be, because surely the public have a right to know.