By Keara Courtney
The Labor Party, in contrast to the Liberals, sometimes tries to portray itself as an anti-nuclear party as a way of winning votes from the anti-nuclear and environmental movements. However, the ALP's real record gives the lie to such claims. Resistance magazine compares the uranium and nuclear policies of Labor and Liberal.
In 1983, the ALP won the federal election partly on the back of widespread anti-nuclear sentiment by promising to oppose uranium mining. Once in government, however, the ALP did a monumental backflip and adopted the "three mines" policy, which allowed the ongoing operation of the Roxby Downs, Nabarlek and Ranger uranium mines. This was against popular opposition within its own membership. These three mines paved the way for the expansion of the uranium industry we are now seeing.
The ALP's 1998 federal election policy on uranium was "no new mines".
The Liberal Party has an open slather policy on uranium mining. Mining companies are usually required to subject proposals to an environmental impact assessment (but they are allowed to conduct the assessment themselves!).
Mining companies have indicated interest in more than 20 new mines in Western Australia alone, and numerous others around the country. One of the proposed mines in Western Australia, Kintyre, will use "dry processing", which increases the risk of radioactive particles escaping into the air. This will have a big impact on miners' health because the radioactive gases and particles can get into their lungs.
Labor's "no new mines" policy is cleverly ambiguous on Jabiluka — allowing the ALP to pose as against the mine to environmentalists but leaving the door open to allow the mine to go ahead because construction had already started and it is not a "new mine". ERA chief Philip Shirvington interpreted the "wink" in the ALP's policy and told Business Review Weekly, "I think Labor deliberately made the rules rather obscure and that gives them somewhere to hide".
Before the 1996 election, John Howard said he thought environmental considerations would rule out uranium mining at Jabiluka. But since the Liberals won government, they have gone to great lengths to support the mine.
This has occurred despite the unequivocal opposition of the Mirrar traditional owners, and the fact that Jabiluka is surrounded by the fragile ecosystem of the Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu may be listed as World Heritage in Danger later this year because of the mine. A leaked government document reveals that the government's strategies to avoid a World Heritage in Danger listing include bribery of the Mirrar, blackmail and grubby deals with other countries to get them to vote against an in-danger listing.
From 1983 to 1996, the ALP provided the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) with more than half a billion dollars to operate the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights. When ANSTO was pushing for a new nuclear reactor in the early 1990s, the government established a review panel — one of the three members was already on record as a supporter of a new reactor!
After losing the 1996 federal election, the ALP changed its tune and opposed the construction of a new reactor at Lucas Heights. However, this was shown to be pure electoral opportunism by a letter Gareth Evans, then deputy leader of the ALP, wrote to ANSTO. He acknowledged that the new policy was based on "the realities of politics in an election year, and in particular our need to win [the federal seat of] Hughes" rather than "objective safety-focused concerns".
John Howard says the Liberal government has been "open and honest" in its handling of the Lucas Heights reactor. However, the government's real approach has been to routinely ignore letters and questions from concerned residents living in the area.
Government ministers refuse to debate the issue publicly with opponents of the reactor plan, as does ANSTO. Danna Vale, the Liberal Party politician who holds the federal seat which covers the Lucas Heights region, refuses to debate the nuclear reactor but has threatened to sue three opponents of the reactor plan for defamation.
Labor and Liberal:
Labor and Liberal share the same policies on nuclear weapons. Both parties argue that cowering under the US nuclear umbrella should be the central aspect of Australia's "defence" policy.
Part of the bargain with the US is that Australia host the US nuclear bases at Pine Gap, Nurrungar and North West Cape. These bases are used for communicating with US satellites and nuclear-armed submarines, and for broader espionage operations. No-one denies that the US bases in Australia could be targets in the case of a nuclear war.
Because of Australia's reliance on the US nuclear war machine, Australia is a nuclear weapons state by proxy. This puts Labor and Liberal in a difficult position since both profess to be opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In reality, both parties oppose some countries building nuclear weapons — such as Iraq or North Korea — but they are strong supporters of the weapons programs of the Australian ruling class's imperialist allies, in particular the US.