Aug 23, 2006

Uranium – Moderate Export Earner, Big Principle

Uranium – Moderate Export Earner, Big Principle

Address to the Clayton South ALP Branch

Hotham Federal Electorate

Kingston Centre, Clarinda, Melbourne

Wednesday 23 August 2006

Thank you for the invitation to speak to the Branch tonight about Labor Policy and the Nuclear Fuel cycle.

Indeed the response to my support for the current ALP Platform, that Australia should not be further involved in the Nuclear Fuel cycle, has been overwhelming. I guess this should be expected.

Uranium is a moderate export earner, but it’s a big principle in the Labor Party. And I believe we’ve got the principle right: an economically responsible position which says we won’t repudiate contracts but one which recognises the environmental and social dangers involved in further involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle.

Not a single state or territory branch has called for the uranium mining policy to be overturned. In recent weeks, both the ACT and the Tasmanian Branches have reaffirmed their opposition to new uranium mines.

The campaign to change Labor policy has not been led by the ALP membership.

It has not been led by the public.

This is a campaign where an elite few have been the activists.

And most of them are members of John Howard’s cheer squad.

The Labor Party has long differentiated itself from the conservatives in valuing the contribution of our membership. Through our branches and affiliated unions we further the direct influence of the broader community. This is why our platform is binding on the parliamentary party.

The ALP Membership will not concede its influence passively just because a newspaper editorial tells it to.

The upcoming rank and file Presidential Ballot gives all ALP members a direct say in the organisational head of the ALP. The nominations for the Presidential panel closed on Friday of last week and I am pleased that two of the candidates, John Faulkner and Linda Burney have indicated their support for the current ‘no new mines’ policy.

There is no doubt that this ballot presents an opportunity for members to send a message of support for the existing policy by voting for candidates who support that policy – just as members did in the last Presidential ballot, when a vote for Carmen Lawrence also sent a message of support for a more humane approach to asylum seekers.

Those who support the existing policy, do so with a simple proposition: you can guarantee that uranium mining will lead to nuclear waste; you can’t guarantee that nuclear waste won’t lead to nuclear weapons.

It is not just Labor Party members for whom this proposition rings true.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohamed El-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned about the dangers of nuclear proliferation:

“Our fears of a deadly nuclear detonation…have been re-awakened… driven by new realities. The rise in terrorism. The discovery of clandestine nuclear programmes. The emergence of a nuclear black market…”

The activity of Iran is a timely reminder of the link between domestic nuclear power industries and nuclear weapons proliferation. Former US Vice-President Al Gore stated that in his eight years in the White House, each and every single issue of nuclear proliferation was related to a civil nuclear reactor program.

Nuclear proliferation is the cold hard reality that must shape the nuclear debate and the debate over uranium.

Paddy McGuinness in The Australian on 1 August described opposition to the nuclear fuel cycle as a “cold war issue”, backing up previous anonymous statements, again in The Australian that opponents of further involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle don’t understand that “the cold war’s over”.

Yes the cold war is over, but it has been replaced by the much more unpredictable consequences of global terrorism. Today it is not just states that threaten world stability, but organisations and indeed individuals.

Our most recent reminder of this was the extraordinary report in the Weekend Australian by Gordon Corera outlining Abdul Qadeer Khan’s trading of nuclear technology involving Pakistan, China, Iran and North Korea and Libya.

The issues of nuclear waste are also yet to be resolved. Australians are right to be cautious about the suggestion we can safely store nuclear waste for tens of thousands of years.

Our geology changes in ways that can’t be predicted with certainty. Our climate is changing more rapidly than ever before.

It is arrogance of the highest order to think that humans can be certain about the geological, climate and political future tens of thousands of years into the future.

Not a single repository exists anywhere in the world for the disposal of high-level waste from nuclear power and only a few countries have identified potential sites for such a repository.

The US site, Yucca Mountain Nevada, now only some 85 miles from Las Vegas, was due to be completed by now. After 20 years and 7 billion dollars, all that has been built is an access tunnel. When proposed in 1987, Las Vegas was a small town with little political sway. Last year, 39 million tourists visited Las Vegas.

Not only does the project risk a significant economic downturn for Nevada through a loss of tourism numbers, but geologists are now warning that Yucca Mountain is porous. Water moves through the area underground, potentially transporting waste into surrounding agricultural areas. Even the project’s engineers now admit it is difficult to predict with certainty events, geological and otherwise, thousands of years into the future.

The US is now looking for other sites further from the Casinos of Nevada. Russia is considered as an alternative. So is Australia.

The Bush Administration’s plan for a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is an admission of failure by the nuclear power industry’s greatest advocates that the issues of waste and proliferation remain outstanding.

Currently being promoted by the Prime Minister, this Partnership would see uranium producers enrich uranium, export nuclear fuel rods and then that waste would then be returned to the country of origin.

Australia needs a vision beyond us being a quarry and a dump.

Labor’ current policy has the balance right – a position reflected by the overwhelming support of the Party’s rank and file – and a clear opposition to the pro-nuclear and pro-uranium policies of the Howard Government.

Some reject the ALP’s current position of phasing out uranium mining through not allowing new mines by arguing it is inconsistent.

Can you imagine the reaction of those same people if it was suggested the ALP should shut down the industry and close mines upon coming to Government?

The truth is that the “no new mines” policy is a sensible and pragmatic position which recognises that Labor should not repudiate contracts but should phase out our involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle while the intractable problems of economic cost, safety, waste and proliferation remain outstanding.

It is consistent with the introduction of unleaded petrol in cars.

It is consistent with a range of Labor reform policy which aims to implement our principles in a pragmatic and economically responsible manner.

It is consistent with the phasing out of nuclear power adopted by Germany, Belgium, Spain and Sweden.

What Labor should be talking about is the Howard Government’s appalling record on tackling climate change and its failure to support the renewable energy industry.

A coherent policy approach is needed to combat the most serious issue facing the global community today.

The nuclear issue is being used by John Howard as a distraction from the great challenge of Climate Change.

Nuclear is certainly not the solution. Think of this – if we double the global use of nuclear energy, we could use all known reserves of high grade uranium in around 25 years. We would achieve emissions reductions of only another 5%, compared with the 60% reduction needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

We need to promote real solutions. A Beazley Labor Government would be about renewables not reactors; about ratifying Kyoto, introducing an emissions trading scheme, significantly increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target and introducing a climate change trigger into the EPBC Act.

In our efforts to avoid dangerous climate change we have a responsibility to find solutions that do not create new problems for future generations to solve.

The Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, exposed the irresponsibility of nuclear advocates when he stated on 27 November 2005; “in terms of high level waste, well if it were ever produced from an Australian nuclear industry, well that will be a matter for the governments of the day”.

Uranium mining solves none of Australia’s pressing challenges.

It does little for our soaring foreign debt, it doesn’t cut our spiralling greenhouse pollution and it makes us all a lot less safe.

Kim Beazley’s Climate Change Blueprint provides this coherent policy approach – strong solutions which will create jobs and increase our export performance.

Just as Labor’s opposition to AWAs has given a sharp distinction between us and the opposition on its extreme industrial relations legislation, opposition to any further involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle would be given clarity if Labor maintains our opposition to new uranium mines.

I am yet to hear anyone in the ALP argue that a weakening of our anti uranium position would reflect democratic opinion within the ALP or reflect a campaign from the community.

The arguments for Labor to promote a strong anti nuclear and anti uranium position have never been stronger; economically, socially and environmentally.