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.


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.

This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to ALEX MITCHELL: Mark Latham goes all nuclear – again!

  1. Avatar Jim Coombs says:

    Nuclear power is simply uneconomic. The weak link in the nuclear fuel cycle is uranium enrichment. It has never been done commercially. Indeed Nixon offered it free to GE and Westinghouse all those years ago, and they said, “ forget it”. So where does the nuclear fuel come from ? Countries who enrich uranium for weapons, where cost is well kept secret. Why so expensive ? Uranium enrichment is the increasing of U235 in proportion to U238. U235 is the fissile one. The process is to separate the lighter isotope from the heavier by weight. No chemical process, then. The only physical form for this separation is gaseous, and the only gaseous form of Uranium is Uranium hexafluoride, inconveniently one of the most corrosive substances around. The separation is done either by centrifuge, or gaseous diffusion. Because of the corrosive nature of the feed, the machinery must be of the highest quality steel, and totally enclosed. The machinery is repetitive and energy intensive (some say it uses more energy than the product produces) and in fact hideously expensive. QED, it’s a dud.

  2. Avatar Conrad Drake says:

    “The new kid on the nuclear block is the small modular reactor (SMR)”
    No it’s not. It’s still a brain-fart (or six, as usual) with no actual real world implementations and a business case that doesn’t add up: any SMR loses the economies of scale of a normal plant without removing any of the problems of a normal plant and without any demonstrable (rather than wished-for) reductions in cost or risk. Which, economically, leaves SMRs in a similar place as normal reactors: only for those with a nuclear weapons or nuclear submarine programs.

    The words of Admiral Rickover from 1953 remain entirely relevant: to paraphrase any academic reactor is simple and easy, any real reactor is hard and complex.

  3. Avatar Dr Michael Powell says:

    Jon Stanford’s post deserves respect regard. Latham does not. Latham is the Prime Minster we missed with gratitude. Morrrison is the Prime Minister we should have missed.

  4. Jon Stanford Jon Stanford says:

    This article, in my view, suffers from being somewhat ill-informed. A couple of minutes devoted to Google may have been beneficial.
    Australian exports of uranium have never been banned. Bob Hawke’s 1984 three mines policy, which was not a ban on uranium mining and was a compromise at the time, was overturned at the Commonwealth level in 1996. We have several mines now that export to a number of countries. We would have more, if demand was greater and the price higher. There are quite a few new mines in Western Australia for example. While previously Australia exported uranium to signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Julia Gillard’s Labor government made the courageous, and in my view sensible, decision to allow (with safeguards) uranium exports to India, which deploys nuclear weapons.
    Oddly, the ban on nuclear power was brought in by the Howard government in the late 1990s. Back then the technology was focussed on very large generation plant, which would be an awkward fit in Australia’s long and skinny grid and after Chernobyl required so many belt and braces safety add-ons that they became entirely unaffordable.
    The new kid on the nuclear block is the small modular reactor (SMR). This is buried underground, has a footprint about the same size as a service station and is based on a a plug-in, plug out concept. When it runs out of fuel, you can send it back to the supplier for disposal (at a cost) and get in return a new sealed module to plug in. Nuclear submarines have been using a similar technology since 1954 with no significant reactor failures in western submarines since then. SMRs, which are modular, could offer a solution to how to provide continuous (baseload) power with close to zero greenhouse gas emissions. To be sure, solar with battery back-up may well trump this — I’m entirely agnostic on this and we don’t know. But since we are curious, why on earth would a rational government ban the technology sight unseen? Surely the answer is to repeal the blanket ban and allow SMR proponents to put forward proposals to meet individual generation requirements in the future. As well as bidding on the basis of price, which would have to accommodate waste disposal costs, they would need to satisfy rigorous environmental criteria.
    I have little time for Mark Latham’s ideas more generally but I agree with him over this.

  5. Avatar Jerry Roberts says:

    Thanks Alex. Mark didn’t make the news over here in WA. I think it is a dead horse. If Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein has consulted our tribal elders in the Western Desert they would have been advised to”leave that atom fella” alone. Looking back to Manhattan, we could have managed without nuclear. Mind you, I’m a Luddite who feels the same way about computers, motor cars and television.

Comments are closed.