Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Bill 2016

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) (12:57): I want to join my friend and colleague the member for Berowra in speaking on this important bill before the House today—the Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Bill 2016. It is my pleasure to speak about this, having chaired the parliamentary friends of India group for the past three years here in Canberra, working very closely with the Indian diaspora in our major cities, Sydney and Melbourne, but also here in Canberra, to ensure that parliamentarians are across the important relationship that we have with India in the ongoing increase in trade, in volumes of migration and in the partnership that we share in our region to make sure that we have a safe, stable and economically prosperous region.

We do understand, I think, in this House now that this relationship between our two great nations is really finding its feet. For the first time in 30 years we saw the visit of Prime Minister Modi—one of the most significant modern leaders of India coming out of the Bharatiya Janata Party—with a real promise for economic reform and growth for India, having delivered that in the Gujarat province. We are seeing now, for the first time, the modernisation of the Indian economy. It is on the precipice of great growth and development, like we saw in China. This is a real opportunity for the great partnership between Australia and India to emerge in this century as one of the defining features of our bilateral relationship with India.

We see the relationship between our prime ministers. We see that the largest source country for migrants in my own portfolio is now India. Our largest student source country is variously India, with many foreign students now studying in Australia, and the skills need of India is one of the great export opportunities for our education sector here in Australia. It is the world's third largest and fastest-growing major economy, but, currently, exports to India are just about one-tenth of exports to China. That presents us with a significant potential and opportunity to expand and, hence, this bill before us presents us with a great opportunity to continue this strong economic relationship and provide the power to meet the real needs that an emerging and growing economy such as India will require.

We know that India is emerging as a stronger regional and global partner in our region with a great global role. It is a large democratic power in the Indo-Pacific. It means more outreach with us, it means more trade, it means more diplomacy and it means more cooperation between us. Our bilateral relationship has developed so fast over the last five years, and I think this is an important step in the right direction. It has had some misguided opposition in the past—I note this bill and the sale of uranium to India. I do not think there is any Australian, and I do not think there is anyone left in this House, who would want to see a return to the era under the Rudd government—I was here in this House then—where, to our detriment, a strain was placed on our relationship with this major strategic partner.

The access that India has sought to our uranium ore to meet the needs of its rapidly growing economy is important to understand from the psychological perspective of our Indian partners. We have so much in common with India: democracy, the use of the English language, a shared British heritage of colonialism—things that relate us so well with India. For Australia to have suggested at any point that we would deny our uranium to India, that there was no way of working out how we could arrange the provision of uranium to a country like India or that there was no way that we could form a bond of trust, an economic tie, a binding contract or a relationship with India which would ensure that we were satisfied we could meet our international obligations and that India could meet theirs was naive—and it was naive of the Labor Party at the time to think so. It was good to see the Gillard government reverse the Rudd government's error in this regard. It is good to see the opposition is supporting this bill because it is the right move for relations between our countries. It is the right move forward for our country and for India.

The rhetoric has to change. We must recognise that India is now a responsible nation and that strengthening our bilateral relationship is mutually beneficial. It is important to see the member for Melbourne and the member for Denison here. I know they are here pre-emptively, and I might pre-empt a little bit of what they will say. All members in this House should understand the modern nation that India is and represents and the good global and international citizen that it is. This government wants to ensure that our exports are properly managed and that they are dealt with in full confidence of the standards that we require—and that is what this bill provides for.

The bill provides guidance for the approval of uranium exports. It takes into account the particular safeguard arrangements that the IAEA applies in India and which India has committed to apply in respect of Australian exports of uranium through its nuclear cooperation agreement with Australia. I am confident these robust arrangements can assure the House, the parliament, the public and our two nations that Australian uranium will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. The design is specific to India, which, of course, is not a party to the NPT. The purpose of this bill is to clarify that decisions approving civil nuclear transfers to India are taken not to be inconsistent with, or have been made with due regard to, Australia's obligations relating to nuclear safeguards under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty if particular conditions are met. The conditions relate to the application of India's nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, including its additional protocol, and the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of India on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy—the Australia-India agreement.

