By Alex Bainbridge and Jon Lamb
HOBART — Demonstrators demanding "No Uranium mining" greeted delegates attending the ALP national conference here on January 20.
The action was called when activists learned the ALP was to debate a policy calling for no ew uranium mines. This simply means that all uranium mines opened during the Coalition government — including the Jabiluka mine in the Kakadu National Park — will continue under a Labor government. The policy also made meaningless a resolution that "deplored" the Howard government's support for Jabiluka.
The demonstration was organised by Everyone for a Nuclear Free Future (ENuFF) in conjunction with other environmental activists. "The best way for the ALP to show opposition to the Jabiluka uranium mine is to oppose all uranium mining", ENuFF spokesperson Tony Iltis told Green Left Weekly.
"Labor has always appeased corporate uranium interests. In addition to its pro-uranium 'three mines' policy, Labor continued to sell uranium to France while Paris was testing nuclear bombs in the Pacific. John Faulkner, in one of his last acts as environment minister allowed Western Mining Corporation to double production at its Roxby Downs uranium mine", Iltis said.
Protesters expressed solidarity with the Mirrar Aboriginal people who have been struggling for decades against the proposed Jabiluka mine and the Ranger uranium mine which is already destroying their land. "Their leadership in the campaign against Jabiluka shows that the struggle for Aboriginal rights is a crucial part of the fight against the greed of nuclear corporate interests", Iltis said.
The demonstration took place outside the luxury dining area in the Wrest Point Casino which was set aside for business observers who had paid $3000 per head to attend the conference. Protesters entered and distributed hundreds of leaflets until casino management and the police directed them to leave.
Meanwhile, anti-Jabiluka mine activists in Darwin have stepped up preparations for the planned blockade of the construction of the mine facilities.
Australian Democrats leader Meg Lees described Labor's new policy as "weak-kneed" and said it had always been "soft" on uranium. "The ALP has endorsed a policy which will ensure that millions more tonnes of radioactive waste are dumped into our environment and which will keep Australia well and truly entrenched in this abhorrent nuclear cycle. Uranium is an issue where size doesn't matter. Uranium is a danger to all forms of life no matter how much, how little or how often it leaves the ground ...
"If the ALP was serious about the environment it would seek an end to the mining, export and use of uranium. It would phase out all existing uranium mines, as well as prohibit the development of new mines."
Surprisingly, the firm rejection of Labor's latest position on Jabiluka by the Tasmanian and Northern Territory anti-uranium movement was not echoed by other environmental groups.
Australian Conservation Foundation acting director Mike Krockenberger "welcomed" the resolution against the Jabiluka mine. He stated optimistically: "This resolution [on Jabiluka], combined with the new ALP uranium platform which disallows any new uranium mines under an ALP government, will be instrumental in preventing Jabiluka from proceeding under a Labor government."
Friends of the Earth "commended" the resolution criticising the Howard government. FoE said it "cautiously supports" the ALP's uranium platform.
Krockenberger conceded to Green Left Weekly, however, that the new policy was an "unsatisfactory compromise". But, he said, "the good side is that, if Jabiluka and other mines are delayed or if there is a change of government, there is some hope".
He disagreed that Labor now had an "open door" uranium policy. "It is still a restrictive policy ... because if there is a change of government and they stick to their policy, which one assumes they will have to, there won't be new uranium mines under Labor", Krockenberger said.
ACF and FoE must know something the ALP doesn't because according to ALP assistant national secretary Candy Board, who addressed the Hobart demonstration, the uranium platform adopted by the conference is "sufficiently flexible" to allow ALP MPs to do what they want in government. Asked if the resolution against the Jabiluka uranium mine committed Labor to closing the mine, she answered that it did not. The resolution was merely of a "declaratory" nature, she said.
Labor resources and energy spokesperson Stephen Smith had told the conference earlier that the aim of the new policy was to give investors certainty. Smith said Labor in government would not close any mines if it meant compensation had to be paid.
NT Labor leader Maggie Hickey, who led the charge at the conference for more uranium mines, described the new policy in the January 21 NT News as a "vast improvement" given that new uranium mines are in "fairly advanced in planning" and the old policy had tied the party to an eventual phase-out of uranium mining.
Hickey also said she was confident that Jabiluka would be up and running before a change of government. The "no new mines" policy allows mines for the continued operation of mines opened while Labor is in opposition.