Transcript of press conference, Canberra
TUE 15 NOVEMBER 2011
Subject(s): Australian Labor Party; ALP National Conference; Uranium exports to India; Same-sex marriage; President Obama
PM: I want to outline my approach to a number of issues at the forthcoming ALP National Conference. Firstly, I want to deal with the question of uranium and India. The Labor Party’s current platform prevents us selling uranium to India, because it is not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I believe the time has come for the Labor Party to change this position. I believe that for three reasons.
First and foremost selling uranium to India will be good for the Australian economy and good for Australian jobs. If I can give you just some quick statistics about that, Australia is the world’s third largest supplier of uranium; uranium contributes over $750 million to the Australian economy, creating over 4,200 jobs. India is expected to increase its use of nuclear power from its current three percent of electricity generation to 40 percent by 2050. India is our fourth biggest export market, a market worth nearly $16 billion to Australia with enormous potential to grow as India becomes wealthier. I think those statistics give a sense of the size and scale of the economic opportunity here for Australia in the future, as India rises and brings hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, it will need more energy, it is looking to supply 40% of that energy need through nuclear energy, we are a very big supplier of uranium so having access to this new and growing market is good for Australian jobs.
Second I believe that this will be one way we can take another step forward in our relationship with India. We have a good relationship with India, it’s the world’s largest democracy, a stable democracy and we have worked on our links with India, but as I have described to the Australian people before, Australia faces a unique set of opportunities in this the Asian century, where we live in the right region of the world which will see strong economic growth and India as a rising giant will be part of that strong economic growth, so put simply our best possible partnership with India is also good for Australian jobs.
Third I believe this change should make sense and should take place because circumstances have developed in the international community. It made sense, the current platform, when there was a widely supported international strategy to bring India into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, there was a period of time where that was a widely engaged in international strategy, but the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement changed that strategy, it effectively lifted the de-facto international ban on cooperation with India in this area. Consequently given that change in diplomatic circumstances around the world, for us to refuse to budge is all pain with no gain and I believe that our national platform should recognise that reality.
So this is a significant issue for Australia that will be the subject of discussion and debate at our National Conference but I am making my position on this issue very clear.
Second on the issue of same-sex marriage, it’s been clear for some time that there will be a major debate on this at ALP National Conference. It’s also clear that within the Labor Party and indeed within the Australian community there are very deeply held and different views about same-sex marriage and the Marriage Act, this is the subject of community debate so it’s no surprise that it is also the subject of debate within the Labor Party. I have made my position on this clear for a long period of time now, I do not support a change to the Marriage Act, the Marriage Act defining marriage as it does as a union between a man and a woman. I believe that marriage has come to have a particular cultural status and role within our society and I do not believe that should be changed. But I also understand that there are deeply held and differing views so it is appropriate that on a question like this that the Labor Party gives its members a conscience vote. However I do note that the Government will not be bringing forward any proposal for change to the Marriage Act.
Then thirdly, the other issue that I have spoken about and want to be heard on in relation to our National Conference is the question of party reform. I’ve set the Labor Party a challenge and I intend to take that challenge to National Conference and that is to grow our party membership by 8,000 members as a first step. The broader we can be the more representative of the Australian community we can be, the better. Labor will always seek to reach out to those people who deeply care about opportunity for all, about not leaving anyone behind, about making sure that we are doing the right things to assist working people, that’s been our heritage, that will be our future and we are looking for Australians to join us in that task by becoming members of the Labor Party and I’ll be asking the Labor Party to get out there and to recruit 8,000 new members.
I’m also asking the Labor Party at National Conference to embrace party reform. There are many things we can do to modernise our political party so that it has broader and deeper roots in the Australian community and it is using more of the mechanisms that people use to get their political information and to have their political debates today, so consequently I will be going to National Conference endorsing changes and reform which will see us modernise the Labor Party.
For some time now I’ve been saying I expect and want to see a noisy Conference. People join political parties, they join the Labor Party because they are passionate about ideas. The Labor Party is a party of ideas and I expect that to be on display in full measure at National Conference, I believe people will come ready for a debate, they’ll come ready to make a bit of noise, they may even come prepared for some fireworks and that’s a good thing, that’s a great thing, that shows that we are a political party full of ideas and working our way through how Australia deals with the challenges of today and the challenges of tomorrow.
