Uranium Export and the ALP National Conference

Prime Minister the Hon. Julia Gillard MP yesterday announced her intention to seek to remove the current ban on the export of uranium from Australia to India.

The Prime Minister noted that in order for the Government to change this policy, there would first need to be a change in the governing Australian Labor Party’s National Platform.

Uranium in Australia

  • Australia currently has four uranium operational mines: Roxby, Beverley, Honeymoon and Ranger.  These mines plus known reserves account for approximately 46% of the world’s reasonably assured resources, and currently produce 11% of the world’s needs.
  • Exports are 7,000-10,000 tonnes a year, worth $1 billion, forecast to hit 14,000 tonnes in 2014.
  • Worldwide, 432 nuclear reactors in 31 countries provide 13.5% of the world’s electricity.
Uranium Mining and the Australian Labor Party (ALP)
Uranium mining has been a controversial issue at both States and Federal levels of the Australian Labor Party. Debates on the issue at the ALP’s National Conference date back to the early 1980’s.
Until 2007, the ALP National platform had a restriction on the establishment of new uranium mines in Australia (the so called “three mines” and “no new mines” policies).
These restrictions were listed in the National Platform adopted by the 2007 National Conference, thus allowing new uranium mines to be established.
It is important to note that States and Territories also play a significant role in regulating uranium mining.  Currently, only South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have laws in place that allow the operation of uranium mines or the establishment of new mines. No uranium mines currently operate in Western Australia but uranium mining is supported by the Barnett Coalition Government.
Significantly, the ALP’s State Platforms in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia ban the establishment of new uranium mines.
ALP National Platform
The current Party Platform outlines the ALP’s stance on the mining and export of uranium (Chapter 3, Article 140).  Currently the platform prohibits exportation of uranium to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The Draft Party Platform, circulated ahead of the upcoming National Conference in December 2011 has the same points outlined under Chapter 3 Article 222.
Chapter 3, Article 140:  In relation to exports, Labor will allow the export of uranium only to those countries which observe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), are committed to non-proliferation policies, have ratified international and bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements and maintain strict safeguards and security controls over their nuclear power industries. In addition, Labor will work towards:
  • Strengthening export control regimes and the rights and authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • Appropriate international responses to violations of existing safeguard commitments.
  • Limiting the processing of weapon usable material (separation of plutonium and high enriched uranium in civilian programs).
  • Tightening controls over the export of nuclear material and technology.
  • Universalising of the IAEA additional protocol making it mandatory for all states and members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to make adherence to the additional protocol a condition of supply to all their transfers.
  • Criminalising actions of individuals and companies that assist in nuclear proliferation.
  • The development of an international guarantee of nuclear fuel supply to states forgoing sensitive nuclear technologies.
  • Revising the NPT to prevent countries from withdrawing from the NPT and passing a new resolution in the UN Security Council addressing the penalties for withdrawal from the NPT.  Encouraging all nuclear states to join the NPT.
  • Reserving the right to withhold supplies of uranium permanently, indefinitely or for a specified period from any country which ceases to observe the non-proliferation safeguards and security conditions which are applied to Australian uranium exports to that country, or which adopts nuclear practices or policies inimical to further advance in the cause of nuclear non-proliferation.
  • Supporting the maintenance and enhancement of international and Australian safeguards to ensure that uranium mined in Australia, and nuclear products derived from it, is used only for civil purposes by approved instrumentalities in approved countries which are signatories to the NPT and with whom Australia has safeguard arrangements.
  • Seeking adequate international resourcing of the IAEA to ensure its effectiveness in undertaking its charter.
National Conference
The ALP will be meeting for its 46th National Conference from the 2-4 December 2011 to determine a new National Platform.  The conference will be held at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.
There are 397 delegates who will debate and vote on the adoption of the Draft National Platform.  Delegates to the National Conference are made up of key parliamentary office holders, trade unions and rank and file members of the Party.
For the Prime Minister’s proposal to become Party Policy there must be an amendment to the current (and Draft) Platform moved at National Conference; to allow the export of uranium to India.  The draft of the Prime Minister’s proposed amendment to the National Platform is yet to be circulated.
While not all delegates to National Conference are members of factions with the ALP, the majority are. In broad terms, those aligned to Labor’s Left faction have indicated that they intend to oppose the change proposed by the Prime Minister; key figures have advocated support for retaining the existing platform.
Again in broad terms, members of the Right faction are supporting the Prime Minister, as well as encouraging the States (in particular Queensland and Western Australia) to remove the State Party Platform bans on the mining of uranium.
It is important to note that not all with an interest in this debate, including delegates to the Conference, belong to a faction.  Nor will all those with an interest in this debate support their faction’s likely position.  For example, the current Federal Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism the Hon. Martin Ferguson MP has been a consistent supporter of uranium mining in Australia, despite being a member of the Left faction.  The Prime Minister is also a member of the Left faction.
Observers to the National Conference are allowed to register, and the Business Observers’ Program offers opportunities to meet with Federal Labor representatives.
For more information, contact your Hawker Britton Representative.