Uranium policy founded in fantasy land
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
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
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.