I’m very happy to take any questions, we’ll go to Phil Coorey first given I misnamed him at my last press conference.
JOURNALIST: It’s a double banger, on same sex marriage, are you opposed or do you have any particular view on the change to the platform, the ALP platform, changes to the wording as the Left is after as well, and on uranium now that the NPT consideration should no longer be a concern in regards to India, does this open the door for Australia to consider selling uranium other countries such as Israel?
PM: Right well if I can take the second question first, no it doesn’t, because there’s an important issue here with India which you need to understand to understand my perspective on this. India made an approach to the International Atomic Energy Agency and to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, that was in relation to its agreement with the US, that the US would sell uranium to India, and the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group agree that the US should be able to sell uranium to India. They got an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, indeed Australia supported that and we are represented on the board of governors of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency and at that level we also supported the arrangements between the US and India.
So that puts India in a class of its own, a group of its own. When you look at other nations, you know whether it be Pakistan or Israel they are not in that same class and I would note too with Israel as far as I am advised they are not seeking Australian uranium and they don’t rely on a domestic civil nuclear industry for their power supplies.
On the question of same-sex marriage I’ve made my view clear, I’m expecting there to be a debate, I’m expecting there to be a debate, the platform currently backs marriage being between a man and a women, I’m expecting there to be a debate and I won’t shirk playing a role in that debate when it comes to National Conference.
PM: Well I’m being very clear about what view I will take to National Conference and I expect there to be a debate and that’s a good thing, there should be a debate on ideas that are the subject of interest, concern and differing views within the community and consequently within our political party.
JOURNALIST: A two part question as well on uranium, what are we to read into the announcement on this on the eve of President Obama’s visit, is it also being driven in part by wanting to fall into line with the United States on this? And secondly what are the arguments now if it’s ok to sell uranium to a developing country that’s not a signatory to the NPT, what are the arguments against using nuclear power here in Australia?
PM: Well firstly on your first question there’s nothing to be read into it, coming as it does the day before President Obama’s visit other than it suited me as the day to make the announcement. So it’s my decision, my announcement and it was made because of my logistics as today is the appropriate day.
Secondly, on the question of nuclear power in Australia, we have abundant energy sources and so we are not in the position of a number of other nations around the world that are desperate for energy, that can see their energy needs growing and need to look to nuclear as a source of supply.
We live in a country where we have had and continue to have abundant reserves of coal, we’ve got new fuels like relatively recent developments in terms of gas, we are seeing amazing developments in terms of renewables, using solar, wind, tidal, geothermal. Our energy mix here will be an energy mix that moves so that we have a greater outreach to clean energy sources and renewable energy sources, we don’t, to meet our energy needs need nuclear energy.
I’ll go to Michelle. I’ll go to Michelle and then come across.
JOURNALIST: Seeing two questions are in fashion-
PM: -Yes they seem to be today, don’t they?
JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard could you give us a bit of the background of your coming to this decision, for example how many of your ministers have you consulted. I notice it’s not a cabinet decision, it’s your position at this point. And secondly, on party reform, do you support the position that’s been advocated by some of 50 percent direct election to the conference?
PM: Firstly, internal government processes are just that – they’re confidential and I don’t intend to go to them, but I’ve certainly been aware for a long period of time that a number of my ministers had concerns about the party platform and I’ve determined that we will take this step.
On the question of party reform, my mind is open to reform proposals that engage more energy, more ideas, more activity in the Labor Party. I will obviously become more specific about those things when we are at National Conference and I’m in a position to put forward my views very directly in the party reform debate.
What I have certainly said is that I do support us trialling primaries, I believe this is an outreach mechanism to the community. There are thousands of people out there who support Labor, who support the deeply held values of our political party, who look with pride at the Labor history of big reforms, Medicare, superannuation, the pension and now look to reforms that this Government has done like carbon pricing with a sense of pride that Labor is the party that manages change for working people and it’s those sorts of Australians that I think might step forward and involve themselves in a primaries discussion and candidate selection. So I do believe we should trial that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is your message to the conference that if a change is Labor Party policy to accept marriage equality, that your Government will not progress that in the Parliament?
PM: The Government will not bring a bill to the Parliament to change the Marriage Act.
PM: Full stop, full stop. The Government will not bring a bill to the Parliament to change the Marriage Act.
