Labor ends 25-year opposition to new uranium mines
April 28, 2007
KEVIN Rudd has won his party's support for an expansion of uranium mining, arguing that some nations have to use nuclear power because they do not have the rich range of energy alternatives that Australia has at its disposal.
Matt Price: Speech glosses over substance
Video: Rudd's speech to the conference
Rudd's speech (pdf)
Audio: Labor's conference song
After a generally courteous debate lasting over 90 minutes, a proposition ending the 25-year policy restriction on uranium mines was passed on the voices.
The success of the motion amending the Labor platform followed the defeat of an alternative amendment from frontbenchers Anthony Albanese and Peter Garrett 205 votes to 190.
After the debate South Australian Premier Mike Rann, who seconded Mr Rudd’s proposal, said the vote was a victory for his state and for the leader.
He said being in Government “means taking tough decisions” and Mr Rudd had shown that he was ready to govern.
Those arguing for the change said that the ban on more uranium mines was anachronistic and contradictory. It would be used by the Howard Government to embarrass Labor, they said.
Those against said the priority should be on strengthening international non-proliferation rules before there was any expansion of mining. The world had failed to come up with a solution for dealing with waste, they argued.
The change does not override the rights of Labor governments in Western Australia or Queensland from rejecting applications to mine uranium under state planning laws.
Mr Rudd had told the conference nuclear power was an unnecessary for Australia. Even on the best estimates it would deliver a 5 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when Australia needed to cut pollution by 60 per cent.
Australia should develop a “Snowy scheme type of enthusiasm” for the development of clean coal technology and become the world leader in helping countries expand their energy production with lower emissions.
But nuclear power was a reality overseas and Australia was already part of that.
“Other countries are not as rich in energy options as we are here and that is why for some time we have been exporting uranium for many years,” he said.
“We have to recognise that reality.”
But Mr Albanese said Labor had always proudly considered the social and environmental implications of decisions not just the economic aspects.
“You can guarantee that uranium will lead to nuclear waste; you can’t guarantee that it won’t lead to nuclear weapons.”
He said the international protections against proliferation were failing and it was irresponsible to “put more fuel on the fire”.
Opponents of mining should not be ridiculed for allowing existing mines to keep operating because it was the only economically responsible way of acting, he said
Environment spokesman Peter Garrett said he was “unapologetic” about his opposition to nuclear power and the risks of nuclear energy were greater than the benefits.
He dismissed the proposition that nuclear power could be enlisted to deal with climate change.
“Is the only way to meet this challenge it to create more nuclear waste?” he said
Mr Rann said the existing policy had not restricted uranium mining and when the Olympic Dam expansion was finished it would be the largest mine in the world, producing more uranium than all of Canada.
He said a change was critical to the integrity of Labor policy and decisions should be made on facts and science not on emotion.
South Australia was enjoying a minerals prospecting boom with a six-fold increase in mining exploration, which would lead to thousands of jobs.
Labor resources spokesman Chris Evans said he had lost the debate in his own family but believed the policy had failed and needed to be changed.
“What does having a no new mines policy do, it does nothing,” he said.
“You can’t say you have the largest uranium mine in the world and say we are not getting deeper into the nuclear fuel cycle. It’s a nonsense.”
Australian Workers Union national secretary and parliamentary aspirant Bill Shorten warned that a defeat of the motion would be embarrassing for the leader and would demonstrate that Labor could not create globally consistent economic policy.
“We are ready for Government and the Prime Minister can no longer wedge us on this issue,” he said.
The political need for a change was also pressed by Transport spokesman Martin Ferguson who said he was sick of 11 years of opposition and Labor had to tell voters that “”we are ready to govern, just give us the opportunity”.
Nuclear power in other countries was simply a “fact of life”, he said.
But West Australian union official Dave Kelly said he was sick of being lectured by older party members about how tough the debates had been at past conferences were and the argument against should be judged on its merits.
“Mr Rann said the decision should be based on science. I will change my vote today if someone could give more a scientific solution to the problem of waste.”
NSW minister John Della Bosca said Labor had always been a pro-uranium mining party until 1977. When he joined the party in 1972 its stance on mining had been part of the recruitment material.
Wrapping up the debate, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said he pleased by the respectful conduct of the debate, remember he had been spat on in 1982 when he voted for the the-then three mines policy.
He said the Prime Minister would not be able to use the policy against Labor and the focus should return rightly to the development of clean coal technology.
He said his Government was putting in $300 million into the development of clean coal and put industry on notice that they would have to put in the same amount.