Given the expansion of nuclear energy around the globe and its use in many modern countries like France, India and China, we have to have arrangements and treaties and the confidence that uranium is being used for peaceful civilian purposes like power generation. We should not allow blind ideology to get in the way of these important technological developments that allow for millions of people to escape poverty, better themselves, improve their lives and have access to cheaper power and better constant sources of power for industry and for their own endeavour. Also, significantly—and I know the member for Melbourne would agree—we should reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel-based power over time. We should take advantage of the technological solutions that are available to human beings to reduce our reliance on fossil fields and generate baseload energy in a reliable and cheap way for the vast expansions that economies like India will require.

Mr Bandt: If only you said the same about renewables. Why don't you say the same about renewables? So hypocritical!

Mr HAWKE: I would say to the member for Melbourne that if we do cut ourselves off from technology we will not be able to solve the problems that face us. It is good to see modern economies and modern nations like India, France and other parts of the world taking on board available technological solutions to power generation—dealing with the problems of climate change and dealing with the challenges faced by emerging economies, and doing so in a sensible way. That is what this bill is assisting Australia also to do in the provision of uranium for civil purposes and nuclear power generation. The public can have confidence in the provisions that are in this bill, the negotiations that this government has undertaken with the government of India, the protocols that are in place, the requirements that Australia has put in place and the developments in the arrangements for nuclear cooperation.

I will not reiterate everything that has been said by previous speakers in relation to the details. However, I want to ensure that people understand that the bill codifies, for the special case of India, the content of Australia's relevant international obligations for the purposes of the relevant laws. The bill will give legal and commercial certainty to specific developments in this bilateral relationship and include a new bilateral maritime exercise; an agreed framework for security cooperation, incorporating meetings on cyber policy, counterterrorism and maritime cooperation; continuation of the foreign ministers framework dialogue; continued growth in the people-to-people links and the collaborations in science, education and technology; and the conclusion of the nuclear cooperation agreement.

Engagement with Australia by Indian ministers has improved. We have had the prime ministerial visit and seen minister after minister, including senior ministers, Finance Minister Jaitley and Coal and Energy Minister Goyal. Finding a way to normalise the nuclear status of India has been an essential part of the shift that we have seen in recent years. I believe that the bilateral relationship between India and Australia has been greatly strengthened by our support for its campaign for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The support that Australia has provided in this regard has reinforced the impression of us as a reliable partner, an honest broker and a good regional ally—as India has attested to.

In setting up the new safeguard arrangements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and concluding nuclear cooperation agreements with countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, India has been willing, I think for the first time, to bind itself to the international standard safeguard arrangements over its declared civil nuclear sector. It is very important to remember that those arrangements exist between the United States, Canada and, of course, now Australia. India, as I have said, offers a significant new market for Australian uranium. Successive Australian governments have worked with India to put in place the nuclear cooperation agreement and the administrative arrangements to allow exports to proceed for civil power generation.

It is important that we pass this bill. It is important that we speak with tolerance and respect about our Indian allies when we make our contributions in this House and recognise that they are a peaceful power, that they are using our uranium for peaceful purposes and that they are, by generating power through nuclear power and given the rapid expansion that is expected in Indian economy, also making a great contribution in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So, when we do seek to make our contributions here today, I hope all members of the chamber will be respectful of that relationship and of that certainty that is required between two great countries like India and Australia.

It is important that Australians and Australian governments continue to consider accessing technological solutions to address the challenges that face our country as well. It is good to see attitudes changing towards nuclear science, medicine, technology—and hopefully also power generation in the near future—in the development of our country. When you consider the attitudes that have been held here in the past, the fact that we will be exporting uranium to countries around the world and that the major unions in this country are relaxing and removing their historic opposition to important developments in uranium, you can see that the grounds are shifting in support of what is and what can be a great technological solution to the power generation needs of our country as well.

It is my pleasure today to recommend this bill to the House. I think it is an extremely significant development between India and Australia. This will form the platform for great trade between our two countries and for the expansion of the Indian economy that we all want to see in the world today. It will mean peaceful collaboration and peaceful cooperation in our region with enhanced economic development and economic trade, and that is something we can all recommend. I welcome this bill and I welcome the continued ongoing trust in and mutual development of the bilateral relationship between Australia and India. I commend the bill to the House.