After responding to questions over WA Liberal backbencher Geoff Prosser hiring disgraced former WA Premier Brian Burke as a lobbyist, Prime Minister John Howard said, “So what?”

The PM’s argument was that Prosser, who was spotted lunching with Julian Grill last month, was only a backbencher.

There’s a reason Prosser isn’t a minister – he was forced to resign back in 1997 from his small business portfolio for improper business dealings.

And while he may be a mere backbencher these days, he also acted as the Chair of the House of Reps Standing Committee on Industry and Resources Inquiry into Uranium, objectively titled Australia’s Uranium – Greenhouse Friendly Fuel for an Energy Hungry World.

So what? As Crikey pointed out on Monday, Brian Burke and his business partner Julian Grill have links to and have represented mining companies with interests in Uranium. Specifically, WA mining companies like PMA and Nova Energy, with a special interest in dumping the WA government’s ban on uranium mining.

Prosser’s Uranium Inquiry reached the same conclusion:

The Chairman of the Committee, Geoff Prosser (Member for Forrest, WA), said: “The Committee has reached a unanimous and bipartisan position on the need to remove all impediments to the further development of Australia’s uranium resources. All members are agreed that present restrictions on uranium exploration and mining are illogical, inconsistent and anti-competitive. State policies preventing development of new uranium mines should be lifted and legislative restrictions on uranium mining should be repealed.”

And Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane heartily endorsed Prosser’s statement in this December press release:

Australian Resources Minister, Ian Macfarlane, today called on State Governments to repeal laws strangling Australia’s uranium export industry.

“Uranium is one of Australia’s most promising export industries, worth $743 million in 2005. But, despite having close to 40% of this sought-after resource, Australia’s future as a uranium exporter is being threatened,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Two major reports in the last fortnight – the bipartisan House of Representatives committee report Australia’s Uranium: Greenhouse Friendly Fuel for an Energy Hungry World and a major ABARE study – confirm that Labor States are the only major obstacle to rapid growth in uranium exports.”

So what? says the PM. The Corporate Engagement blog, points to Prosser’s comment, when asked in October if industry was partly behind the nuclear push given that Australia has 40% of the world’s uranium resources, he told ABC radio:

Well certainly the mining industry is keen to see those resources exploited.

The mining industry which Burke and Grill have represented.

“So what?” says the PM.

Crikey called Geoff Prosser to ask him if uranium mining policy had ever come up in his discussions with Burke and Grill.

Prosser’s office responded:

His (Prosser’s) response is no, on both counts.

Mr Prosser has repeated his assertion that the last time he met with Brian Burke was in 1985 when Mr Burke was WA Premier. He has not spoken to him at all since then.

But he has spoken to Grill. As The West Australian reported on Monday:

…Liberal MP for Forrest Geoff Prosser admitted his family company Citygate Properties employed Mr Grill to “sort out” an electricity access problem with Western Power about six months ago. He had met Mr Grill several times over the years, including at least twice last year.

We pointed out on Monday that Grill has been an advocate of uranium mining for over a decade:

From the late 80s to the late 90s, Grill was part of a group that came out of Kalgoorlie called the Desert Rats. A uranium insider told Crikey that the group “would go to the opening of an envelope to talk up uranium.”

So we could take Prosser’s word for it when he says that he never, in any of his dealings with Grill, discussed uranium, or we could say, “so what?”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey