WA Labor softens stance on uranium mining

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New West Australian Labor leader Mark McGowan has announced a major policy shift on uranium mining in an effort to boost the party’s poor polling numbers.

McGowan was installed as WA Opposition leader yesterday following former leader Eric Ripper’s resignation.

Within hours of taking power McGowan said the party would back down from its pledge to shut down any approved uranium project if elected next year.

The stance follows the WA Government’s lift on a yellowcake exploration ban in 2008 and the federal Government’s recent move to allow uranium sales to India.

McGowan said while WA Labor remained opposed to uranium mining and would not approve new applications, refusing to shut down new mines would mean it was safe from compensation claims.

Last month former leader Eric Ripper said no matter how advanced uranium projects were approval would not be given by WA Labor.

In a statement yesterday the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy said it welcomed the Opposition’s “quasi-relaxation” on the uranium industry.

But CME chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said uranium had the potential to boost the state’s economy and WA Labor continued to “ignore the potential of the industry”.

“The uranium industry will broaden the state’s resource export base, create jobs and opportunities for West Australians, and importantly, helps reduce global carbon emissions,” he said.

“Allowing operating uranium mines to continue is a step in the right direction but exploration should be supported and new licences considered.”

Howard-Smith said the uranium industry had spent $100 million on exploration in 2010-11 and the CME was keen to see further detail on the flagged inquiry into uranium mine safety.

He said if the review found WA’s industry to be sound Labor would have “no other choice but to fully support uranium mining”.

In a statement yesterday Greens Senator for WA Scott Ludlam condemned McGowan’s decision and said uranium mining was a “dangerous, toxic industry”.

“If Labor is elected in March next year, and there is one operational uranium mine in WA at that time, that will be one too many,” he said.

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