Feb 28, 2007

Transcript – water plan, nuclear power

Transcript of doorstop interview – Parliament House, Canberra

Wednesday, 28 February 2007


Subject: National Party opposition to Prime Minister’s water plan, Government plans for nuclear reactors, Australian Nuclear Energy Pty Ltd.

ALBANESE: The National Party and its vested interests are at the core of the water problem. They are also at the core of the Howard Government.

And today we have yet another break-out between the Coalition partners. Adrian Piccoli, a National Party state MP in New South Wales has been supported by his National Party leader, Andrew Stoner. It’s important because this is Mark Vaile’s own branch of the National Party which is now saying they’re determined to wreck the national water plan that was proposed by the Prime Minister on the 25th of January.

It’s quite clear that the National Party aren’t interested in taking real action on Australia’s water crisis. We know that Peter McGauran has been opposed, on the record, all the way through, to any purchase by the Commonwealth of over-allocated water entitlements. And that’s why, in the Government’s tender which was due to close at the end of January had to be extended for two more weeks, because that tender was limited to just efficiency gains. And it would appear that the Commonwealth wasn’t even able to attract enough bids for the $200 million that was allocated there.

There’s real concern that you have the NSW National Party saying very clearly today that they are determined to scuttle any reform on national water.

REPORTER: Does this demonstrate that they see lots of problems with the plan?

ALBANESE: Well, certainly, the lack of detail that is available is of concern. The NSW National Party are saying that they weren’t briefed on the plan, and that they haven’t had an opportunity to see the detail. I think Mark Vaile’s got a lot of questions to answer. When we raised in Parliament two weeks ago whether it was the case that Mark Vaile was briefed at the last minute, he evaded the question. And what has become apparent through the Senate Estimates process is that this plan didn’t go to Cabinet, the Departments of Treasury and Finance were told to put a light eye over the proposals and that there weren’t any costings involved. And what seems to be characterising the Government in an election year is last minute political fixes rather than the long-term planning that is required.

REPORTER: Should the Premiers have signed up to it if the Nationals aren’t even happy with it?

ALBANESE: Well, the Premiers are putting the national interest first. And we were very pleased with the fact there was an agreement last Friday. We think it’s time to put sectional interests aside and the concern that’s there is whether, when it comes to the crunch, the National Party is prepared to do that. Mark Vaile has to actually answer what is the National Party’s position on the ground? Is he going to say one thing when it’s convenient, but another thing when it comes to the NSW State election, which is being conducted at the moment.

REPORTER: The ALP’s not exactly united at the moment – isn’t Steve Bracks the biggest obstacle to the national interest?

ALBANESE: No. Steve Bracks is saying that he wants further detail. There’s bi-lateral negotiations between Steve Bracks and the Commonwealth.

I note the Victorian leader of the National Party has opposed the plan, and what Steve Bracks and the Commonwealth will engage in, as a result of Friday’s meeting, is bi-lateral discussions and we’re confident that an agreement can be reached as long as there’s flexibility from both Victoria and the Commonwealth and as long as those details are provided. It is reasonable that the State Premier asked for more details given that more effort went into the Prime Minister’s political speech on the 25th of January than went into the detail of the governance, the timelines and the financing of this plan.

REPORTER: On uranium, why should voters take Labor seriously when you can’t even put a unified position on the future of uranium exports? So, your argument about the nuclear reactors gets pretty mixed … [ inaudible ]

ALBANESE: Well, Labor’s position on nuclear reactors is very clear. I have sat in Parliament yesterday and listened to the Prime Minister speaking about how nuclear energy was the cleanest, greenest energy that was available. And that reminded me of someone else who said

“Thank God for nuclear energy, the safest, cleanest energy there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipedream”.

Whilst John Howard could have said that, the quote was actually from Homer J. Simpson. And it would appear that the Howard Government wants to live in Springfield, but I don’t think Australian’s want to go down the nuclear path.

The fact that the Howard Government has been dragged kicking and screaming. Yesterday we had to ask question after question of the Industry Minister who was extraordinarily evasive about what details he had and discussion he’d had with Australian Nuclear Energy Pty Ltd.

[ break ]

As I was saying, on nuclear issues, the Prime Minister must answer some simple questions:

What dealings has the Prime Minister, his Ministers and senior staff had with Australian Nuclear Energy regarding the establishment of a global nuclear waste dump in Australia? What dealings has the Prime Minister, his Ministers and senior staff had with Australian Nuclear Energy or their representatives?

What dealings has the Prime Minister, his Ministers and senior staff had with Mr Ron Walker regarding the development of the Federal Government’s nuclear reactors plan?

When did Mr Howard speak to Mr Walker about his plan for nuclear reactor plants in Australia and how does that relate to the setting up of the Switkowski Inquiry?

Did Mr Howard discuss forthcoming public announcements regarding the Liberal Government’s nuclear reactor plan with Mr Walker?

I think Australians are entitled to answers about these questions. Yesterday, Mr Macfarlane was extraordinarily evasive in the Parliament. We will be pursuing these questions both inside and outside the Parliament over coming days. It is quite clear, particularly given historically the secrecy associated with the nuclear fuel cycle that Australian’s get answers to these very important questions.

Were it not for the exposure yesterday, in the Herald Sun and the Adelaide Advertiser, about the discussions that had taken place between the Government and Australian Nuclear Energy Pty Ltd then Australians wouldn’t know anything about this at all. And it’s extraordinary that these discussions weren’t volunteered by the Government when they took place, which we know from Mr Howard’s comments go back at least the middle of last year.

REPORTER: But you must be pretty dirty with Steve Bracks? He was well in the loop and he had been sitting down with Ron Walker about this before his own last election.

ALBANESE: No. Mr Bracks has made his position very clear. Mr Bracks is opposed to nuclear reactors not just in Victoria, but in Australia. And indeed, Mr Bracks is introducing legislation to make sure that if the Commonwealth wanted to impose nuclear reactors on Victoria that would have to be put to a referendum.