Transcript of Radio Interview
Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly, Uranium Mining
25 July 2006
FRAN KELLY: Let’s stay with Labor’s uranium U-turn. Environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese, is opposed to changing his party’s policy. He joins us now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Well, Kim Beazley says it’s in the national interest to allow more mining of uranium and it’s hard to argue against that in economic terms given the current resources boom, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, you’ve got to put it in perspective, though. Uranium exports were worth some $500 million last year, at the same level as manganese ore and oxide, and I don’t see that on the front page of the newspapers.
FRAN KELLY: Uranium prices are booming, though; they’re going up.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, but they’re still less than one per cent of our mineral exports. The real opportunity that’s available for Australia, and why this debate is a distraction from it, is in the area of renewables. This is an emerging trillion-dollar industry. It’s an industry that creates jobs—big time—in manufacturing here in Australia. We saw, when the Chinese Premier was here earlier this year, one contract signed by Roaring 40s in Tasmania worth $300 million to export wind farms to China. These are the real opportunities that are available. They’ve been dropped by the Howard government, which is ignoring this potential, and unfortunately this debate is a distraction from the very strong policy that Kim Beazley has announced in response to climate change and supporting the renewable energy industry.
FRAN KELLY: Well, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, though; uranium mining and renewable energy. The point is that Labor has had this internal division over this issue for a long time. For a long time it’s been accused of being an illogical position, half pregnant, and let’s take it to its conclusion: if your position prevailed at next year’s Labor Party conference, the policies stay the same, Australia will still become the world’s biggest supplier of uranium—mining uranium—once the Olympic Dam is expanded.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, our policy balances the environmental and social consequences of the nuclear fuel cycle and says that we don’t want to be further involved in it.
FRAN KELLY: But we’re already going to be the No. 1 supplier.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right. Well, the alternative to that is to rip up economic contracts, to pay massive compensation to the companies that have those contracts. Now, Labor isn’t about to do that and the anti-nuclear position within the Labor Party doesn’t argue that. We argue for a balanced position that balances our economically responsible position of sovereignty of contracts with the position that says Australia is as far into the nuclear fuel cycle as we should be.
FRAN KELLY: There’s a sense that Kim Beazley has made this announcement in an effort to try and, to some degree, neutralise this issue as John Howard has gone much further down the discussion in the debate on nuclear energy. He’s moving the debate towards: should we have enrichment of uranium here; should we move towards nuclear energy? Is Kim Beazley just trying to sort of get on equal footing here so he can at least not have this blow up in his face as an issue with the Howard government accusing him of being weak, of Labor’s position … illogical? And, in that sense, are you just making things very difficult for your leader by speaking out like this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’m supporting the Labor Party’s existing platform, as I’m obliged to do, which has the overwhelming support of Labor Party members. This is a debate about values that goes to the core of what the Labor Party is about, that we don’t think that society is just made up of economic transactions between economic entities, that we actually look at the consequences of the sale of uranium. And in this case you have, in the United States, nuclear energy’s greatest proponents—the Bush administration—putting their hand up and admitting defeat by the whole global nuclear energy partnership proposal, which John Howard seems to be enamoured with, that is, that countries enrich uranium, lease nuclear fuel rods and then the waste goes back to the country of origin, is an admission by the Bush administration that nuclear proliferation treaty regime is almost non-existent, that the nuclear waste issue hasn’t been resolved and this is from nuclear energy’s greatest proponents.
FRAN KELLY: But Anthony, can’t Kim Beazley claim that he’s on, if you like, if you sort of look at it through your prism, the side of the angels on this, on this whole very issue about values because he’s saying a Labor government would never allow enrichment of uranium; it would put stronger safeguards on the exporting of uranium than currently exists and it would certainly never allow nuclear energy in this country.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And those positions are certainly welcomed. But what I argue for is, just as in industrial relations where we have a strong, clear position due to our opposition on AWAs, we need to have a strong, clear, coherent, anti-nuclear, anti-uranium position. That’s what the current platform allows for. It has the overwhelming support of Labor Party members in the era of terrorism, and of course we have the issue of Iran at the moment being a graphic demonstration of the problem that’s there, and the direct links between the nuclear energy industry and nuclear proliferation.
FRAN KELLY: Anthony, many would say that Labor’s current position is anything but coherent. But if you accept that a lot of people support this, are you concerned that not only this will be a divisive debate within Labor but it will attract many people who would have voted Labor perhaps over to the Greens? Is that what you’re really concerned about?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’m concerned about the policy principles but I’m also concerned about the politics of this issue. I don’t believe that there are people in marginal electorates who voted conservative at the last election who’ll say: now, if Labor just changes our anti-uranium policy, then I’ll change my vote to Labor. I don’t think they exist. But I do think that every time Labor sells a Commonwealth Bank or changes a uranium policy in this fashion, then more of our base drifts away.
We have a problem with our primary vote in this nation and we’ve got to lift it well above 40 per cent if we’re going to make Kim Beazley prime minister at the next election. And I don’t think, I don’t think you lift your primary vote from walking away from fundamental principles.
FRAN KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: That’s Labor’s Shadow Environment spokesperson, Anthony Albanese.