Transcript of Television Interview
Meet the Press
30 July 2006
Discussions about Labor’s Uranium Policy
MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER GREG TURNBULL: Hello and welcome to Meet The Press. This week Kim Beazley staked his leadership on scrapping Labor’s policy banning new uranium mines. He set himself a hurdle he must clear at next year’s ALP National Conference.
OPPOSITION LEADER KIM BEAZLEY (Monday): So tonight I announce that I will seek a change to my party’s platform to replace the no new mines policy with a new approach based on the strongest safeguards in the world. Now, I fully realise there are diverse views in my party on this matter. Indeed, there are diverse views in my shadow ministry and the caucus.
GREG TURNBULL: Indeed there are. Our guest this morning is leading the charge against Kim Beazley’s proposal, Shadow Environment and Water Minister Anthony Albanese. We’ll also hear a defence of Israel’s position in the deadly conflict in Lebanon. But first to what the nation’s papers are reporting this Sunday, July 30. The ‘Sunday Mail’ in Queensland covers the overwhelming ‘no’ vote in Toowoomba yesterday, rejecting the use of recycled sewage as drinking water. Now there’ll be a statewide referendum in 2008. The ‘Age’ reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived back in Israel for talks on a peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The ‘Sunday Times’ says two men have been charged with disorderly conduct after yesterday’s violent anti-war protest against the Prime Minister in Perth. And with an interest rate rise looming, the ‘Sun-Herald’ says there’s now a push for longer mortgages, possibly up to 50 years. Kim Beazley’s uranium policy revamp is being hotly opposed by his Shadow Environment and Water Minister Anthony Albanese, who is our guest this morning. Welcome to the program.
SHADOW ENVIRONMENT AND WATER MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
GREG TURNBULL: Firstly to that Toowoomba vote, if we could just go there. I guess it’s no surprise to many Australians that a majority of Australians in Toowoomba don’t want to go drinking their own sewage.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, it wasn’t a surprising result. It was a disappointing result. You had both Federal Labor and the Federal Government urging a ‘yes’ vote primarily because the ‘no’ campaign didn’t come up with any alternative.
GREG TURNBULL: Does this mean that when this issue is revisited, as it will be presumably if Peter Beattie is still in Government in 2008, that it has to be approached another way?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think we need a campaign of education. Essentially, recycling, of course, is what natural processes do through the process of evaporation, cloud formation and rain, and we need to get across the idea that recycling of course isn’t necessary for potable water in most cases, but certainly for industrial use and the general principle that we need to value our water rather than use it once and then expel it into the ocean. Those days are gone.
GREG TURNBULL: Let’s go to the uranium debate that flared through the week. What’s so important about the number of mines that you’re prepared to risk blowing up the ALP conference and derailing your leader over the issue?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, uranium is a very moderate export earner, but it’s a big principle in the Labor Party, and that principle comes down to this – you can guarantee that uranium mining will lead to nuclear waste. You can’t guarantee that uranium mining won’t lead to nuclear weapons, and that’s why the principle which is embodied in the policy, which is essentially a phasing out of uranium mining, is something that many delegates to the conference and party members hold dear, and that’s why we’re having this vigorous debate inside the Labor Party.
GREG TURNBULL: What about the point that Kim Beazley made in his Sydney Institute speech, where he said banning new uranium mines would not limit the export of Australian uranium to the world, it would simply favour the incumbent producers? We’re already going to be the biggest exporter with the expansion of Olympic Dam. Aren’t you flying in the face of reality?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. Labor’s policy has to balance two principles. One is the principle recognising the concerns with the nuclear fuel cycle, saying that until the problems of cost, waste, safety and proliferation are resolved we won’t go further down that track. But secondly, also, the economic principle that we don’t repudiate contracts, that Labor recognises economic sovereignty, if you like, and that’s why we would not repudiate contracts. But, obviously, unless getting rid of the No new mines policy is going to lead to more uranium mining, then there’s not much point having the debate.
GREG TURNBULL: Well, it seems to be a bit of a foregone conclusion that you will not succeed at the ALP conference in rolling Kim Beazley on this issue. One experienced observer of the ALP over the years is John Howard. Here’s his assessment that he made through the week. PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Tuesday): Oh, I think he’ll get them. Surely they won’t roll him on this. I can’t believe they would! But – no, I predict it will get carried and, but all it does is bring them limping towards basic common sense.
