Australian ruling party votes for uranium sale to India

Sydney/Melbourne: Australia’s ruling Labor Party representatives have passed a motion to remove a ban on uranium exports to India after a passionate debate on the issue that saw sharp divisions in the cabinet.

The party had imposed the ban on export to non-signatories of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) like India four decades back.

Labor delegates voted to overturn the uranium export sale ban after a passionate debate in the national conference being held in Sydney. While 216 delegates voted in favour of uranium export to India, 185 Labor representatives expressed opposition to any such move.

Earlier, Prime Minister Julia Gillard had urged that Australia should sell uranium to India to boost trade and also to enhance bilateral ties with the South Asian country. “We are at the right time in the history of the world to seize a new era of opportunity in this, the Asian century,” Julia Gillard said while addressing the Labor National Conference Sunday.

“We need to make sure that across our regions we have the strongest possible relationships we can, including with the world’s largest democracy, India,” she said.

“That’s why today we should determine today to change our platform and enable us, under safeguards, to sell uranium to India,” Gillard said even while vociferous anti-uranium mining protestors outside the conference venue made their views clear.

Gillard also highlighted the fact that Australia sells uranium to China but not to world’s largest democracy with a clean nuclear record. She had a supporter in Defence Minister Stephen Smith who has stressed repeatedly that it was time for change.

“On India and uranium, the world has changed since the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors and the nuclear suppliers group in 2008/2009 authorised the United States-India civil nuclear arrangements,” he told reporters.

The opponents of uranium sale to India were passionate in their advocacy of not selling the crucial nuclear fuel to India. A number of delegates also voiced concern over uranium mining. Those opposing overturning of the policy on uranium exports to India included four ministers in the Gillard cabinet.

Australian Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has been one such vocal critic of exporting uranium to India as it has not signed the NPT.

“It is the case that nine months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster is not the time to be expanding our uranium exports,” Albanese has been quoted by Australian media as saying.

“I say that until we have resolved the issues of nuclear proliferation and we have resolved the issue of nuclear waste we should not change our platform to further expand our commitment to the nuclear fuel cycle,” Infrastructure Minister added.

There has been robust debate going on in Australian political circles to engage world’s largest democracy India more pro-actively. Some observers are also convinced that the US has been pushing Australia to lift the ban on uranium exports to India which has, arguably, a good record on nuclear non-proliferation.

Irrespective of the vocal opposition to uranium mining in Australia, lifting of the uranium ban has been welcomed by many quarters. The Indo-Australian community has been asking for such policy change for very long.

“It is good Australian Labor Party has finally corrected a flawed and hypocritical policy stance on uranium exports to India,” Melbourne resident Jag Khairra, an Indian community leader, said.