Last week the Labor party attacked John Howard over a telephone conversation the Prime Minister had last year with businessman Ron Walker over nuclear power. But did Rudd have a radioactive conversation of his own? Was ALP policy on uranium mining ever discussed in his conversations with Brian Burke?

Clients of Brian Burke and Julian Grill include mining companies with interests in uranium. Did Burke the lobbyist raise his clients’ interests with Rudd over the dinner table? For over a decade Burke has sought to undermine Labor’s stance on uranium mining. Crikey understands that Burke’s business partner Julian Grill has been even more vocal in support of uranium mining.

Then opposition leader Kim Beazley first raised the prospect of axeing Labor’s three mines policy in July of last year. Last December, Rudd signalled the same intention:

“I intend to lead it in that direction when it comes to the change of what is called the three mines, or no new mines policy,” Mr Rudd said. “The no new mines policy, in my judgment, does not make a lot of sense.”

According to uranium industry insiders it is almost certain that Labor’s three mines policy will be dropped. The head of the government’s inquiry into nuclear energy Ziggy Switkowski also believes there will be wide support to drop the three-mines policy at the ALP’s national conference in April.

This is despite a May 2006 Newspoll showing that 78% of Labor voters were opposed to any further uranium mining in Australia.

But it’s not the big mining companies that stand to gain from Federal Labor’s shift in policy — uranium industry insiders have told Crikey that “it’s mostly the WA ‘juniors’, some of whom have been connected with, or represented by, Grill and Burke, who would stand to gain.

The list of Burke/Grill clients in today’s Financial Review includes Precious Metals Australia (PMA). Crikey understands that PMA has expressed interest in acquiring the rights to the significant uranium deposit Yeelirrie in WA.

Crikey understands that Burke and Grill have also conducted work for Nova Energy. Nova is in the uranium “junior” camp — the company owns the rights to the WA uranium deposit Lakeway.

Burke’s business partner Julian Grill repeatedly pushed at federal Labor conferences for a change in the three mines policy. From the late 80s to the late 90s, Grill was part of a group that came out of Kalgoorlie which included Kalgoorlie MP Graeme Campbell called the Desert Rats. A uranium insider told Crikey that the group “would go to the opening of an envelope to talk up uranium.”

Crikey also understands that Grill was involved with a company promoting uranium called Kalgoorlie-Boulder Resources.

The WA Labor government currently impose a ban on uranium mining. Crikey believes that irrespective of what happens at the national Labor conference in April, the WA government will continue to impose the ban. Rudd has publicly stated that he won’t seek to override the WA state government ban.

But, as Edith Cowan University politics lecturer Peter Van Onselen suggested in January, there’s nothing to stop a newly elected Federal Labor government attempting to overturn the ban.

Then there’s Shadow Minister for Transport, Roads and Tourism (formerly Resources Minister) Martin Ferguson’s admission that he met with Burke’s business partner Julian Grill last year.

Ferguson has led the charge to overturn Labor’s three mines policy. According to a uranium mining insider, “without Martin Ferguson the Labor Party wouldn’t even be voting on the issue at the upcoming national conference.”

Overturning the uranium ban has been a “bit of a crusade and mantra…” for Ferguson, according to the insider. The sited meeting with Grill was in relation to Fortescue Mines, who have no interest in uranium, but what’s to suggest that the topic of uranium didn’t come up?

There’s a perception problem here — but the nuclear fallout also leaks across to the other side of the fence: according to today’s Fin Review, PMA has also made payments to the WA Liberal Party. In 2006-06 PMA donated $7000 to the WA Liberal Party. 

Rudd’s office told Crikey that the Labor leader had already answered extensive questions about his meetings with Burke in several press conferences and on The 7.30 Report last night but they refused to answer the specific question as to whether the ALP’s policy on uranium mining ever came up in Rudd’s discussions with Burke.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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