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ALP faction against uranium sale to India

Labor's Left faction has come out swinging against a plan by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to reverse ALP policy and allow uranium exports to India.

Labor has long resisted selling uranium to India because it refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation tr

eaty, a prerequisite the party puts on uranium sales.

Ms Gillard says it is time for Labor to broaden its platform and strengthen Australia's connection with "dynamic, democratic India".

She will ask next month's ALP national conference to reverse party policy, a move the Left admits is a fait accompli.

"This has come out of the blue," faction convenor Doug Cameron told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

Senator Cameron said Australia had insisted China sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty before allowing uranium sales.

"These are the tests that we laid out, and we're changing those tests for India," he said.

Ms Gillard insists India will have to meet the same standards - strict adherence to International Atomic Energy Agency arrangements and strong bilateral and transparency measures that will provide assurances the Australian uranium will be used only for peaceful purposes.

Senator Cameron is not convinced, saying it was his understanding that India did not have enough uranium to meet both its energy and military needs.

"We'll simply be exporting uranium to India and that will free up uranium within India for the military program."

Senator Cameron rejected as "a silly argument" suggestions Australia was missing out on economic benefits because of its ban on uranium sales to India.

Any policy shift could add up to $1.7 billion in annual exports, with BHP Billiton one of the biggest beneficiaries.

"We've got enough trouble now getting enough skilled labour to service the minerals industry," he said.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith defended the move saying the United States supplied uranium to India under a bilateral deal signed in 2008.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group, an alliance of nuclear supplier countries, also had approved the deal.

Mr Smith said it had not been appropriate to change party policy at the previous ALP conference in 2009 because time was needed to see how the US-India uranium deal was accepted internationally.

"This is a sensible thing to do," he told ABC radio, adding that it was an important step that reflected India's rising stature.

Mr Smith said the nuclear non-proliferation treaty had been a success but said uranium sales could be carried out by non-signatories if "comparable safeguards" were in place.

It was unlikely India would ever sign the treaty, he said.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who has long supported changing the policy, says international practice has changed.

It was hypocritical for Australia to sell uranium to China and Russia but not the largest democracy in the world.

"It's one of the 10 largest economies in the world with huge purchasing power," he told ABC radio, adding India was not a rogue state.

Mr Ferguson conceded the move would be the subject of fierce debate at the ALP conference, but predicted delegates would back Ms Gillard.

The Australian Conservation Foundation says there is no reason for Australia to lift the ban on uranium sales to India.

"Australia, as a significant global uranium supplier, has a responsibility to acknowledge that India is a nuclear-armed state that obtained its weapons capacity in breach of international commitments," foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney said in a statement.

Adding Australian uranium to the mix would not ease long-standing tensions between India and its nuclear-armed neighbours, he said.

Nor would it improve the effectiveness of the global nuclear safeguards regime.

Mr Sweeney said there was no compelling or convincing reason for Labor to change its policy.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown slammed the move, saying it was putting the commercial interests of multi-national mining companies ahead of global safety.

He warned that selling uranium to India would add to the "nuclear arms race".

"This is a country that has intermediate-range missiles," Senator Brown told ABC radio.

"It's developing a plethora of nuclear submarines with nuclear weapons."

Senator Brown rejected suggestions Ms Gillard's move was an attempt to distance her government from the Greens.

Trade Minister Craig Emerson says selling Australian uranium to India will boost jobs and help overcome poverty in India.

"This is a policy change whose time has come," he told Sky News, adding the ban was an anachronism.

Dr Emerson said India wanted to use Australian uranium for peaceful purposes.

Liberal frontbencher George Brandis said the Rudd government had rescinded the previous Howard government's policy to proceed with uranium sales.

"The Labor party are five years behind the pace," he said.


A tenuous situation for Australians.

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