Bills - Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill 2017 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:54): I thank Senator Bernardi for raising this matter for discussion today. It's certainly a debate that needs to be had. Perhaps Senator Bernardi has been following the urgings of Josh Frydenberg, the Minister for the Environment and Energy, who said that a national debate on domestic nuclear power is needed and essential. I have to say Senator Bernardi has just presented a very persuasive argument on why his bill should be passed, and, having listened intently to Senator Bernardi's speech, I can't say I disagree with anything he said.

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle (Facilitation) Bill 2017, which Senator Bernardi has introduced, aims to remove the prohibitions on nuclear facilities contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act. It should be clear that the removal of the prohibitions in itself wouldn't automatically allow for the construction and operation of nuclear facilities. The bill seeks to remove the automatic bans in the EPBC and the ARPANS acts which prevent the minister, or others, from approving certain nuclear activities. Under Senator Bernardi's bill, the environment minister would still have to consider applications to establish facilities under the EPBC Act, and the foreign minister would retain the power to decide whether or not to issue a permit for a proposed facility under the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act.

Minister Frydenberg, on behalf of the government, has welcomed and encouraged a national debate on domestic nuclear power. Typically, the Labor Party, in their usual negative way, and in responding to threats from the Greens political party, who keep them where they are in the political spectrum, have said, 'Nuclear power is not a viable option for Australia.' Labor's spokesman, the Hon. Mark Butler, MP, said that. It is typical Labor negativity—they are not arguing against it through any great enthusiasm but simply because the Greens don't want it. The Labor Party are where they are in this parliament because of the Greens political party and their preferences. Certainly in my home state of Queensland, without Greens preferences the Labor Party would not be in power. The one thing that attracts the Labor Party more than anything else is power. They are not terribly interested in good governance, but they are interested in power for the party and for the union officials who, really, run the Labor Party and who effectively run governments where the Labor Party are in power.

As an aside, whilst the Greens political party preferences keep Labor in power in Queensland so too do preferences from the One Nation Party. Without preferences from One Nation to Labor candidates in many electorates in Queensland, the Labor Party would have no chance of forming government in Queensland. So, as an aside—not at all related to this bill—I hope the Labor Party in this chamber will cease its relentless attacks on Senator Hanson, which I tire of a bit, I have to say, because effectively Senator Hanson and her party have put the Labor Party into power in Queensland again. That was done inadvertently, I'm sure, but nevertheless that's what they've done, and it's to be regretted. The Greens, on the other hand, don't do it inadvertently; they do it very, very deliberately. They pretend they are opposed to the Labor Party on some things, but, in effect, they will always put the Labor Party into power where they can, because they know that the Labor Party are an easy target for their ideological stupidity, which they exercise on this and on many, many other issues.

It always amuses me, when we talk about uranium and nuclear power, that the Greens don't want carbon emissions, don't want coal-fired power stations and don't like hydro. They want to save the world, and there's one way to give reliable, cheap, plentiful energy without any carbon emissions at all, and that's through nuclear power—but do the Greens want that? No. My view of the Greens—and this is a long-held view from the times I was forestry minister—is that they just want to destroy Australia's economy in whichever way they can. I'm not quite sure what their ultimate aim is, but they are hell-bent on destroying the Australian economy and the jobs of Australian workers. Yet, they still seem to attract some—I might say ever-diminishing—political support, mainly from those in the capital cities whose jobs are always secure because they usually work for the governments and get a pay cheque at the end of the month. They're the people who can be holier than thou and sidle up with the Greens with some of their ridiculous policies on many things, including power and electricity prices in Australia.

The Labor Party show complete hypocrisy on uranium as well as their subservience to Greens' pressures. Remember that they had the three-mines policy: uranium from some mines was good uranium, but if it came from more than three mines it was bad uranium. Tell me the common sense, the justification behind such a ridiculous policy. I'm not sure if the three-mines policy is still a Labor Party policy—perhaps some Labor contributor to this debate could alert me to that—but certainly in the time I've been in this chamber that was the thing: uranium from three mines was good uranium but uranium from other mines was bad uranium, and so you couldn't have it.

I know he won't mind me saying this, but a former Labor energy minister in my home state of Queensland was the mines minister and energy minister in one of many Labor governments—the too many Queensland Labor governments—totally opposed to nuclear power, but, when he left the state parliament and went back to his home town of Mount Isa, he became mayor of Mount Isa and, on the way through, became an advocate, a lobbyist for the uranium industry. I don't criticise him for that. I agree that it was not only a job but also something that I think he personally firmly believed in—yet he was the one that oversaw 'no nuclear' when he was the minister in the Queensland government. In private conversations—well, I shouldn't repeat them if they're private conversations, should I? But I think he would tell everyone that he never thought it was such a very good policy, but that was the way of the ALP: you do what they say or you're out on your ear. Now, in his more independent stance, he acknowledges that nuclear power is good. It can be cheap in the long run and it can provide Australia with unlimited clean energy. He's no longer the mayor, but the council area he was mayor of—Mount Isa City Council—is the biggest city in Australia, I might say, because it goes far beyond the town of Mount Isa. There is a lot of uranium in that area that could be extracted very easily. In fact, in Queensland, generally, there is a great deal of easily obtainable uranium that could be used.

