The Nuclear Fuel Cycle and South Australian Parliamentary Debates - 1976 to 1982
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On the 27 September 1977 Opposition leader, Dr David Tonkin, moved: That this House believes it is safe to mine and treat uranium in South Australia, rescinds its decision taken on 30 March 1977, and urges the Government to proceed with plans for the development and treatment of the State’s uranium sources as soon as possible (SAPD 1978, p.1,204). Enriching uranium was included in his vision for the treatment of the State’s uranium resources and, in this regard, he shared bipartisan ground with Rex Conner who, some years earlier as Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Whitlam Government, argued for constructing an enrichment plant in South Australia. Initially, Premier Don Dunstan supported uranium mining and enrichment but his change of tack presented Tonkin with an opportunity to unsettle an otherwise dominant Premier. The Advertiser and The News were solidly behind mining, while on the other side of the divide a public campaign joined with Labor’s left-wing to demand a moratorium on mining and enrichment activities. Debates over the virtues or otherwise of mining and enriching uranium are at the forefront of public debate today and thus enticing us to revisit the passionate debates that took place in both Houses between 1977 together with Norm Foster’s decision in 1982 to cross the floor to pass the Roxby Downs Indenture Bill. Foster’s move left a legacy of good fortune in train for Labor on the nuclear front. Had he remained ‘loyal’ to the party platform Tonkin would have campaigned at the 1982 State election with his trump card intact, namely attacking Labor’s uranium moratorium. Given the shift in community support in favour of Roxby going ahead, it is highly likely that Labor Opposition Leader, John Bannon, would have struggled to win the poll. The ignominy for Tonkin lies with his losing office after one only term. For Labor, the luck Foster’s move generated remains, oddly, a lasting legacy. The Rann Government enjoys the buoyancy offered by the creation of the largest uranium mine in the world and the jobs Tonkin so often argued to be the mine’s great virtue.
This manuscript is made available with permission from the State Electoral Office.