Uranium policy founded in fantasy land

Courier Mail
1st April 2006

Des Moore argues that the Labor Party's nuclear policy is nonsense.


Fifty eight years ago, as the West began to organise itself against the

Soviet threat which it had been so reluctant to recognise, the Australian

Labor Government made an extraordinary grandstand play.


In its reply to a message to several countries from the British Labour

Government urging "a more active line against Communism" and emphasising the

ethical and moral dimensions of the collective need "to defend Western

civilisation in the widest sense", the Australian Government pushed itself

forward as being well placed to act as mediator between the USSR and the

West, and so, it said, did not want to be prejudiced by association with an

anti-Soviet alliance.


Unhappily, this was not the last exhibition of Labor fantasies about

Australia's weight in the world, of Labor's misplaced inner certainties

about its moral superiority, of Labor's compulsion to engage in the

self-satisfied embrace of flabby idealism in place of hard realism. Just

look at Labor more recently on anything to do with nuclear weapons.


Needing to humour its more swivel-eyed supporters who chose not to

understand that Australia's security in the Cold War rested on US nuclear

weapons and US strategic maritime mobility, and who wanted to declare the

South Pacific a nuclear weapon-free zone, a Labor Government playing to the

gallery cobbled together a treaty which satisfied the gullible but in

reality - and fortunately - changed nothing.


Next, a Labor Government, still playing to the gallery but even more

grandiosely, and still enamoured with the idea of telling both East and West

how to behave, tried to lead the world into abolishing nuclear weapons. The

report of the Canberra Commission which it set up to do this exploded on the

world with all the effect of a damp squib.


The reality is that, unless somebody produces a totally effective and

reliable defence against nuclear weapons delivered by missile or plane or

artillery or in the hold of a cargo ship or container or in a suitcase,

those countries with nuclear weapons are not going to give them up.


For as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea have shown, impossible to be sure that a

country has not got or is not working toward a nuclear weapon capability.

Moreover, and yet more conclusively, even in a world genuinely free of

nuclear weapons nobody could be sure that in a deep crisis your opponent had

not embarked on reconstituting his nuclear weapon capability. That is, we

must suppose beforehand that quickly and inevitably the world would be back

to the race between Nazi Germany and the West to acquire nuclear weapons; so

not prudent to give them up now.


Next, a presumably somewhat abashed Labor evidently decided that if it could

not lead the world into the paths of nuclear righteousness it would compel

it to do so. This by exploiting Australia's possession of nearly half the

world's uranium reserves. Hence Labor's restriction of our uranium

production to three existing mines.


But that too is just a futile gesture, since Australia does not have a

uranium monopoly and cannot prevent others from exploring for uranium and

producing it as Australia's artificial restrictions drive up the price. So

futile is the Labor policy that even many Labor supporters are urging a

change of the Labor policy.


Now, in the latest gravity-defying long jump beyond the sand pit of the real

world, Labor is again holding itself out as the world's saviour from the

nuclear peril. How? Simple. By requiring - requiring - all nuclear suppliers

and users to sign up to membership of the Australia Labor club and its

exercise of strict security controls over their nuclear power industries and

its demand for a "practical", whatever that is, commitment to

non-proliferation policies.


What makes this policy even more of a con is that Labor's real target is to

put the kybosh on Australia's selling uranium to India even under strict



Both China and India are established nuclear weapon powers with no record of

helping others to become nuclear powers too. Yet while being perfectly happy

for Australia to sell uranium to China so long as China verifiably

undertakes not to use that uranium in its nuclear weapons, Labor is against

the same arrangement with India.


Where is the logic in that? True, India - unlike China - has not signed up

to the non-proliferation treaty. But so long as it accepted, as it

undoubtedly would, strict safeguards including against proliferation,

discriminating against India achieves exactly nothing in real terms - other

than adding to Labor grandstanding.


More than three centuries ago, Dryden wrote "But far more numerous was the

herd of such/ Who think too little and talk too much. Australia's - with

advantage to all, not least itself - should take heed.