TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA TRIOLI ON ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 5 DECEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Uranium; Iran.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Two hundred and six delegates voted in favour of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's view. One hundred and eighty-five opposed it. Defence Minister Stephen Smith is one of the members who supported the move and he joins us now from Canberra.
Stephen Smith, good morning and thanks for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure, Virginia, good morning.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You have no qualms about potential consequences of the idea or at least the policy of exporting uranium to India, none whatsoever?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. I think this is a deeply significant decision. This will advance Australia's interests. What changed the nature of this discussion was when India entered into the India-United States Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2007. That agreement was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group over the course of 2008-2009. That effectively put India under the international nuclear regulators for the first occasion and India gave a series of undertakings including a moratorium on future nuclear testing, signing up the International Atomic Energy Agency's additional protocol, splitting its civilian nuclear technology from the military program.
That effectively gives you the same protections that you'd get if a country signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which of course has been a stumbling block for many years so far as India is concerned.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So signing that Treaty then doesn't matter that much any more? That's what this gesture signifies.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty opened for signature in 1967. India has made it clear since then that it won't sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the international community has come to accept that and that was why in 2008-2009 the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the international civil nuclear regulator, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, those countries who supply uranium and other nuclear technology, agreed that it was best to place India under the governance of the international civil nuclear regulators. That's what has changed arrangements here.
So far as Australia exporting uranium to India is concerned, when we made our decision, our threshold decision in 1984 that we would export uranium we also required that the country of destination had to enter into a separate bilateral safeguards agreement with Australia and that will be the case with India as well.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sure, and I accept that explanation but do you not accept that by making this decision without that country being a signatory to the treaty, that you actually downgrade the status now of that Treaty or is that what you're suggesting this morning, that that treaty is actually somewhat defunct?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, absolutely not. I am a strong supporter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I'm a strong supporter-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, you can't have it both ways, Stephen Smith. You can't say you're a strong supporter and then decide to export uranium to a country that is not a signatory of it. It's one or the other.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's not because what would you prefer? Would you prefer that India stayed outside any international regulation so far as civil nuclear arrangements were concerned? Would you prefer that India did not open itself up to the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectorate? Would you prefer that India did not open itself up so far as its civil nuclear industry is concerned to the inspectors so that the same inspection that occurs from the IAEA with other countries could occur in India?
This whole game changed in 2008-2009 when India agreed to place itself under the International Atomic Energy Agency and under the Nuclear Suppliers Group and what has occurred as a result of that is for the first time we have India under that regulation and that is the essential, seminal, fundamental point which those people who don't agree with or accept this decision either refuse to accept, refuse to acknowledge or don't understand.
India has made it clear since 1967 it won't sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The international community has come to accept that and this has been the best way of making sure that India, as it emerges as a superpower, as it takes its rightful place as the world's largest democracy and one of the three countries that will be superpowers in this century - the United States, China and India - has taken its rightful place and has voluntarily agreed to go under the governance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That's a good thing. That's progress. That's improvement.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: All right but those people who you say almost wilfully refuse to acknowledge that, they are within your own party and many of them are extremely angry at this decision, do you expect that this move will actually be seriously divisive for the Labor Party?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't because uranium has been a contentious issue for the Labor Party since the early 1970s. When Gough Whitlam was in office our policy was actually the full exploitation of uranium.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s we had a moratorium but the backbone of our policy was formed in 1982 when we agreed that we would export uranium from three named mines, including Roxby Downs or Olympic Dam. That mine, everyone knew then, as we know now, would grow to be potentially one of the largest if not the largest uranium mines in the world and, as a consequence, we put in place those safeguard arrangements that I have referred to, but there are some people in the party now who made it clear yesterday that they didn't support the decision in 1982 and that was essentially their starting point.
But we've been through this before. I frankly thought yesterday that the debate was respectful and dignified. Yes, there was a bit of the usual conference repartee, we come to expect that at a Labor Party conference, but we have managed this decision well, over a 20, 30, 40-year period in terms of the different views within our party. What we'll now do, having made a fundamentally important strategic decision for Australia's future and our region's future, is to now sit down with India and work through a bilateral safeguards agreement.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I just want to quickly switch gears if I can before we let you go this morning, Stephen Smith, and we have news this morning that Iran is saying that it shot down a US spy plane, a drone, that it said made an incursion into its border. We know the situation in that country's still extremely tetchy and we have the problems going on in Syria at the same time. What are your concerns about the way that Iran might be behaving in relation to the US and also US incursions into Iranian air space?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, on that particular report, I'm not in a position to add to what we've seen in the media. These suggestions have been made by Iran before, as you would know, and found not to be based on fact so we'll need to await the exhaustive analysis of that particular point.
But generally we are very concerned that Iran continues to refuse to abide by the United Nations Security Council resolution so far as its nuclear program is concerned and continue to be very concerned that it's marching towards a nuclear weapons future. We have endorsed and implemented all of the United Nations Security Council sanctions as a result of that plus implemented some of our own unilateral sanctions.
We continue to be very concerned about Iran and its activities.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Good to talk to you this morning, Stephen Smith, thanks so much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, Virginia, thanks very much.