Transcript of Radio Interview – AM – Tony Eastley
Tuesday, 25 July 2006
E & OE – PROOF ONLY
Subject: Uranium Mining
TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Labor Leader’s u-turn on uranium mining has re-opened some old wounds and political fronts as well. Kim Beazley wants Labor to abandon its policy of ‘no new uranium mines’ and allow Australia to become the world’s biggest uranium exporter. He says that as far as it goes though, he is adamant Australia should not get involved in uranium enrichment, or for that matter, nuclear power. Karen Barlow reports.
KAREN BARLOW: Kim Beazley says abolishing Labor’s 22 year old policy against new uranium mines is in the national interest.
KIM BEAZLEY: Supporting uranium will help to build our future prosperity and pay off John Howard’s foreign debt. With demand for uranium worldwide increasing rapidly, some forecast earnings on uranium exports could increase by 50% this year alone.
KAREN BARLOW: But Mr Beazley told the Sydney Institute last night that he wants to impose strict mine ownership and export safeguards to ensure Australian uranium is sold responsibly.
KIM BEAZLEY: I believe that terrorism, poverty, climate change and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are the four critical international challenges of our age. Australia has no greater international obligations and no greater international opportunities than those granted by our position as a nuclear supplier.
KAREN BARLOW: It’s got mining and exploration companies in a lather. Ron Matthews is the manager of exploration at leading uranium explorer Cameco.
RON MATTHEWS: What it means is I think more companies can start exploring with the confidence that they have the opportunity to, if they find something significant, to go to a mine.
KAREN BARLOW: But first Kim Beazley has some convincing to do. The Labor Leader has to take his change of heart to next April’s ALP National Conference. Some front bench colleagues and rank and file members, like Gary Wood from the West Australian Branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, have condemned the move.
GARY WOOD: Quite simply what he’s saying is that we’ll ship it off shore, we’ll unload the problem to somebody else to try and find a way of disposing it, and from a union point of view we certainly would oppose that position.
Quite clearly we believe we have a responsibility not only to people within our own country but throughout the world.
KAREN BARLOW: But he has the support of the Australian Workers’ Union. Its national president Bill Ludwig holds several key ALP Executive positions.
BILL LUDWIG: We are very pleased, and me particularly, are very pleased that Kim has taken that initiative.
TONY EASTLEY: Bill Ludwig, QLD Labor powerbroker, ending that report from Karen Barlow. Well Kim Beazley has months to sell his ideas to the party’s rank and file, but it won’t be easy, with elements of the party dead against any change in uranium policy. One of them is Labor’s environment spokesman Anthony Albanese. He’s speaking to Louise Yaxley.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have a difference of opinion with Kim on this issue. This is a policy debate and it’s an issue which I hold very strong views on.
I’m actually a politician who believes in things and I’ll argue for what I believe in. Other people in the party will do the same and we’ll have that determination at the ALP National Conference next April.
LOUISE YAXLEY: Does this come down to votes in the end? What will voters do if the party adopts the policy that Mr Beazley is suggesting?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well no, I think this comes down to an issue of principle and I certainly argue this from a principled basis. But I also argue that the politics of this are wrong for the Labor Party.
I do not believe that there are people out there in marginal seats who have been voting for John Howard and the Liberal Party, who’ll say, “If Labor changes its ‘no new mines’ uranium policy, I’ll change my vote to the Labor Party.” Frankly I think that is an absurd position.
LOUISE YAXLEY: But will they say that they can see that Labor can see the export dollars available from the uranium and that this can help pay off the trade deficit, and that that shows the party’s economic credentials.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We need to put it in absolute perspective. We’re talking about exports last year of $500 million, the same figure as we got from manganese ore and concentrate, and I don’t see manganese ore and concentrate on the front page of the newspapers.
This has been an ideological push. It’s an ideological push from people who disagree with the view that society is more than economic exchanges between economic entities.
LOUISE YAXLEY: Well that includes people in your own faction like Martin Ferguson.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Social and environmental consequences of sales actually do matter. In the time of terrorism, I would have thought that the issues concerning nuclear proliferation, as has been argued by people such as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammed El Baradei, were more acute today than they’ve ever been before.
LOUISE YAXLEY: But Australia is already selling considerable amounts of uranium under Australia’s existing policy, Labor’s existing policy.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s correct, because Labor balances our anti-uranium and anti-nuclear policy with the economically responsible position that we don’t repudiate contracts. That’s a balance that I think we’ve got right.
LOUISE YAXLEY: But it does look half pregnant, as many people say.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: People are now arguing of course, and the conservatives will argue that if you sell uranium you should enrich it and you should have nuclear power plants domestically. It’s a matter of where you draw the line. The truth is that our current position is a responsible position economically, but it’s also responsible environmentally and socially.
TONY EASTLEY: Labor’s environment spokesman Anthony Albanese.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.