Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question without notice is to Senator Minchin, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Can the minister confirm that the industry department is rushing to complete a paper to go to the government by 31 March this year setting out options for moving to nuclear power? Won’t this paper inform the government’s response to the Switkowski review? Didn’t the Switkowski review state that nuclear power plants could be sited near current coal-fired plants to use existing transmission networks, close to population centres to minimise the transmission of power and along the coast to access cooling water? Will the government’s response name a full list of possible sites that meet the Switkowski review’s criteria for the location of nuclear reactors?
I said yesterday that the government had received the report of the Switkowski committee. I notice Senator Carr had a bit of trouble with that name and I forgive him for that, but it is the Switkowski report. I indicated yesterday that we would be responding to that report in due course. I am not aware of any suggestion that any response is being rushed. We have not set any date for a response to that report. We will consider it properly and sensibly because it is a very important contribution to the contemplation of Australia’s energy future. Australia’s demand for energy is going to increase substantially over the decades ahead. At the same time there is obvious community concern, inflamed, may I say, by the Labor Party, with respect to climate change and the consequences of climate change, the role that greenhouse gas emissions play in climate change and the obvious interest by all parties in seeking to ensure that in planning for our energy future we look sensibly and soberly at power sources that do not generate or generate minimal greenhouse gas emissions. We are therefore properly and sensibly contemplating the possibility of nuclear power playing a role in Australia’s energy future. That is why we set up the Switkowski report.
What we have from the Labor Party of course is that on the one hand they are running around with a scare campaign on global warming and attacking the government for allegedly doing nothing, and on the other hand they are running around trying to generate a scare campaign about nuclear power, totally contradicting that position. And at the same time we have their leader and deputy leader, coming from the right and the left of the party, and including Senator Evans—and I commend him on it—from the left, saying that we should expand uranium mining and export in this country. Their positions are utterly contradictory, all over the place, a dog’s breakfast, and do not add up to anything except populism and opportunism in order to create scare campaigns to suit their political purposes. We think the electorate will see through this.
There is no decision to have nuclear power stations in Australia. They are currently not allowed under state and federal law. We are well, well short—years short—of any suggestion about where possible nuclear power stations may go. What we are pleading for is a sensible, sober debate, free of the hysteria that we get from the Labor Party, about Australia’s energy future and how zero or minimal emission sources of greenhouse gas emissions may play a part in that energy future. We would ask the Labor Party to participate in that debate, to consider the Switkowski report, to wait till the government responds to that report and to engage in a constructive debate with us about the role that nuclear power may play in Australia’s energy future.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that a number of his coalition colleagues have ruled out having nuclear power plants in St George; Port Douglas; McMillan—where it was said, ‘Over the dead body of the MP’; Gilmore; Menzies, where there is no room; and Flinders, because it is on a fault line? When will coalition MPs be told whether their electorate will be getting a nuclear power plant?
I can only repeat what I said. They are not allowed under law. There is no proposal before the government for a nuclear power station. We are well short, probably decades short, of any contemplation of a particular site for a particular power station. We only have one nuclear reactor in Australia; it has been operating at Lucas Heights safely for decades. But there is no proposition before the government or contemplation of particular nuclear power stations or sites. What we want is a sober, sensible debate about the role that nuclear power may play in Australia’s energy future if we are to meet the huge demands for extra energy that will accumulate over the years ahead and how we do that without adding to our greenhouse gas emissions. We invite the Labor Party to play a sober, sensible part in that debate.