Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Nuclear Power

3:27 pm

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

If there were ever any doubt that this government has had its day, that it is tired and worn out and living in some kind of alternative reality to the rest of Australia, today’s answers in question time were indicative. I am talking, in particular, of the answers given by Senator Abetz, Senator Brandis and Senator Minchin to various questions from the opposition about nuclear power, nuclear reactors and nuclear waste dumps.

While Labor is talking about a future Australia that embraces innovative new technologies to deliver us clean, green and efficient energy, this government is actively out there spruiking nuclear reactors. Senator Minchin said that the government is thinking about it, Senator Bernardi confirmed it, Senator Ferguson confirmed it and Senator Abetz confirmed it. They cannot now run away and say that they are not going to be looking at having nuclear reactors in Australia.

It is a source of power, as we know, that is cumbersome, massively expensive and dangerous. There are ongoing problems with the disposal of waste that comes from nuclear power, there are problems with how you decommission plants and there is a problem with the initial start-up cost of between $2 billion and $3 billion for a nuclear power plant. There is the fact that we do not actually need nuclear power in this country because we have adequate other resources to provide us with power, including things like wind power and solar power—if this government actually did something about researching and bringing on those alternative sources of power. This government, in particular the Prime Minister, will not rule out nuclear reactors being sited in Australia and it is actively encouraging its Liberal Party mates under the guise of the Australian Nuclear Energy Pty Ltd consortium to investigate sites for the key reactors in Australia.

Today’s answers during question time were sadly indicative of the lazy and knee-jerk response of this government to the issue of Australia’s energy future. Having been in denial about climate change for the last 10 years, having refused to sign up to the Kyoto protocol because they do not want to offend the Americans, having refused to increase Australia’s mandated renewable energy targets, having put every obstacle possible in the way of building a wind farm in Victoria because it would have upset a Liberal candidate’s campaign, the government now say nuclear reactors are a good idea. Bring it on, says the Prime Minister. He says to his Liberal mates that he thinks it is a good idea. Having of course failed to mention to the Australian public before the federal election that they are going to be considering nuclear power, they are now actively out there talking it up. Still, we are used to this government not being honest with the Australian public about what their intentions are. We saw that with the industrial relations legislation.

This government is happy to talk about a discussion on nuclear power, saying that it wants to have a full and free debate about it. But when you ask the government the obvious question that every Australia wants to know—where are we going to site these 25 or so nuclear reactors that are proposed in the Switkowski report?—you get the Prime Minister fudging and getting flustered about it. He gets personally abusive and accuses people who ask that legitimate question of being childish and juvenile and playing games. He said those words yesterday, that people who wanted to know where nuclear reactors were going to be sited in Australia were childish and juvenile.

Today I saw in the press that Port Augusta, in my home state of South Australia, is one of the prime sites for the establishment of a nuclear reactor, if indeed nuclear power proceeds in Australia. People in Port Augusta are today asking the question: ‘Is it going to be us?’ I wonder whether Senator Minchin in particular and the other South Australian senators who were in this chamber before will say to those people in Port Augusta: ‘Don’t be so childish! Don’t be so juvenile! Stop playing games!’ People want to know where these things are going to be put. This government will not answer that question. I am proud to say that Premier Mike Rann has refused to have nuclear power in South Australia, just like he refused to have a nuclear waste dump in South Australia. He is unequivocal. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

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