Labor may reconsider opposition to new uranium mines

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    Labor may reconsider opposition to new mines

    Mandi Zonneveldt


    OPPOSITION resources spokesman Martin Ferguson has given the strongest indication yet that the Labor Party will rethink its opposition to new uranium mines in Australia.

    Speaking at the Australian Uranium Conference in Fremantle yesterday, Mr Ferguson said Australia had a responsibility to provide a clean, safe source of energy to the rest of the world.

    "Whether we like it or not Australia is undeniably part of the global nuclear cycle," he said.

    "The reality is that we as a nation have to face up to our responsibilities sooner rather than later, the responsibilities that come with being the owners of globally important nuclear energy resources."

    The ALP is opposed to the development of new uranium mines in Australia, but Mr Ferguson said the party could not escape the uranium debate. He said the ALP's uranium policy had not been considered for a long time.

    "It's going to be an interesting debate in the lead-up to the national conference in 2007," he said.

    "I adopt this view. Uranium mining is no less safe than coal mining in Australia."

    The right-wing Australian Workers Union has already called on the ALP to rethink its policy.

    Incoming ALP president Warren Mundine has also signalled that he would support a change and wants the issue raised at the party's next national conference.

    Mr Ferguson's comments come just days after the South Australian Labor Government expected to be the most open to the development of new uranium mines endorsed a motion at its state conference supporting the status quo.

    West Australian Premier Geoff Gallop and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie are also opposed to an expansion of uranium mining, but Mr Ferguson said they would have to "front up" to the debate.

    "Uranium presents a new opportunity and over time people have to grasp these opportunities and front up to their responsibilities," he said.

    He said any decision taken to change the party's policy at a national level would be binding on the states.

    Australia is home to 40 per cent of the world's uranium resources and is already the second largest uranium producer, behind Canada.

    The Federal Government is pushing for an expansion of the industry, with demand from China expected to easily absorb Australia's current export capacity within the next decade.

    Mr Ferguson told the conference Australia had a responsibility to make its uranium available to countries that were not self-sufficient in terms of energy and, in particular, those tackling problems with pollution.

    He said Australia also had an obligation to make sure its uranium was used for peaceful purposes and that it was safely disposed of.

    Speakers at yesterday's conference said the ALP's opposition to the development of new uranium mines was holding Australia's resource industry back.

    Ron Matthews, exploration manager for Canadian company Cameco, said the ALP's position made most of Australia's vast uranium resources inaccessible to mining.

    "I think restraints imposed by state governments have severely hampered the development of uranium mining in Australia," Mr Matthews said.

    "A change in the misguided perceptions of the ALP . . . is required."

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