Chinese
Premier Wen Jiabao is due in Australia early April. Along with the
photo opportunities and goodwill discussions it is likely he will
formally announce an agreement to purchase uranium from BHP’s Olympic
Dam-Roxby Downs mine in South Australia, initially from 2008 to 2020.
BHP is in the process of tripling the size of the mine in order to meet
the order. This, of course, is the same South Australia that, under
Mike Rann, refused the development of a low level waste storage
facility near Woomera. A position that saw a very “pragmatic” response
by the Federal government in moving it to the Northern Territory.

After
that you’d like to think the government had its act together on the
issue of uranium mining and export. But the fiasco of contrary comments
by the PM in India, and Alexander Downer here, reveals poor policy
development and Cabinet communication.

Last year it was Ian
Macfarlane, Industry Minister, who within the space of two weeks had
back flipped on the issue of uranium mining. From staunch opponent to
staunch supporter – all in the space of a fortnight! You can only
suppose he was taken aside and told what to say. This is from someone
who had, according to sources, given explicit instruction to the
Australian Bureau of Resource Economics when conducting a recent study
of Australian energy, not to look at uranium. You can only suppose
that, with his position reliant on the support of the coal industry, he
was looking out for his mates.

Australia, with 40% of the
world’s uranium, will not be allowed to sit on it. The US will not let
us. The Chinese will not let us – in the same way they have capped iron
ore prices. We are price takers, in no position to bargain. With demand
for export revenue to fund our national debt and economy we have no
choice. We are still hugely reliant on primary resources, despite
various incarnations of the “clever country” program. In fact, in
fairness to Ian Macfarlane, with coal being our single biggest export
earner you can understand, issues of pollution, health and climate
change aside, his support for it.

But why not face this uranium
and nuclear issue and approach it openly? The PM and Downer are strong
supporters of uranium exploitation and nuclear power development. So is
Brendan Nelson. So is a lot of the backbench.

Read the full story here.

Peter Fray

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