Mining Legislation Amendment (Uranium Exploration) Bill 2012

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Second Reading

For 26 years, the State of New South Wales prohibited uranium exploration and mining.

That ban was introduced by the then Labor Minister for Energy and Technology, the Honourable Peter Cox.

Peter Cox is a man who attracted me to the Labor Party; the closest friend of my uncle.

The member for Auburn was a Minister in the Wran Government for a decade, and one of the finest men I have ever met.

When he introduced the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Bill 1986 he said:

The clear objective of this bill is the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the people of New South Wales and the environment in which we live.

I believe those objectives have stood the test of time and remain the clear defining statement why the ban—which, until this year, had been supported across party lines—should have remained.

But it did not.

The Mining Legislation Amendment (Uranium Exploration) Bill 2012 ended that bipartisan commitment to banning uranium exploration and mining in this State.

The bill amended four Acts.

It amended the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Act 1986, to which I just referred.

It also amended the Mining Act 1992, the Radiation Control Act 1990 and the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983.

Further, it alters State Environment Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007.

The bill is no small step; it alters four Acts of Parliament and the key environmental planning policy of the State relating to extractive industries.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has said:

Australia has 40% of the world's uranium deposits and supplies 20% of the world's uranium market.

On a good day that uranium becomes radioactive waste.

On a bad day it becomes nuclear fallout.

Hazardous waste is created at every stage of the nuclear cycle, including the mining, enrichment, reactor-electricity generation and reprocessing stages.

Uranium waste is toxic for approximately 10,000 years, and it causes distressing illnesses, most prominently cancer and genetic defects.

I believe no community should be expected to live with nuclear waste.

And I believe that if we in New South Wales are going to dig it up we should take responsibility for the waste.

But no community in New South Wales should have to live with nuclear waste.

I would like to talk about the mining of uranium.

Though the O'Farrell Government's Bill contemplates only exploration at this stage, some Government members who spoke in support of the Bill have clearly anticipated exploration leading to mining.

I credit them for that because I think that is an honest account of what is likely to happen:

Exploration will lead to mining.

I see that as inevitable.

Where mining occurs, left behind are uranium tailings, usually rock in a pulverised form.

These tailings contain radiation and a half life of approximately 80,000 years.

Australia has had regular reports of tailings leaks and contamination of water sources near uranium mines.

This overwhelmingly affects remote, and often Aboriginal, communities.

No matter how well a mining company manages its uranium tailings, that company cannot take responsibility for what will happen over the next 80,000 years.

In 2003 a Senate committee found "a pattern of underperformance and noncompliance" in the uranium mining industry.

It identified many gaps in knowledge and found an absence of reliable data on which to measure the extent of contamination from the uranium mining industry.

I want to talk about proliferation.

Australia has no way of quarantining its uranium for use only in nuclear power.

We rely on the under-resourced International Atomic Energy Agency, which admits it cannot guarantee where uranium ends up.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General, Mohamed El Baradei, described the agency's basic inspection rights as "fairly limited", complained about "half-hearted" efforts to improve the system, and expressed concern that the safeguards system operates on a "shoestring budget ... comparable to a local police department".

Of the 10 nations that we know have developed nuclear weapons, six did it under the political cover and/or with the technical assistance of a nuclear power program.

The current threat is much larger than rogue States.

There is every reason to fear non-State actors, particularly terrorist organisations, could develop or gain access to nuclear weaponry.

I have always taken the view, inside and outside my party, that nuclear non-proliferation is a moral matter.

The Catholic Church teaches that the way societies organise is a moral matter.

I quote from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,paragraph 509:

Arms of mass destruction—whether biological, chemical or nuclear—represent a particularly serious threat.

Those who possess them have an enormous responsibility before God and all of humanity.

The principle of the non-proliferation of nuclear arms, together with measures of nuclear disarmament and the prohibition of nuclear tests, are intimately interconnected objectives that must be met as soon as possible by means of effective controls at the international level.

That last sentence comes from an address by Pope John Paul II to the Diplomatic Corps at the Vatican in January 1996.

For me the threat of nuclear proliferation is a moral matter.

That is why, for more than 20 years, inside and outside my party, I have been an opponent of the expansion of the uranium industry in this country.

Before I conclude I will address the question of accidents.

It is now more than 26 years since the accident at Chernobyl when 400,000 people were evacuated and between 10,000 and 25,000 people died.

The accident at Three Mile Island in March 1979 cost $1 billion to clean up.

Last year the accident at Fukushima showed it was not just internal design issues of the operation of nuclear plants, but also acts of nature that threaten the lives of people who live near nuclear power.

A 20-kilometre exclusion zone has required 200,000 people to relocate since the Fukushima accident.

Industry claims that new reactors reduce accident risks to nearly negligible should be treated with suspicion.

The risk of a nuclear accident being nearly negligible is not good enough.

As long as I am in public life I will argue against this dangerous industry.