Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Nuclear Power

3:06 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by opposition senators today relating to nuclear power.

It is little wonder that the government had such trouble answering those questions, which went to its plans for nuclear power, its failure to have plans for a high-level waste dump and its failure to have plans for protocols for the use of nuclear power. Today we have seen that the government’s ‘cunning plans’ are clearly all in a mess. This government has been caught out again trying to be too clever by half, seeking to come up with quick fixes to political problems rather than developing long-term strategies to deal with the challenges that are faced by this country.

What began as a sneaky plan to wedge Labor has backfired. We now have a situation where government ministers have a considerable amount to explain. We are entitled to know how it is that the government can plan to build nuclear power stations and where they would build these power stations. We are entitled to know how the government can contemplate such measures when they cannot even build a low-level nuclear waste dump, not to mention a high-level nuclear waste dump. So at the moment we have a complete and total debacle by the government.

For some time we have seen that some ministers have been honest enough to press their concerns and push for nuclear power in this country. We have also seen some ministers express their scepticism about the economic viability of such proposals. We have had the expertise demonstrated to us time and time again—or at least asserted to us to be demonstrated—by Senator Minchin. He pointed out that he is probably the most expert minister in the government on the question of nuclear power and nuclear energy, but he went on to say that such a proposition will not be viable for 100 years. Of course, such a position runs in sharp contrast to the position taken by the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, who says that such nuclear power facilities will be available within 10 years. We have seen the position of the Chief Scientist, Dr Jim Peacock—who is also a supporter of nuclear energy—who pointed out that the Switkowski report clearly ignored the advice from international experts, ignored community advice and, more importantly, had a totally unrealistic attitude that a nuclear reactor could be operating in Australia in as little as 10 years hence.

We have seen unrealistic estimates of a 10-year cycle being established, at odds with even the most optimistic assessments from within the Liberal Party. In seeking these answers from the government, which it failed to deliver today, it is important for us to establish why it is that the Prime Minister—a very clever politician—has sought to enrich his mates through his various contacts in Australian Nuclear Energy, which was registered just five days before the Prime Minister established his nuclear futures inquiry. We need to see why Senator Minchin, who does not believe such an industry is likely for a century, argues that such a proposition should be considered as a viable option in the current environment—an environment in which we have coal supplies in this country which are able to last us for the next 600 years.

We are entitled to ask why it is that the Prime Minister ramped up this issue by announcing an inquiry into nuclear energy in early July last year, which closely followed the contacts that had been made by the former Treasurer of the Liberal Party in Victoria. We saw that quite strident measures had been taken through the government to secure a nuclear future when, quite clearly, the government cannot even get its story straight on a low-level nuclear waste dump, let alone the extraordinary complexities that would be required for a high-level nuclear waste dump. From this government we are now hearing proposals to establish a global, high-level nuclear waste dump in this country. So we are entitled to know: where are these facilities going to go? (Time expired)

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