Prior to the 2013 Federal Election, the following is what could be found in the Liberal Party’s national platform relating to uranium:
Liberal Party Platform (Jan 2013)
We will strengthen our diplomatic relationship and trade ties with India and boost mining exports by exporting uranium to India.
Australia’s Future Engagement in the Asian Century (25 October 2011)
Tony Abbott Speech
“Australia currently has an outdated policy of refusing to sell uranium to India because it is not a signatory to the United Nations Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. This has forced India to seek alternative uranium sources in France and Argentina. That policy will change with a change of Government in Australia. It is not just good business to sell uranium to India, but it is our responsibility as good global citizens to play our part not just in reducing carbon emissions but in providing consistent, reliable and affordable energy supplies to our partners in the region.”
The Liberal Party’s policy on nuclear power in Australia is unclear. While they have historically supported the idea, there is no official current policy to introduce nuclear power in Australia.
The following policies were taken to the 2010 federal election by the Coalition:
The Coalition believes we should not reject the possibility of adding nuclear power to our long-term energy mix.
Nuclear power is the only technology now available that can deliver continuous – or baseload – low-emission power. Around the world, nuclear power provides 16 per cent total electricity generation. If the world was not using nuclear energy, emissions of CO² would be some 2.5 billion tonnes a year higher.
In Australia, a successful and cost-effective transition to a low-emission economy will require the widest possible array of technologies to be available. Picking winners, in the case of emerging technologies, is high risk. Australia cannot afford to put all our eggs in one basket.
The Coalition believes that nuclear power will only proceed in Australia if it is economic and has broad community support. The Coalition wishes to see an informed public debate about the potential use of nuclear power but recognises there is unlikely to be a proposal to establish a nuclear power plant in Australia for another 10 to 15 years. Nevertheless, we believe we should put in place an appropriate framework to allow for this energy option in the future.
A re-elected Coalition Government will:
* Ensure there is an informed public debate on nuclear energy, based on facts – not fear;
* Remove Commonwealth legislative impediments to a nuclear industry and set up a rigorous regulatory framework;
* Participate in the Generation IV Forum, which is closely aligned with ANSTO’s current research interests and seeks to develop the next generation of nuclear energy systems; and
* Ensure binding plebiscites are conducted in local communities where any nuclear power stations are proposed.
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP): The Coalition is committed the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and its goal of enabling expanded use of nuclear power to meet growing global energy needs while strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
A Coalition Government will not accept other countries’ spent nuclear fuel or nuclear waste.
Resolutions passed at Liberal Party Federal Council, June 2-3, 2007.
23. Nuclear Power
That Federal Council believes that nuclear power is the most significant component of an immediate response to climate change and calls on the Australian Government to introduce a technical and regulatory scheme, including appropriate environmental and operation safeguards, and any other measures necessary for the development and provision of nuclear power on a market driven basis.
24. Nuclear Industry
That Federal Council believes that Australia should expand its current nuclear industry to incorporate the entire uranium fuel cycle, the expansion of uranium mining to be combined with nuclear power generation and worldwide nuclear waste storage in the geotechnically stable and remote areas that Australia has to offer.
There are divided views amongst Liberal Party parliamentarians regarding nuclear power. Some views are covered in the following articles:
Abbott laid out his plans for all to see
December 1, 2009
Tony Abbott: “It’s hard to take climate alarmists all that seriously, though, when they’re as ferociously against the one proven technology that could reduce electricity emissions to zero, nuclear power, as they are in favour of urgent reduction in emissions.”
A realist’s approach to climate change
27 July 2009
Tony Abbott: “It’s a little curious that the activists most concerned about climate change are often those most opposed to the one proven way to reduce almost to zero the emissions associated with electricity generation, namely nuclear power.”
Abbott not backing nuclear energy yet
4 Dec 2009
Tony Abbott: “I’m not saying I’d never push it [nuclear power], it depends on the circumstances, but I’m not pushing it now,” he said.
Liberals canvass alternatives, like nuclear
December 3, 2009
Tony Abbott: ”I am not a theological opponent of nuclear power. I don’t think it’s something that we should rush into. But certainly I’m happy to see a debate about the nuclear option.”
Liberal Party Leader Tony Abbott, March 2010:
“Surely its time Australia had a serious and mature debate on using nuclear power.”
Coalition divided on nuclear power
Pia Akerman and Matthew Franklin | August 24, 2009
But Senator Minchin – who voted at the South Australian Liberal annual general meeting this weekend against a resolution calling for debate on the use of nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions – said nuclear power was raised at the last federal election with obvious results.
“Clearly, there was no appetite in the community whatsoever for the consideration of nuclear power,” he said. “We’ve had that debate and let’s move on.”
