ALEX MITCHELL: Mark Latham goes all nuclear – again!

Mark Latham, former Federal Labor leader who now sits in the State Legislative Council as head of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in NSW, is running a one-man campaign to end the ban on uranium mining which came into force in 1986. Is he flogging a dead horse?

Moving a private member’s Bill to repeal the ban on uranium mining and nuclear power, Mark Latham flaunted his oratorical skills saying: “Perhaps my dazzling persuasion in this debate can force a change of thinking.”

But Labor’s Leader of the House, Adam Searle, with whiplash speed answered back: “Don’t hold your breath.”

The current numbers are overwhelmingly against Latham’s Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill. Labor, The Greens and some Liberals are opposed to the creation of a uranium mining industry and building nuclear power plants.

Even those who support Latham’s scheme are unwilling to allow a nuclear power plant in their constituency. It’s a case of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) and in the Legislative Assembly, the numbers look even worse.

The NSW Nationals, led by Queanbeyan businessman John Barilaro, are the only party committed to Latham’s plan while Latham’s only ally with any political weight is Bob Carr, ex-NSW Premier and Latham’s former boss. At every opportunity, Latham parades Carr’s conversion to nuclear power, saying: “Bob Carr is a fine demonstration of an environmentalist worried about climate change who sees the common sense in a nuclear solution. If the policy can be embraced by Bob Carr and the Green Party in Finland, why can it not be done in this chamber, in this Parliament?”

When Latham made his inaugural speech in the Legislative Council as head of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in NSW, he was welcomed by a cheer squad of lunar right-wing figures from the Liberal Party, including radio shock jock Alan Jones, Ross Cameron and Rowan Dean. They were given priority seating in the VIP gallery by John Ajaka, the Liberal Party’s President of the Upper House and former Rockdale councillor.

The presence of the headline-grabbing “Three Amigos” attracted much comment: Jones had lost a defamation case and advertisers; Donald Trump-supporting Cameron was dropped from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News line-up after making racist remarks, and Dean, editor of Spectator Australia, was offending almost everyone with his far-right views.

Although he is the son of a bible-bashing Liberal MLC, the late Jim Cameron, Ross Cameron’s relationship with the Liberal Party has been rocky. In a 2017 speech to the far-right Q Society of Australia he said: “The NSW division of the Liberal Party is basically a gay club … I don’t mind that they are gay, I just wish, like Hadrian, they would build a wall.”

He called the party’s processes “corrupt” during an ABC interview and repeated his claim that the NSW party was “basically a gay club”. As a result, the party’s executive suspended his membership for four and a half years thus offering him an opportunity to return to the fold when the storm had died down.

His relations with Labor have been abrasive too. In 1997 Latham wrote a pen portrait of Cameron: “Ross Cameron, the brilliant but creepy Liberal member for Parramatta, has talked me into participating in his youth leadership forum in Canberra. I rather suspect it’s a front for mobilising Christian soldiers, plus some quality box for Ross.”

In July 2014 Cameron and Kristina Keneally, the former Labor Premier of NSW, teamed up at Sky Television to host a weekly panel show called The Contrarians. This morphed into the Keneally and Cameron Show which had a brief life before being axed.

After Cameron’s homophobic remarks became public in 2017, then Sky presenter David Speers and high-profile colleagues Peter van Onselen and Mrs Keneally publicly condemned them.

Since his election one year ago on the coat-tails of Pauline Hanson, Latham has slipped seamlessly into the trough of Upper House privileges. In June 2019 he was appointed chair of Portfolio Committee No 3 which bumped his basic salary of $170,000-a-year to $190,342.

On 26 February 2020, Greens MLC David Shoebridge slammed the nuclear option floated by Latham and other right-wing MPs. “It is dangerous for our climate, dangerous for our land and water, and dangerous for the State and household budgets.” He listed the “substantial” delays and “staggering” cost overruns of nuclear projects globally.

“Support for nuclear power in this country is part of the culture wars. Tony Abbott himself is clear about this. He sees it as a way to drive a wedge between Labor and the unions and between Labor and the environment movement.”

He called for a non-nuclear future adding: “We can deliver it now, on time and on budget, with 100% renewables.”

Latham, however, is scathing about the Greens and all environmentalists whom he accused of turning renewable energy into a “new pagan religion”, adding: “The Green Left wants to hand over human control of our energy grid to the vagaries of the weather through wind and sun worship”.

Just when you thought it was safe to go out, he’s back.

Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday.

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Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday. His latest book is Murder in Melbourne – The Untold Story of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Maasarwe.

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