Federal Politics

Newman reverses ban on uranium

David Wroe

THE Queensland government has overturned a decades-long ban on uranium mining in the state but vowed to meet strict environmental standards, as conservationists attacked the move as a broken promise.

After successful talks between the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, which paved the way for Australian uranium exports to India, the Liberal National government of Campbell Newman has decided to resume mining after a 30-year hiatus.

Campbell Newman ... the Queensland government's lifting of a 30-year mining ban has coincided with the Australian ...
Campbell Newman ... the Queensland government's lifting of a 30-year mining ban has coincided with the Australian government permitting the export of uranium to India. Photo: Glenn Hunt

The decision comes amid a continued slump in uranium prices caused by Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster last year.

The federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, welcomed the announcement, saying Australia's mining industry was subject to ''world's best practice environmental conditions and the strictest safety standards''.

But green groups were furious, pointing out that Mr Newman had pledged before the state election in March that swept him to power that he had ''no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland''.

He repeated this assurance just two weeks ago in a letter to the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Henry. The letter, provided to the Herald, stressed there were ''higher priorities'' in energy and resources, such as coal and gas.

The state's last uranium mine, the Mary Kathleen, closed in 1982. Seven years later, the Labor government of Wayne Goss banned uranium mining.

The Queensland Environment Minister, Andrew Powell, said that new mines would ''need to meet strict federal approvals and will go through full and thorough environmental approval processes''.

Uranium exports also require federal approval.

Queensland's known uranium deposits were worth an estimated $10 billion, Mr Newman said. The state government would create a three-member panel to oversee the resumption of mining, to report within three months.

Mr Ferguson said Australia had a third of the world's commercially recoverable uranium. More mining would bring regional jobs and export income.

But the Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said the plan made no economic sense given low uranium prices and the risks of nuclear power.

''We should be having a hard look at the risk and the consequences rather than having a fast-tracking of an industry that is increasingly losing social licence around the world,'' he said.