Senator Minchin said his study of nuclear power showed it to be at least twice as expensive as coal or gas-fired power, “so it’s completely unrealistic for Australia to be contemplating it from an economic point of view”.
Nuclear is the answer: Opposition
By Jano Gibson
Jul 23, 2009
Opposition spokesman on energy and resources, Ian Macfarlane, said: “It [nuclear power] is the only zero-emission, base-load electricity that Australia can install in the next 30 years.”
This article tracks the Liberal Party’s positions on nuclear power before and after the 2007 federal election.
Libs unclear on nuclear
December 11, 2009
WILL the Liberal Party blow itself up over nuclear power? Party leader Tony Abbott seems alert to the risks and his position is a definite maybe: ”I’m not saying I’d never push it, it depends on the circumstances, but I’m not pushing it now,” he said last week.
But Abbott will struggle to contain the enthusiasts in the Coalition – including a few who don’t believe in climate change but want to solve it with nuclear power anyway. Abbott himself has flirted with that line of argument, taking pot-shots at people who are concerned about climate change but are also opposed to nuclear power.
There’s no contradiction, as University of NSW academic Dr Mark Diesendorf recently pointed out: ”The two biggest threats facing human civilisation in the 21st century are climate change and nuclear war. It would be absurd to respond to one by increasing the risks of the other. Yet that is what nuclear power does.”
Abbott is playing wedge politics, claiming that Minister for Resources Martin Ferguson supports nuclear power. But Abbott is more likely to wedge himself, budgie smugglers and all – the Coalition is far more divided on nuclear power than the Labor Party. For the moment, Abbott can distance himself from nuclear power while claiming he supports a debate on the issue. But early in the new year he will present a climate change policy that will either include or exclude nuclear power.
How will newly appointed shadow energy minister Nick Minchin handle this contentious issue? Minchin has consistently argued against the development of nuclear power in Australia on economic and political grounds. In 2005, he told a Liberal Party council meeting that ”we must avoid being lumbered as the party that favours nuclear energy in this country” and that ”we would be political mugs if we got sucked into this”. The following year he said: ”I think we could waste a lot of time and hot air debating nuclear power, when really it’s just not going to be on the horizon economically for a very long time.”
Minchin is alert to the political perils of dealing with the nuclear waste that would arise from a nuclear power program. If Ziggy Switkowski gets his way, 50 nuclear power reactors will be producing 1500 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste in Australia each year and the uranium feeding them will be responsible for 36 million tonnes of low-level radioactive tailings waste each year.
Minchin was one of a succession of Howard government ministers in charge of the failed attempt to impose a national nuclear waste dump in South Australia from 1998-2004. He said: ”My experience with dealing with just low-level radioactive waste from our research reactor tells me it would be impossible to get any sort of consensus in this country around the management of the high-level waste a nuclear reactor would produce.”
Liberal senator Judith Troeth said on the ABC’s 7.30 Report last week that high-level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants could be dumped in the Northern Territory. Several sites in the NT are being investigated for a national repository for low and intermediate-level waste. The plan is being strongly contested by many traditional owners and other Territorians and the NT Parliament has passed legislation attempting to ban the imposition of a nuclear repository. Troeth’s comments are likely to harden opposition.
In 2006, following a meeting with then US president George Bush, John Howard became a crazy-brave nuclear power convert. He said in Federal Parliament that he wouldn’t rule out nuclear power anywhere – and went on to list numerous electorates that might host a nuclear plant. As the November 2007 election loomed closer, the Howard government tried to avoid mention of nuclear power, but the issue was bubbling away in local electorates. During the election campaign at least 22 Coalition candidates publicly distanced themselves from the government’s policy of supporting nuclear power.
Nuclear power supporters were furious when the Australia Institute released a report identifying the most likely locations for nuclear reactors; it was ”childish” to talk about potential sites, said foreign minister Alexander Downer. A March 2007 Newspoll found that only 25 per cent of Australians would support a nuclear power plant being built near them. Local communities were promised a right of veto over nuclear power plants by Howard – but only months earlier the government was seeking legal advice as to whether it could override state and local government opposition to nuclear power.
The government’s position also sat uneasily with its plan to override NT legislation banning the imposition of a national nuclear waste repository and legislation rammed through Federal Parliament that gave the government the power to impose a dump on Aboriginal communities with no consultation or consent.
After the 2007 election, the Coalition quietly dropped its policy of supporting nuclear power. Very quietly – there was no announcement of the policy shift.
Minchin’s sceptical attitude towards nuclear power will likely prevail with Tony Abbott but there will be an ongoing dispute within the Coalition and more than a few Coalition MHRs and senators will continue to publicly promote nuclear power. Ironically, the loudest will be climate change sceptics such as Barnaby Joyce and West Australian MP Dennis Jensen.
Dr Jim Green is national anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth and a member of the Energy Science Coalition.