GREG TURNBULL: Anthony Albanese, what happens if through the magic of your rhetoric, you hypnotise the conference and they do actually support your position? That would be the end of Kim Beazley, wouldn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, not at all. John Howard, of course, doesn’t have a vote in the Labor Party, and he doesn’t understand the fact that in the Labor Party we value society as something more than economic transactions between economic entities. We actually look at the social and environmental consequences of economic activity. So I’m not surprised that he doesn’t get that this is a debate within the Labor Party. But it is, as Kim Beazley himself has said, and I think he’s shown strength and leadership in doing it, he hasn’t said he’ll dictate the policy, he wants a debate, and he’s having a mature debate from a modern political party and the last democratic party left in Australia.
GREG TURNBULL: You’ve said through the week that you don’t think there are many votes in this issue for the Labor Party and perhaps, on the contrary, are you concerned that success for Kim Beazley at the conference on this issue will hand votes to the Greens, including in your own electorate?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly think that this is an issue of principle, but also in terms of the politics of the issue I just don’t believe that there are people out there in marginal seats who voted for John Howard at the last election who are saying, "If only Labor got rid of our no new mines policy that we’d change our vote to the Labor Party." On the contrary, I think there’s many people who will be quite disheartened if Labor’s seen to be watering down our strong position in opposition to uranium mining. It’s clear that Labor will maintain, regardless of the outcome on the no new mines policy, a very strong position in opposition to nuclear reactors, in opposition to uranium enrichment. So there’s going to be a very clear distinction regardless of the policy outcome. But I just think that just like our position on AWAs gives us such a clear distinction on the WorkChoices legislation from the Government, we should have an absolutely clear position of no further involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle whatsoever.
GREG TURNBULL: We will come back to the uranium issue with the panel, but if I could just go to some general politics very quickly. An Ipsos Mackay opinion poll published exclusively for Meet The Press has found that two-thirds of Australians think Peter Costello should remain as Treasurer and patiently wait for another opportunity to take the prime ministership. 12% think he should retire from politics, 12% think he should resign in a huff and go to the backbench, 67% believe he should stay where he is, and 9% just don’t know. What do you think, Anthony Albanese, and do you think that view to have him stay in the job might change with next week’s interest rate rise?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well. it certainly might change, but I think that maybe they’re asking the wrong question. The question is – should he go back to doing his job as Treasurer? He seems to be talking about anything but at the moment, and today I notice he’s lecturing fathers about parental responsibility. I think he should actually get on back to the job he was elected to do.
GREG TURNBULL: Time for a break. When we return with the panel, more on uranium and the broader political landscape.
GREG TURNBULL: You’re on Meet The Press with our guest Anthony Albanese. Welcome to our panel this morning, Jennifer Hewett from the ‘Australian Financial Review’ and News Limited columnist Glenn Milne.
JENNIFER HEWETT, ‘AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW’: Mr Albanese, there’s a lot of talk about principle going on in terms of the uranium debate, but isn’t the script written for pretty practical politics, which is that you get to argue about symbolism and look honourable in defeat, and Mr Beazley gets to look tough in changing a quarter of a century-old policy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, that’s not right. We’re having a serious debate about a serious issue. And it’s in the context, of course, of the need to address climate change. John Howard has discovered one area of climate change, and says that we need nuclear energy whilst our emissions are spiralling. So I think this will be a debate. The advantage is that it focuses attention on the need to take serious action to avoid dangerous climate change. It gives us a chance to campaign on Kim Beazley’s climate change blue print, which we released earlier this year.
JENNIFER HEWETT, ‘AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW’: You said it’s a serious debate, but the underlying serious debate is about economic management, and presumably this adds to Labor’s economic credibility if Kim Beazley is able to change this policy. But do you think that remains one of the greatest areas of weakness for the Labor Party?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I don’t think it does at all, and I think that the difficulties that the economy’s experiencing at the moment, with the potential interest rate increase again next week, adds to problems in the Government side. On the economic side of this debate, we need to put it into some perspective. What we have here is uranium exports worth $500 million last year. That’s about the same amount as manganese ore and oxide, which we hear nothing about. It’s about the same amount as the loss of two wind farm projects in Tasmania and South Australia, which aren’t going ahead because of the Government’s failure to increase the mandatory renewable energy target. It’s a bit more, but not much more, than the $300 million contract that was signed by the Tasmanian company Roaring 40s with the Chinese Premier when he was out here earlier this year. So I think that one of the things that we need to do in this debate as the Labor Party is make sure that we get home the message that Australia is missing out on economic opportunities, both domestically in terms of our transformation to a carbon-constrained economy, the growth of the renewable energies industry, but also the massive export potential that is there for us to position ourselves to take advantage of what’s a trillion-dollar growth industry.
