The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 15/05/2006

Doorstop Interview

Perilya Mine, Broken Hill

Monday, 15 May 2006
11.50 am

SUBJECTS: Mining industry, Australian uranium, leadership

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, can you tell us why you chose Broken Hill as the first stop of this whistle-stop tour?

TREASURER:

I think it is important to acknowledge the contribution rural and regional Australia makes to our national economy. Broken Hill of course is synonymous with Australia’s largest mining company, it has been the home of some wonderful Australian industries, Australia leads the world in the mining industry and I just wanted to have a look at some of the new developments as commodities are improving, many old mines which people thought weren’t as profitable are now becoming much more profitable again and they are making a great contribution to our national economic effort.

JOURNALIST:

So is it about telling us that the Budget is about more than financial market men in suits, is that right?

TREASURER:

The Australian economy is about mining and agriculture, it is about services, it is about people in financial markets but they are very much derivative. The real industries are out in the towns and the rural areas of Australia are what gives Australia its wealth and we never want to forget that.

JOURNALIST:

On another sort of mining issue Mr Costello, what do you think of the lease back arrangement that is now being talked about for Australian uranium?

TREASURER:

Look, Australian uranium will be a great export for this country. We are one of the largest holders of proven uranium reserves in the world and I believe that the Australian uranium industry will become of much more global significance as countries like China want to move into nuclear energy. Now, whether Australia would ever be able to develop to such a stage that it could get into the leasing business for nuclear energy, something that we shouldn’t rule out, but it is a long way off. You are talking decades and decades. And before we get to that step I think what we ought to concentrate on is mining and export of Australia’s uranium. Mining industries have been part of the Australian story if you want to go back to the gold rushes of the 1850s, or Broken Hill with the lead and silver and the zinc or today in Western Australia with the iron ore. Mining is one of Australia’s great industries, we are globally exposed, we are globally competitive, we are one of the world leaders and to count ourselves out of the uranium industry at a time when we have nearly the world’s most significant proven resources would be a major economic mistake.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think we also have a cradle to the grave responsibility within the nuclear fuel cycle?

TREASURER:

I am not going to get into Australia’s own use of nuclear energy, although I wouldn’t rule that out, it is not economic at this time in Australia because we have such proven resources of gas and coal. But as an export industry uranium will be a great industry for Australia and we ought to engage in it.

JOURNALIST:

What about taking some of the waste back, Treasurer, taking some of the processed uranium and bringing it back and storing it here?

TREASURER:

Look, we are as a country at the moment developing a suitable site for radioactive waste. Not from the energy cycle but from health. At the moment in our major hospitals in our major cities in Australia there is radio active material which is used for treatment of cancer and the like which is being stored in inner city CBDs. Now, we need a national repository for that which will be much safer than keeping it in hospitals in major urban centres. So, let’s see if we can settle that problem before we move on to another one.

JOURNALIST:

Would you be in favour of expanding it though perhaps?

TREASURER:

Let’s see if we can settle that problem before we move on to another one. Settling that problem has been difficult enough.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Costello, you have seen how mines work and the safety that’s required, following Beaconsfield, do you think something more needs to be done at the federal as well at state level to ensure that a disaster like that doesn’t occur again?

TREASURER:

Well look, nobody wants to see accidents in the workplace, any workplace, mining or anywhere else. The regulation of safety in mines is mostly set under state mining acts, state occupation health and safety acts and where you have fatalities as unfortunately occurred in Beaconsfield, the state coroners will do investigations. Now, there is no reason why the Commonwealth should have to duplicate all of that and there is no reason to think that by doing so it would necessarily make things safer. I think that the emphasis I have seen from modern mine managers on occupational health and safety, on improved knowledge and improved techniques is going to be the way to go ahead here and I think that is the best investment we can have for the safety of people working in this industry.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, you have said before that the Liberal Party is best served when there is a properly managed transition, are you pleased to see that the Prime Minister is apparently considering an elegant departure?

TREASURER:

Well, these matters are written about by third parties in newspapers and these questions are therefore best addressed to them, Jim, because they seem to write about these things, it doesn’t come from me.

JOURNALIST:

This is a fairly close third party to the Prime Minister though.

TREASURER:

Well it would make your interview of him all the more interesting.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, would a departure by December if it were to happen, would it give you enough time for a smooth transition?

TREASURER:

Oh look, I am not going to go into all of this at this time or in this place. The only departure I am thinking of now is my departure for the airport to make a good announcement for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and no doubt I will meet you all again a kilometre down the road. We can return to this a kilometre down the road. Any other mining questions?

JOURNALIST:

No credence in the report?

TREASURER:

I will return to this a kilometre down the road. Thank you very much.