Kim Beazley sees uranium and sees dollar
signs – and also sees votes.

Last night he told the Sydney Institute
that he believes Labor’s “no new mines” uranium policy should be scrapped. At the same time, however, he has hedged
his bets, repeating his opposition to nuclear power in Australia
and stating that local uranium enrichment would not happen under a Beazley
government.

And he’s also thrown in a bit of the
economic Hansonism that Labor seems to think appealing at the moment. Any new
foreign owned mines will have to be approved by cabinet under a new “national
interest” test, not the Foreign Investment Review Board.

The Labor leader hopes the policy will win
votes in South Australia, where the tantalising prospect of a resources boom beckons, and
lead to the development of uranium deposits in Queensland and Western Australia.

The policy is not without risks. It means
uranium policy will be under intense debate in the months before the federal
election at Labor’s national conference in April. The Left has already signalled that it will
oppose any move to expand uranium mining, with environment shadow Anthony
Albanese
taking the lead.

However, Beazley says “there won’t be blood
on the walls”. He’s right. Labor cannot afford to roll its leader in the lead-up to next year’s poll.

The proposal announced last night by
Beazley is incremental. It’s a logical step forward for Labor from the three
mines policy. The party has to recognise the
opportunities offered by an expansion of uranium mining, just as it had to recognise
the reality of mining in the 80s.

If nothing happens Labor will be left behind
in the growing nuclear policy debate – and still divided on the issue.

And it certainly will be if Anthony Albanese can’t
actually pronounce the name of his portfolio. En-vi-ron-ment, Albo. Vi-ron-ment.
Easy.

Peter Fray

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