GLENN MILNE, NEWS LIMITED: Anthony Albanese, I would just like to go back to a question that Greg asked you in the first break, and that is you say that Kim Beazley could survive as leader if he lost on this issue at the ALP National Conference. Can you possibly explain to me how that could happen if he’s repudiated by his own party?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a democratic debate. Of course, I remember a couple of years ago at a State conference Bob Carr and Michael Egan failing to get to 5% of the vote for their plan to support electricity privatisation, and yet the Labor vote went up and they got a significantly increased majority.
GLENN MILNE: Yes, but Bob Carr was Premier then, not Opposition Leader.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right, but this is a serious issue of principle in the Labor Party. Yesterday the ACT conference voted to support the no new mines policy. There isn’t a single State or Territory branch which has opposed the no new mines policy, and at the – next month, of course, all members of the party will get to vote for who the national president of the ALP is. And that will be an opportunity, I’m sure, in which people’s position on the no new mines policy will be a factor.
GLENN MILNE: So you’re going to run a no new mines candidate for the presidency of the party, is that right?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, that will be one factor, but it’s pretty clear that people are going to want to know what people’s position is on the no new mines policy and that will be a factor in them voting. There’s been various other suggestions. Some people are suggesting a write-in on ballot papers like the ‘no dams’ write-in in the election, in order for people to express their view, because I think it’s very clear that a majority of ALP members around the nation support the existing policy, don’t want any further involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle, are interested in serious action to address climate change but don’t want to go down this track.
JENNIFER HEWETT: Mr Albanese, it seems that the environment’s a mainstream issue all around the world, including from business. Why, if it’s such a big issue, are you not able to make more political headway with it as a party?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well. I think we are making headway with this issue as a party. In one way, I think there’s an opportunity for us to wedge the Government on these issues. This is a Government that really has got nothing to say about climate change. They’re isolated in terms of their failure to ratify the Kyoto protocol. They’re opposed to emissions trading, opposed to a market-based mechanism for setting a price on carbon, contrary to the call of many in the business community, and recently the climate change business round table called for early action because they know that unless we act soon to address climate change issues and to transform the economy, then it will cost more in the long run. So the sort of policies that Kim Beazley outlined in the climate change blueprint – supporting clean coal technology, supporting solar and renewables – is where we need to go.
JENNIFER HEWETT: But you need also to have that economic management underpinning, don’t you, and that’s where you seem to be having trouble getting the connection?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Except I think the days of sustainability or prosperity are long gone. What we need to do is recognise that the environment can no longer be considered as something on the end once you’ve dealt with economic and social policy. The environment must be at the core of economic and social policy in terms of sustainable outcomes, because climate change changes that from something that’s an option to something that’s a necessity, and that’s recognised by world leaders not just of the left, but take Arnold Schwarzenegger in the United States – has a $3.2 billion California solar initiative, a remarkable program. He’s got a target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for California. Across the board, world leaders are recognising the challenges that are there, and including in developing countries such as China, which has a 15% renewable energy target, and Australia is simply being left behind.
GLENN MILNE: One way you could possibly wedge the Government I guess on this issue would be to push at the national conference, given that you will probably lose the three mines issue, could you push at the national conference for increased safeguards on uranium enrichment and downstream processing over and above what Kim Beazley is already promising?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Kim Beazley has made it very clear that strict safeguards are part of his push. I mean, what we have essentially is agreement within the Labor Party that we don’t want to be further involved in the nuclear fuel cycle. It’s where you draw the line. The difference that’s there is that Kim’s saying that you should allow new uranium mines with stronger safeguards and that allows us to have a greater global influence. I think that’s optimistic, and I draw attention to people such as Mohammed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency who’s talking about the nuclear non-proliferation treaty basically being in tatters, and the comments by Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States, who has said that every single nuclear proliferation issue that he dealt with in eight years in the White House was connected to a nuclear energy issue. And of course we’re seeing it played out at the moment with Iran. Iran surely is a wake-up call that the arguments that I’m putting, re the direct links between uranium mining, it’s entry into new nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear proliferation, are ones that we should be very cautious about getting further involved in.
GREG TURNBULL: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for joining us this morning for this discussion on uranium, and best of luck in your advocacy in the ALP conference.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, Greg.