TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY, RADIO NATIONAL
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 15 NOVEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Uranium exports.
FRAN KELLY: As Foreign Minister in the Rudd Government, Stephen Smith argued against uranium sales to India. He's now Defence Minister and today he's arguing the ban should be lifted.
He's in our Parliament House studio. Minister, good morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: The ALP policy is no uranium sales to countries which haven't signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT. Has India signed up?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, India has not signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and India has made it very clear over the period, that it won't sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So the international community has grown to understand and also accept that.
What has changed in recent years has been India and the United States entering into a civil nuclear arrangement. That arrangement was approved effectively and supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of Governors and also the Nuclear Suppliers Group of which Australia is a member. Australia supported that arrangement and it's really that which has changed the dynamic in the last couple of years and has seen the Prime Minister, in my view quite correctly, say that this issue needs to be resolved at our forthcoming National Conference.
FRAN KELLY: But the Prime Minister says that the current ban, which is Australia's policy, has become anachronistic. What's anachronistic is that Australia now feels that we need to support American policy simply because America has signed up with India that we need to do it-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's not American policy, it is a civil-
FRAN KELLY: Yes it is; America has a bilateral agreement.
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, but it's not exclusively, as to use your phrase, an American policy. The United States and India entered into a civil nuclear arrangement so that the United States could supply India with nuclear materials for civil purposes.
That arrangement was subject to the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency, its board of Governors, and also subject to approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Australia was a member of the board of Governors of the IAEA and a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and we strongly supported a positive response to that arrangement within both those very important international nuclear regulators. That's what's changed. That occurred in 2008-2009.
This is the first National Conference that we've had which has essentially had a couple of years to see that arrangement embedded. The United States is not the only country which has either agreed to or is proposing to supply nuclear materials, including uranium, to India. Canada is in some respects perhaps the best and most comparable example to Australia. They're proposing to do it.
And the reason all of that is occurring is because the arrangements approved by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA are de facto, effectively the same requirements that you would require for a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty country. Australia-
FRAN KELLY: With respect though, Minister, those agreements have been in place for some years now. So, for some years, this Labor Government has maintained its official ban knowing that those things were in place, those things which you say change the dynamics of this. I mean, isn't this simply an admission that Labor's policy, full of contradictions has been, according to your interpretation now, wrong and out of date for some years?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they came in place in the last quarter of 2008. We had a conference in the middle of 2009. I don't think it was appropriate at that conference to move on this front. We wanted to-
FRAN KELLY: Why not?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, because we wanted some time to ensure that those arrangements were bedded down and essentially accepted by the international community, which they have been.
But be that as it may, where are we now? We're now in 2011; India is a rising super power. The rise of India continues to be under-appreciated. India needs to be treated as it if were a rising power, a super power. India has got a very good record in terms of non-proliferation of uranium or nuclear materials.
Australia's view has always been that if you're a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and you sign up to Australia with a separate bilateral protocol we will export uranium to you.
Circumstances have now changed and we are very confident that India will not only satisfy all of the undertakings it gave to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a separation of its nuclear materials so far as civil and military is concerned, an undertaking not to engage in any nuclear testing which it hasn't done for a number of years, and to subject itself essentially to IAEA inspectors and quantification measures. All of these things, effectively, put in place an arrangement with which Australia can be very confident about.
And we should recognise strategically the rising nature of India as a power. And the strong view that the Prime Minister has, and I share it, is that this is a sensible thing to do to reflect the changed circumstances in the nuclear supply arrangement but also to reflect the rising stature and status of India as a super power in this century.
FRAN KELLY: And I'll come to that strategic development or rise of India as you describe it there. But just on this notion that India is a very good NPT citizen in terms of non-proliferation and that we will have safeguards in place, earlier in the program we spoke to Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, which is a foundation focused on nuclear weapon development around the globe. Here's what he said about this notion of applying safeguards to this uranium.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: You can't really do that. Uranium is fungible. Uranium that you sell to India for use in civilian reactors frees up uranium to be used by India in military reactors to make weapons.