PM: Well, clearly in this Parliament private members have the ability – private members have always had the ability to bring bills to the Parliament and that continues in this Parliament, but the Government will not bring a legislative proposal to change the Marriage Act to this Parliament.
Dennis, and then we’ll come across.
JOURNALIST: On that particular point, are you ensuring the Government does not bring forward any change to the Marriage Act as part of your undertaking before the election, that the Government would not introduce any legislative change and would you see a private members bill as a breach of that promise?
PM: Firstly, certainly I gave an undertaking at the time of the election that the Government would not bring forward a legislative proposal, so I will acquit that undertaking.
Second, it follows I think as a matter of kind of common sense logic that if you take the view that I do – that this is an area in which people should have a conscience vote, that really it’s not appropriate for this to be the work of government, so much as if anybody is to bring forward a proposition for it to be the work of individuals in their capacity as parliamentarians.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the three rationales you mentioned for, as guiding your thinking on the India uranium issue have existed since John Howard made the decision that you are now making, in 2007. So why has it taken you so long to get a sharp end to Labor’s thinking in relation to this issue?
PM: The events that I referred to, US and India, an agreement to sell and buy uranium, the Nuclear Suppliers Group giving India an exemption, the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency dealing with the question, happened in 2008/2009. So it is true that just looking at the timeline these matters could have been discussed at the last ALP National Conference, but if we’d done that that would have been before the international community and Australia itself had had the opportunity to observe these new arrangements, bedding down and to make an assessment of them.
And so they have bedded down, we’re in a position now to make an assessment of them and we will deal with the matter at the forthcoming National Conference.
I should also indicate, in terms of the timing of National Conference, I deliberately decided National Conference should be held this year, comparatively early in the life of the Government and that is because I do not want it to be an election style parade and pageant, I want it to be a genuine conference where people are debating ideas. I expect there to be some noise, I expect there to be the occasional sharp word spoken, that’s what happens when you get hundreds and hundreds of people together who are absolutely passionate about ideas and the nation’s future and that’s a good thing. That’s a great thing.
JOURNALIST: My two questions-
PM: -I’m not sure if I’m going to be endorsing this as a new way forward for the-
JOURNALIST: -(inaudible). We can be much worse than this (inaudible).
PM: That’s true, that’s true. You did (inaudible).
JOURNALIST: Just on the same-sex marriage, can I just clarify, you said that it won’t be a Government bill. Could a Labor backbencher put forward a private members bill and my second question is on Barack Obama – what sort of welcome do you expect Australians will give the President when he arrives, and what do you say to some foreign policy experts who’ve been expressing concern that Australia’s becoming a bit too close to the United States?
PM: Well, in order, it is consistent with a matter being a conscience vote that parliamentarians, including Labor parliamentarians can exercise their rights as parliamentarians, including if they so choose to bring a private members bill, but there will be no government bill.
On the second question, Barack Obama, I think President Obama will get a very warm welcome in Australia. I think Australians feel warmly and deeply about the United States, our links as nations, whether it’s 60 years of our alliance in the military sphere, whether it’s the incredible people-to-people links, the exchanges between us and the US, whether it’s our cultural ties, Cate Blanchett, for example, going to Hollywood, Nicole Kidman, our cultural ties are deep. I think people feel a sense of connection and affection for Americans and I think that will be on display as people greet President Obama.
On the question about our relationship, our relationship is long lasting, it’s a deep one, they are a great ally of this country. We have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the most difficult circumstances this nation has ever faced, we’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the days since 9/11, we’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with them now in Afghanistan. I think all of that drives a depth in our relationship.
I do note some foreign policy commentary that we need to choose between the US and China. I dismiss that, I do not agree with it. I think it is well and truly possible for us, in this growing region of the world to have an ally in the United States and to have deep friendships in our region, including with China.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just one question-
PM: -Final question, yes.
JOURNALIST: Just in relation to some of the restrictions on uranium mining and exploration in the states. Given what you said about jobs, this being good for the Australian economy, should they be reconsidered and will they be obliged to, depending upon what happens at conference?
PM: Whether it’s uranium, or whether it’s any other resource in our ground, it’s not my intention to uplift state planning laws to the Federal sphere, so there’s a question there for states to address.
Thank you very much.