Senate debates

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Uranium Exports

4:38 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I congratulate my colleague Senator Ludlam for this important debate to oppose the growing support of state and federal governments for an Australian uranium industry. Listening to the speakers from the coalition and Labor, you would think this was just about some other trade issue. What we are talking about here is uranium, one of the most dangerous substances that we have. It is so well documented how dangerous it is. Not one of the speakers from the other parties has at least acknowledged the tragedies that have occurred when uranium mining has been imposed on communities. That at least should have been part of this debate, not the superficial carrying on that we have seen.

When we listen to Senator Brandis thunder about hypocrisy, those words need to be turned back on that senator himself, because he was really there describing his double standards. Surely at some point he should have given attention to the radioactivity that we are dealing with here—the radon gas and how it results in the cancers, the tumours and so many illnesses, and how water and land are poisoned and can never be used. That is what we are talking about here, and that is why it is so important that we have this debate. There are the risks to workers and the risks to people who live near where uranium has been mined, has been used in power plants or is being used in nuclear weapons that have been tested. The damage has been enormous, and it is very disgraceful that the people who are backing this industry do not at least acknowledge the tragedies that have unfolded for so many communities.

Senator Brandis and his colleagues that have gone on this tirade should at least think of the Navaho people. When the Navaho people heard that a uranium mine was going to be opened up, they welcomed it. They thought that they at last had work. What they now have is the cancers, the tumours, the illnesses and the sores. Their stock is poisoned. Their lives are effectively ruined. They were never informed by the US government of what could befall them.

We have seen this tragedy closer to home, in Australia. The word 'Maralinga' is now known by many people in Australia—unfortunately, not because it is a very important spiritual place for the Aboriginal people who made their home there for tens of thousands of years but because it became the site of a large number of tests by Britain of its own nuclear weapons. The armed forces who were there and the Aboriginal people ended up with so much illness: long-lasting cancers, sores and blindness. This is a tragedy that I do not believe we have ever taken full responsibility for. Again, none of this was acknowledged by the speakers who have come into it.

Then we heard Senator Feeney and others speak about the great benefits this will bring and how essential it is for the Indian economy and India's future energy needs. You really got the impression that India is dependent on uranium for its nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy in India today only accounts for about 2.3 per cent of its energy. This is a very small component, and right now there are huge protests across India—very successful protests that are actually holding up the building of nuclear power plants. Fisherfolk, local villagers and many supporters from the larger cities across India know that there should be no future for nuclear energy in India. They should be phasing it out, not building new nuclear plants.

Right now, in the last day, about 100 people have been arrested in Tamil Nadu. Thousands have been protesting outside the assembly. One of those people arrested was David Bradbury, the Oscar-nominated Australian filmmaker. I congratulate those people, because they are doing a service not just to their immediate community, India, but to the world. The world has to say, 'The era of nuclear power and nuclear weapons is over.' We need to now be cleaning up the world, not adding to the pollution and the dangers that will beset so many generations. When you listen to Senator Brandis, Senator Feeney and the others who have spoken from Labor and the coalition, what they are outlining is to impose dangers, hardships, sickness and illnesses that will kill so many people if their policies continue and are put in place.

This issue right now is very relevant for the people of New South Wales. The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, placed the issue of uranium mining back on the agenda in November last year when he approved the resumption of granting uranium exploration licences in New South Wales, overturning the state's 26-year uranium ban. The Premier of New South Wales linked the decision to the announcement days earlier by the federal Labor party that it would overturn its ban on uranium exports to India, saying that New South Wales would be crazy not to look— (Time expired)


Mark Duffett
Posted on 1 Nov 2012 11:31 am (Report this comment)

It seems Senator Rhiannon is unaware that coal power stations emit more radiation than nuclear ones.

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