Easing of Australia's Mining Restrictions Seems Likely

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The defeat of John Howard's Liberal Coalition by Kevin Rudd and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) could have a positive impact on Australia's uranium mining and exploration policies and investment climate, according to World Nuclear News and other recent news reports.

The defeat of John Howard's Liberal Coalition by Kevin Rudd and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) could have a positive impact on Australia's uranium mining and exploration policies and investment climate, according to World Nuclear News and other recent news reports.

The ALP recently won about 80 of the country's 150 electoral divisions.

Kevin Rudd's election win has pleased the Australian Uranium Association (AUA), which is hopeful the new government will override the majority of state Labor governments, which previously had legislated to ban uranium exploration and mining.

In one of his first positive moves for the industry, Rudd appointed Martin Ferguson on November 30 as his resources and energy and tourism minister. Ferguson is credited for the change in the ALP's policy nationally on uranium mining. He is well known among the sector's movers and shakers in companies such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Woodside and Alcoa.

Groups such as the Minerals Council, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, the Energy Networks Association and the two important West Australian resources sector lobbies, the Chamber of Minerals & Energy and Association of Mining Exploration Companies, welcomed Mr. Ferguson's appointment.

Australia has more than 30 percent of the world's known uranium reserves. The Australian Broadcast Corp. (ABC) reports that there are 25 uranium deposits near Mount Isa, in the state's north-west, worth about $4 billion.

In April, well before election campaigns were under way, the Federal ALP abandoned its three-mines uranium policy and endorsed major projects, including the expansion of South Australia's Olympic Dam mine. Both Mr. Rudd and his deputy, Julia Gillard, have said they want to see an end to Labor's so-called three mines policy, which allows for the expansion of existing uranium mines but not the construction of new ones.

Uranium Association Executive Director Michael Angwin believes Labor's plans to remove constraining business regulations will allow the industry to expand. "Mr. Rudd is the architect of the ALP's uranium policy which is to allow the industry to expand," Angwin told the ABC. "We think that the prohibitions in Queensland and Western Australia are essentially matters of business regulation," he said. "They're issues which impede the growth of Australia's international competitiveness and certainly the competitiveness of Australia's international uranium industry."

However, plans by the Labor Party to lift its long-held ban on new uranium mines may be challenged by attempts to impose stringent waste and proliferation conditions on any new mines, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese will introduce at an upcoming conference an amendment which, if successful, would effectively mean no new mines could be built. Albanese's amendment will ask delegates to consider the adequacy of the safeguards on what happens to uranium exported overseas and to think about the contentious issues surrounding the disposal of nuclear waste.

Peter Beattie, premier of Queensland, and Alan Carpenter, of Western Australia, support Albanese. Both have said they would not allow any uranium mines in their states.

Still, the AUA is hopeful. "[Rudd's] election builds up some momentum in that, certainly some expectation in that, and whilst I don't have any insights into how he might manage his relationship with the states, I'm certainly encouraged by his personal commitment to uranium expansion," Angwin said.

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