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Committee Report into uranium sales to Russia

Watch this speech here.

Senator MILNE» (Tasmania) (10:12 AM) -I rise today to support the recommendations in the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. It is a decision which should have been made before any such deal with Russia was signed in the first place. It was very clear, leading up to APEC last year, that the Russians were receding from any notion of democracy and engagement but instead were going back to the old KGB days under President Putin, now the Prime Minister. That is obvious. I am not surprised to hear this kind of thing from the coalition-it was Bob Menzies, after all, who thought that profits from the sale of pig-iron to Japan were a great idea, and look where that got us. We are seeing here today exactly the same thing. We are hearing about the profits for Western Australia. Senator Cash is thinking that the income to Western Australia would be fabulous.

Senator Cash -There are environmental benefits as well.

Senator «MILNE»-Senator Birmingham's attitude is: ‘Bring in the money; we don't care about human rights; we don't care about global peace; we don't care about foreign policy.'

Senator Ian Macdonald -What about greenhouse gas emissions?

Senator «MILNE»-I love it when they take me on on climate change. This is a bag-load of people who know nothing about climate change; they have never engaged on climate change and now they want to talk to me about climate change.

Senator Cash interjecting-

Senator «MILNE» -Let me tell you something, Senator Cash. Prime Minister Putin wants to be the energy tsar of Europe.

Opposition senators interjecting-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mark Bishop)-Order! Senator «Milne», would you care to direct your comments through the chair.

Senator «MILNE»-Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I would point out to the Senate that Prime Minister Putin wants to be the energy tsar of Europe. Russia is so rich in energy that, when it threatens to turn off the tap, Europe quakes. So to suggest here today that Russian needs this uranium to meet its obligations in terms of energy supply is an utter and absolute nonsense.

Let me go first of all to the displacement of Russian uranium to Iran. We have heard from the opposition that the safeguards are fabulous-they are all in place. So tell me why the IAEA cannot guarantee that the reactor in Iran is being built for civilian purposes. The reason they cannot is that they do not know because there is so little money going to the IAEA to actually implement safeguards that it is a joke. If you cannot say whether that Russian built reactor in Iran today is capable of producing plutonium at weapons grade material then you most certainly cannot trust the Russians.

I would also point out that at the moment in Russia under the Putin regime-and let's not fool ourselves about who is running Russia-we have human rights abuses on a gross scale. We have Larisa Arap, a young activist in a psychiatric institution, a regression back to the punitive psychiatry of the old days. We have the murder and bashing of activists outside the Angarsk nuclear facility where Australian uranium will be going. That might be all right for Senator McGauran; it might be fine for Senator Cash and Senator Birmingham, but I do not think it is all right for antinuclear activists to be bashed and killed outside a facility to which Australian uranium would be going.

Furthermore, NGOs in Russia are being suppressed; alternative political parties are being suppressed. Khordokovsky remains in jail throughout the Duma elections. Why? It is to suppress the democracy movement in Russia. You only have to look at what has gone on in Chechnya and in Georgia. We know now the Russians are supplying passports at a great rate in the Crimea. What an irony it is, 100 years after the First World War caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in that region, that we have the Russians sending in passports in huge numbers in order to later justify an armed incursion into the Ukraine, which is where this is headed. We all know that is where this is headed.

So to be suggesting that this is somehow an unadulterated good deal is ridiculous. We know about human rights oppression, we know about aggression, we know about how the secret services in Russia are disposing of people in all kinds of institutions and in other ways. What about the journalists? It is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists who are assassinated for any kind of adverse reporting. We have Gregory Pasko, who was jailed for five years because he dared to report that the Russians were dumping nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean-he was jailed for that. Apparently, the coalition thinks that that is fine; that is transparent. We are not worried about journalists being assassinated; we are not worried about journalists being jailed for reporting what is happening to nuclear waste. We are not worried about what the Russians are doing in Iran. We are not worried about suppression of NGOs, suppression of the democracy movement, jailing of people like Khordokovsky-he was jailed not for tax fraud but because he was financing the democracy movement in Russia.

We have a globally dangerous situation with the Russians at the moment. The Europeans know it, the Americans know it; everybody is now discussing what to do about Russia. This is not a trivial matter in the manner that it has been trivialised by the coalition today. I find it completely offensive that Senator McGauran referred to people giving evidence to this inquiry as ‘fruit loops' for example, or that people are suggesting that there is nothing in it when we talk about the inadequacy of the safeguards.

Professor Rothwell from ANU stated before APEC last year that, at the very least, we could have signed the additional protocol. That would have been an improvement in the safeguards. The additional protocol was not even required by Prime Minister Howard at the time. Furthermore, the Europeans put human rights into every treaty with the Russians so that in the event that human rights are abused they can then question whether the treaty proceeds. Prime Minister Howard was not prepared to put human rights into that treaty because he knew, as we all knew, that human rights are being abused in Russia every day. That should have been in there at the very least and it was not.

I might also point out to the coalition that on his way to Australia for APEC, President Putin called in to Indonesia. Why? Because he wanted to sign a new weapons arrangement with Indonesia whereby the R4ussians will provide the Indonesians with weapons. He made it clear to the Indonesians that that would not be conditional on human rights. Why? Because the Indonesians need to access weapons and they do not want to be scrutinised on the human rights abuses that might be going on or on however they want to handle their own domestic affairs. That should be a very clear signal to Australia that sending uranium to Russia, where you cannot verify what happens to it because the IAEA is not funded to be able to do that, is a dangerous undertaking. Even if you do send it to a facility, which you could guarantee, it will displace Russian uranium into the weapons program to be supplied overseas to reactors like that in Iran.

This was obvious last year and I am interested to know why the government has changed its perspective because at APEC the Labor Party was right there with Prime Minister Howard saying how fabulous President Putin's deal was and fawning along with the rest of them. However, I am at least pleased that what has gone on in Russia has come across the radar of the Labor Party and that the government now realises just how dangerous this regime is. I appreciate the fact that this treaty is now on hold.

I think it is really important that the condition that no treaty should proceed without it being conditional on human rights and the advancement of democracy is added to our treaties. That is what the European Union put in their treaties and that is what we should put in our treaties if we are serious about being anything other than a greedy country seeking to maximise the income from our resource extraction regardless of human rights and democratic outcomes. I would like to see that as an additional condition when the government reconsiders this particular arrangement. I think the photograph of Prime Minister Howard shaking hands-the great agreement with President Putin, the great reception in Australia-will come back to haunt this country and particularly to haunt this coalition for a long time into the future.

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