Senators will know that Australia is already the third-largest producer of uranium, and the Turnbull government supports the sustainable development and responsible use of this important energy service and source. But, as Senator Bernardi very articulately said, we find it okay to export Australia's uranium to other countries who then use it to produce cheap power but we don't allow it in our own country. Senator Bernardi's bill seeks to address some of the impediments to allowing nuclear power in Australia.

I make it clear that the government has no plans currently to introduce nuclear power into Australia, but we do acknowledge that nuclear energy is a proven technology. It can deliver baseload electricity with very, very low or no carbon emissions. We also acknowledge nuclear is an important energy source for many countries around the world. In fact, most of Europe used to rely on nuclear energy, and then we had that scare in Japan with a nuclear power plant that was old and not very well constructed, I'm told. Suddenly some nations pulled out of nuclear power; it's always amused me. Germany—which I've always admired, post war, in their energy and the way they were dedicated to improving their economy—used to have nuclear power and, for some reason that I've never been able to understand, following the Fukushima incident in Japan they shut down their nuclear power stations. They then had to buy all their electricity from France, which, of course, produces its power by nuclear energy.

I remember at one stage going and having a look at a tidal power plant in France many years ago and being shown around by EDF, Electricite de France, who ran the plant. I said, 'Gee, this tidal wave power is impressive. It must be good. It must be efficient and save you some money.' The official said to me, 'Actually, it doesn't save us anything. It's very expensive to run. It doesn't produce much electricity, but we keep it going because it looks good to the world. We get all our power from nuclear.' That's a pretty telling conversation. It encapsulates some of the arguments that you hear in this chamber and elsewhere opposing nuclear energy.

There are other forms of energy, but they're very, very expensive. There is one energy of course that's not expensive, and that's coal. I'm still hopeful that the Adani coalmine in Queensland will proceed with the railway line that will create so many jobs that are desperately needed in central and north Queensland. I'm hopeful that at some time in the future—clearly, not under the current Labor government—there will be a coal-fired power station in Collinsville, as promised by the LNP in the state election, that will provide cheap, affordable but certain baseload power in the north which we lack at the present time.

As I've said before, there are emissions from coal—I acknowledge that—but the emissions from Queensland coal are lower than from coal elsewhere around the world. If we don't export our coal around the world, those who need coal will buy it from other sources that don't have the same coal as Australia—high-quality, cleaner coal—and the emissions will continue. There'll just be more of them and come from a different place.

We have this ridiculous opposition by the Greens political party—and, it appears, the Australian Labor Party these days—who don't want cheap power from the plentiful supplies of high-quality coal that we have in Queensland. I very much regret that, in the electorate of Burdekin—which is where I live and, under a redistribution, goes down into Collinsville, Moranbah and into the areas where this mine and railway line would be also encapsulates Bowen where the Abbot Point port is—the sitting member, who's one of my party, is struggling to hold that seat even though the coal-fired power station would have been there and there would have been lots of jobs for workers, miners and railway people. Yet, One Nation, regrettably, in that seat gave their preferences to the Labor Party, and the Labor Party have indicated that they're not interested in a coal-fired power station, not really interested in coalmines and don't want Adani. So all those coalminers who voted for Labor or One Nation are effectively putting themselves out of a job and condemning their fellow Australians and their fellow Queenslanders to higher electricity prices under a continuing Labor government.

Senator Bernardi's bill, which aims at removing the blanket Commonwealth prohibition on nuclear power, is a welcome addition to debate in this chamber, but any decision to establish a nuclear power plant would, given the way the Australian political system works at the moment, require bipartisan support and community acceptance. I would imagine that community acceptance could be garnered if the debate were truthful, but you will have the Greens political party and those on the left of the Labor Party coming out with horror stories about what nuclear may or may not do, often forgetting that in Australia, whilst we don't have nuclear energy, we have over 60 years of experience with nuclear technology. In the last 60 years, we as Australians have benefitted enormously from nuclear science and technology, particularly in the production of nuclear medicines to diagnose and treat serious illnesses. I give a shout-out to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, who are a wonderful group of great Australian scientists. Unfortunately, many more that we could've had, who were leaders in that field, have had to go overseas, but those who remain with us do a wonderful job at ANSTO in helping all Australians with nuclear medicine. If you listen to the Greens, I think they're against that, but that shows their hypocrisy and inconsistency so usually they don't want to talk about those sorts of things.

I've mentioned that my own state of Queensland would benefit from greater activity in the uranium mining, export and usage area. Senator Bernardi mentioned his state of South Australia, and I might say, with not a great deal of respect, that South Australia certainly needs a hand-up somewhere, or even a handout, which is what it gets from the Commonwealth government now. I know that my colleague Senator Fawcett has very strong views on this subject, and I hope that he will be participating in the debate. I also know that my friend and former colleague Sean Edwards is a South Australian with a real vision for how nuclear energy, nuclear science and nuclear technology can change the face of what is now the mendicant state of South Australia. I wish Sean all the very best as he pursues—as I hope he's still doing—some of those very interesting and original ideas he had in relation to the storage of nuclear waste and the way to sustainably and carefully use nuclear energy in Australia.

I again thank Senator Bernardi for introducing this bill. As I said earlier, Minister Frydenberg, who is the government spokesman in this area, has welcomed a national debate. We do need informed, rational, non-ideological debate on this, and Senator Bernardi's bill is certainly a step in that direction. I thank him again for bringing this matter to the Senate for debate.

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