The NPT is probably the most successful security pact in history. It's done a remarkable job in dissuading countries from developing nuclear weapons and providing the international legal and diplomatic framework that encourages countries to give up programs or not pursue them in the first place.
FRAN KELLY: That's Joseph Cirincione from the Ploughsares Fund. It's 12 minutes to eight on Breakfast, and our guest is Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
Stephen Smith, you don't agree with him presumably? I mean, doesn't it make sense if you're being allowed to use uranium in one place in your civilian area, it just frees it up for you to use the other uranium somewhere else. You can't really safeguard that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, if you wanted to mount that argument, which I don't, then you could make the argument that that applies already. I mean, the key point here is what changes-
FRAN KELLY: But not with Australian uranium, which has been the point, yes?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the point so far as India is concerned is that India gave undertakings, not just to Australia but to the international community, in advance of the Nuclear Suppliers Group approving the United States-India civil nuclear agreement which expressly said that it would separate and keep separate its civil uranium from any military aspect.
It also gave undertakings that it would allow the IAEA, effectively, to track the uranium exported whether by Australia or anyone else to India. There's another point-
FRAN KELLY: Yes but, Minister, we went through this argument with China and the argument from people like Joseph Cirincione and others who are opposed to this idea suggests that while you can track it, that it's only used in civilian application, it still means that leaves other uranium stores to be freed up to be used in the military application.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's an argument for not allowing the export of uranium anywhere to anyone, and that doesn't reflect the modern reality, doesn't reflect the dependence on nuclear energy of a whole range of countries in Europe and elsewhere, it doesn't reflect an emerging view about the use of nuclear energy for climate change purposes. It is the case that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been a most effective international vehicle to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons but-
FRAN KELLY: So doesn't this weaken it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it would weaken it if there weren't comparable safeguards. But India has made it very clear it won't sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So how do we deal with that and the fact that India is a rising super power?
How the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which Australia is a member and supported a positive response to the Indian civil nuclear arrangement, and how the International Atomic Energy Agency through its board of Governors has responded in 2008-2009 is to say the undertakings given by India are effectively comparable to those in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We accept the reality that India will not sign that treaty and, as a consequence, we need to change our arrangements to reflect the fact that India is a country which has had no record of any proliferation of uranium or nuclear materials or nuclear technology at all. It's got a very strong track record in that respect and the international community is accepting and reflecting the modern reality that, as a rising power, India will not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and this is the best way of effecting comparable safeguards so far as the use of uranium and nuclear materials for civil purposes is concerned.
FRAN KELLY: Okay. What's been the response from the Indian Government to this? Have you heard from them since it became our policy?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I haven't spoken directly to any of my counterparts or Indian officials but I would assume, given the conversations I've had with Indian counterparts in the past, that India would warmly welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is taking to the National Conference as a change of policy.
FRAN KELLY: And there's-
STEPHEN SMITH: But it's also important that the Prime Minister has not sought to get a Cabinet decision in respect of this. She simply said that we've got a National Conference in a few weeks, there needs to be a change of policy to reflect the modern reality, this is the view that I'll take to the national conference. And, as I've made clear this morning, that's a view that I'll strongly support.
FRAN KELLY: There's obviously an economic benefit to us. The Prime Minister, in her opinion piece today, talks about jobs to flow from this. But also there is a strategic element to this. As we have been unpopular with India to some extent because of this ban, Australia, has a strategic interest in getting close to this, as you call it, rising super power almost as a counterbalance to China.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't see the rise of India as a counterbalance in that way. We have in the modern world the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined, the ongoing seminal influence and importance economically and strategically of the United States and the ongoing importance of Japan. So there are a whole range of factors which see economic, strategic, political and military influence moving to our part of the world. And we can't turn a blind eye to India in that context.
I again say India has been massively under-appreciated in that context. So far as trade is concerned, India has been our fastest growing trading partner albeit off a low base in the last half dozen years. And it's not just uranium but it is minerals and petroleum resources and our services - the whole gamut of things which Australia produces - which are open for Australia to now engage in so far as India is concerned which, like China, will be another country of a billion people in the course of the first half of this century.
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran. Thanks very much.