The jobs aren't in uranium: Stone

LET'S keep it crystal clear…

The LNP has made it crystal clear that we have no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland.

 - (Campbell Newman in a letter to Greens Senator for Western Australia, Scott Ludlam, 19 March 2012)

Mr Contarino said Premier Campbell Newman told the organisation recently he wanted to start the uranium debate.

 - (Ross Contarino, Townsville Enterprise, reported 29 September 2012)

It is tempting to end this piece here.

I don't need to convince anyone that honesty in politics is vital.  John Howard's "core" and "non-core" promises are still frequently referenced in withering tones, and not a day goes by that we don't hear of the carbon tax lie.

The LNP obviously decided to insulate their campaign from public concern about uranium mining by committing that they would not change Queensland's anti uranium mining policy, but their underlying conviction on the subject is completely at odds with this position.  After all, they openly campaigned in favour of repealing the policy in the 2009 State election.

But now that the LNP is safely ensconced on the government benches for the next two-and-a-half years, it seems it's time for a debate.  That debate should be refereed by Queenslanders at the next State election, but in case we don't have that long let's get stuck in now.

The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) and Australian Uranium Association (AUA) have opened by arguing that uranium mining in Queensland will: provide jobs, respect the wishes of indigenous Queenslanders, cut greenhouse gas emissions, only supply uranium for peaceful purposes, and is necessary for baseload power generation as only nuclear, hydro and fossil fuels can meet this need.

Jobs - it is conceivable uranium mining in Queensland could generate some additional jobs, just as asbestos mining could, although when the QRC and AUA release their forthcoming report on uranium opportunities in Queensland, be alert to two common tricks for inflating job projections:

1. The use of dodgy modelling and multipliers to generate an exaggerated estimate of indirect job creation, such that "if the number of indirect jobs associated with every industry were totalled, the number of jobs in the economy would exceed 30 million-almost three times the size of the Australian labour market." (The Australia Institute)

2. Ignoring the fact that new jobs in one sector often come at the expense of jobs in another sector, such that additional employment is not really created:

In a well-functioning economy like ours, with unemployment close to its lowest sustainable rate, it is not the case that individual industries are creating jobs, they are simply re-distributing them... there really isn't a multiplier. (Dr David Gruen, Executive Director of Treasury's Macro-Economic Group)

As for respecting the wishes of Aboriginal Queenslanders, neither our State nor Federal legal frameworks give traditional owners the right to refuse mining on their lands, so it is difficult to see how their wishes will be respected should they not wish to host a uranium mine.  And given the findings of a 2006 study that found a 90% higher incidence of cancer amongst indigenous peoples living in close proximity to uranium mines in Kakadu, one can well understand how that might be their preference.

Nuclear power has a very limited ability to cut global greenhouse gas emissions as it takes so long to build nuclear power plants.  In his 2006 report, prominent nuclear power advocate Ziggy Switkowski said that the best Australia could hope to achieve from nuclear power would be a 7-17% reduction in our business as usual greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which is far below what is required to avoid dangerous climate change.

By contrast, renewable energy can be rolled out infinitely faster, with a 2010 Bloomberg New Energy Finance report forecasting that 34 nuclear reactors worth of wind generation would be constructed in that year alone.

Queensland uranium exclusively for peaceful purposes? 

We have absolutely no way of guaranteeing that.  Australia already sells uranium to India - a nuclear-armed country that is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  And in any case, as recent events in Japan have so vividly reminded us, "peaceful" is not the same as "safe".

As for the persistent baseload myth, stubborn repetition does not make it true.  The simplest way to debunk this, without getting into more complex arguments about baseload electricity being a product of the entire grid rather than a single technology, is via quick reference to a single renewable technology that does fit the bill: solar thermal with molten salt storage.

The QRC and AUA ask "why is it permissible to mine and export uranium from South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia but not Queensland?"

Because Queenslanders have thus far decided we don't want to be part of an industry that generates toxic waste with no functioning long-term storage solution, fuels weapons of mass destruction, and has no future in electricity generation because it grows ever more expensive while clean energy alternatives grow ever cheaper.

Long may it be so.

Adam Stone is Lead Senate Candidate for the Queensland Greens.

Topics:  campbell newman india jobs lnp opinion uranium mining

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