Australia’s ruling Labor party voted to lift its long-standing ban on exporting uranium to India Sunday following a passionate debate on nuclear proliferation and environmental fears.
The change, proposed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, was agreed by delegates at Labor’s national policy summit by 206 votes to 185, after a lengthy argument which saw strong views put both for and against.
Minister Julia Gillard urged the Labor Party to allow uranium sales to India, saying it will boost trade and enhance Australia’s relationship with the world’s largest democracy.
“We are at the right time in the history of the world to seize a new era of opportunity in this, the Asian century,” Ms Gillard told the Labor Party national conference in Sydney on Sunday.
Ms Gillard moved a motion to change the party’s policy platform on the issue and allow sales to India.
“We need to make sure that across our regions we have the strongest possible relationships we can, including with the world’s largest democracy, India,” she said.
“That’s why today we should determine today to change our platform and enable us, under safeguards, to sell uranium to India.”
Ms Gillard said Australia could sell uranium to India and still honour its commitment to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
She said it was not rational that Australia sells uranium to China but not to India.
Opponents argued that India is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and can’t guarantee uranium won’t be used for weapons.
At least four cabinet ministers, including Anthony Albanese from the Left faction and Senator Stephen Conroy from the Right, say the ban should remain, but the motion is expected to pass.
Outside the conference on Sunday morning, Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney told AAP lifting the ban could encourage a regional arms race.
“This is a 40-year-old policy and we have not seen one piece of paper (from Labor) detailing the reason for change, making a case or outlining the safeguards,” Mr Sweeney said.
“It’s been cooked up in secret.”
Mr Sweeney said it would undermine Australia’s international credibility and take votes from Labor at the next election, as well as help sustain a dangerous industry.
“Labor is saying dollar signs are far more important to us than danger signs,” he said.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith told reporters outside the conference it was time for change.
“On India and uranium, the world has changed since the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors and the nuclear suppliers group in 2008/2009 authorised the United States-India civil nuclear arrangements,” Mr Smith said.
“That essentially brought India under the auspices of the international nuclear regulators.”
He said a safeguards agreement between India and Australia would also be put in place.