House of Representatives- Speech on Uranium Sales to India 2008

The rise of Asia, in particular China and India, is one of the defining features of the 21st century. It is an exciting development for Australia, for the region and for the world. India has turned outwards and is engaging at an intensity not seen in the second half of the last century. Although India still faces many challenges, its liberal democracy, free press and independent judiciary as well as vibrant civil society give enormous reassurance that it can overcome the challenges that it faces. What we are seeing is remarkable. The commercial genius of Indian entrepreneurs is being released, with stunning results. India has established rates of economic growth of seven to eight per cent per annum. One can only applaud this incredible transformation that we are watching unfold: the return of India to the centre of global industry and commerce. India’s rise will inevitably make it a strategic power. It has begun to focus on Australia’s area of traditional diplomatic interest, East Asia, as a market and as a key area for its security interests.

The rise of Asia, in particular China and India, is one of the defining features of the 21st century. It is an exciting development for Australia, for the region and for the world. India has turned outwards and is engaging at an intensity not seen in the second half of the last century. Although India still faces many challenges, its liberal democracy, free press and independent judiciary as well as vibrant civil society give enormous reassurance that it can overcome the challenges that it faces. What we are seeing is remarkable. The commercial genius of Indian entrepreneurs is being released, with stunning results. India has established rates of economic growth of seven to eight per cent per annum. One can only applaud this incredible transformation that we are watching unfold: the return of India to the centre of global industry and commerce. India’s rise will inevitably make it a strategic power. It has begun to focus on Australia’s area of traditional diplomatic interest, East Asia, as a market and as a key area for its security interests.

Australia welcomes India’s rise and its greater interest in East Asia. The government has stated publicly that it supports India’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council as part of the United Nations reform. We welcomed India as a founding member of the East Asian Summit and we will support India’s membership of APEC when the moratorium ends in 2010. We are moving to steadily strengthen our defence cooperation with India.

Australia has also made as a priority the raising of bilateral relations with India to a new, higher level. Both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade have hosted their Indian counterparts. The Prime Minister has indicated that he wishes to visit India later this year, and other senior ministers are likely to visit over the coming months. Australia has also been invited to be an observer in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SARC, which is a clear indication of our growing standing in India and in its region. The government is committed to taking the relationship to a new, higher level and we are determined to bring it to the front rank of our bilateral partnerships.

Perhaps I could say something now about uranium, the second point raised in this motion. The member for Ryan has clearly failed to understand the important responsibility that Australia bears in holding the world’s largest reserve, of uranium. It is incumbent on this nation to act responsibly as a secure supplier of energy resources to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to lead by example in the application of strict nuclear safeguards to uranium exports. This government strongly supports the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. In line with this support, it is this government’s policy to supply uranium only to those countries which are parties to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and with which Australia has concluded a bilateral safeguards agreement. This has been a longstanding position of the Australian government.

It is worth remembering that, as long ago as 1976, in considering the development of uranium deposits in the Northern Territory, the Ranger uranium environmental inquiry under Justice Fox considered the complex issue of ensuring that adequate safeguards existed against diversion of uranium exports to weapons making. In his report, Justice Fox recommended:

No sales of Australian uranium should take place to any country not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Export should be subject to the fullest and most effective safeguards agreements, and be supported by fully adequate back-up agreements applying to the entire civil nuclear industry in the country supplied ...

It is worth remembering that this recommendation was accepted by the then Fraser government. India is not a party to the NPT and, on this basis, Australia will not supply uranium to India. This is a policy of principle. It is a longstanding policy. It is not directed specifically at India, but it is important that we approach this issue with consistency. Australia’s influence in the international arena is dependent on our credibility—we must behave in accordance with our stated aims. To do otherwise would undermine our credibility and risk Australia’s standing in the region.