New leader marks WA Labor’s shift to the right

January 27, 2012
New WA Labor leader Mark McGowan.

Mark McGowan stepped into the leadership of the Western Australia Labor Party on January 23 promising to support uranium mining in WA and deregulation of shopping hours. Together, these decisions signal a significant shift to the right by WA Labor.

Previous leader Eric Ripper had promised that an incoming ALP government would close down any uranium mining in the state, even if the current Liberal government has granted full approvals.

That position was at odds with national Labor’s pro-uranium policy, but is popular in WA.

WA Labor’s anti-uranium policy was discussed at its state conference in June last year and received overwhelming support from delegates.

On assuming leadership, McGowan did not even move a formal policy change motion in the Labor caucus, let alone bother to consult ALP members. Instead, he simply declared that he would accept the leadership only on the basis of changing the party’s policy on uranium and trading hours.

“There is no good reason to support uranium mining or any other part of the nuclear cycle,” Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor and Fremantle City Councillor Sam Wainwright told Green Left Weekly.

“Uranium mining represents a safety risk for mine workers and is inseparably linked to radioactive waste and nuclear weapons.

“When a transition to 100% renewable energy is possible, as it is, then the dangerous nuclear option should be shunned by all civilised people.”

The Greens criticised McGowan’s announcement, saying it was a betrayal of Labor voters and environmental principles.

“McGowan has spoken of providing certainty to the industry,” federal Greens senator Scott Ludlam said on January 23. “It is far better to let the nuclear industry know it is certain they have no future in Western Australia.”

The big retail corporations and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry have pushed strongly for the deregulation of shopping hours, the very same outfits that keep clamouring for the abolition of weekend and evening shift rates in the sector.

McGowan has made his support for deregulation contingent on retail workers having the right to refuse to work weekends. Such a condition would be very difficult to enforce. Clearly the best way to defend the rights of retail workers is through maintaining penalty rates and minimum shift durations.
In WA, a referendum to deregulate shopping hours was defeated in 2005. Unless a government can show community attitudes have changed, the previous referendum result should stand.


Alex Bainbridge's article, "New leader marks WA Labor's shift to the right", is misleading. It conveys the impression that Mark McGowan, as the new leader of the Australian Labor Party in Western Australia, has communicated he will unreservedly support uranium mining in Western Australia. Nowhere in the article is the fact highlighted that the only support for any uranium mining by McGowan relates to mines that have been given final state approval when the ALP returns to power in Western Australia. Indeed, the WA Labor web site at states clearly: “Under a Labor government, any mines that have been granted final State approval allowing construction would be permitted to proceed to open, operate and export their products in the same manner as other mining ventures. “Further, any mines lawfully approved and under construction will be permitted to open, operate and export their product in the same manner as other mining ventures. “WA Labor will not grant approvals for any other uranium mines. " Incomplete reporting renders inaccurate reporting and thereby conveys false impressions. It is hoped that Bainbridge and Green Left correct the unqualified nature of their statements and provide more accurate reporting in future. Their own integrity depends upon it.
Thanks for making the correct point that McGowan has not "unreservedly" supported uranium mining in WA and is in fact "only" promising to allow uranium mining to proceed if they have already received final state approval. I have no excuse for the default other than that I was working to a deadline and a word limit (in the printed version for which it was primarily written). That said, the omission is not as significant as you may think. McGowan's policy has some similarity with the ALP's then "three mines policy" introduced by Bob Hawke after the 1983 election (in violation of its pre-election promises in which the ALP had explicitly vowed to ban uranium mining outright). The three mines policy allowed existing mines to operate but not to establish new ones. While the ALP claimed this was a policy to phase out uranium mining, looked at historically, it is clear that the three mines policy was a pro-uranium policy - it allowed the uranium industry to maintain operations until future governments (including Keating's government and of course Howard's government) allowed the industry to expand. Had Hawke closed down uranium mining altogether, it would have been very difficult for any future government to allow the industry to start up again. Thus it matters little whether the three mines policy was "unreserved support" or simply "support" for uranium mining. Similarly, if McGowan allows existing mines in WA to continue, that will give the industry a toe-hold that they do not deserve and that WA people don't want them to have. That policy is "support" for the uranium industry when the ALP should be banning uranium mining altogether. Alex Bainbridge

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