Three-mine policy

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The three-mine policy, introduced in 1984 and abandoned in 1996, was a policy of the government of Australia to limit the number of uranium mines in the country to three. [1] [2]

Government of Australia federal democratic administrative authority of Australia

The Government of Australia is the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It is also commonly referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, Her Majesty's Government, or the Federal Government.

Uranium mining in Australia

Radioactive ores were first extracted in South Australia at Radium Hill in 1906 and Mount Painter in 1911. 2,000 tons of ore were treated to recover radium for medical use. Several hundred kilograms of uranium were also produced for use in ceramic glazes. In 2017, of the world's estimated uranium resources, 30% were in Australia, ahead of the second largest, Kazakhstan. In terms of production, Canada is the largest supplier, followed by Kazakhstan and Australia. Uranium mined in Australia is entirely for export. Australia exported 64,488 tonnes of uranium in the ten years to 2017.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 26 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.



The foundations of the three-mine policy for uranium mining were laid in 1982, when, at a conference of the Australian Labor Party, the party decided to adopt a "no new mines" policy. At the time, two uranium mines were operating, both in the Northern Territory, Ranger and Nabarlek. However, this new policy left a loophole, as it permitted uranium to be mined as a by-product of other mining operations. The later exception allowed for development of the Olympic Dam mine, located in South Australia, as it also contained gold and copper. [2]

Australian Labor Party Political party in Australia

The Australian Labor Party is a major centre-left political party in Australia. The party has been in opposition at the federal level since the 2013 election. The party is a federal party with branches in each state and territory. Labor is in government in the states of Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and in both the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. The party competes against the Liberal/National Coalition for political office at the federal and state levels. It is the oldest political party in Australia.

Northern Territory Federal territory of Australia

The Northern Territory is an Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia. It shares borders with Western Australia to the west, South Australia to the south, and Queensland to the east. To the north, the territory looks out to the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria, including Western New Guinea and other Indonesian islands. The NT covers 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 sq mi), making it the third-largest Australian federal division, and the 11th-largest country subdivision in the world. It is sparsely populated, with a population of only 245,800, fewer than half as many people as Tasmania.

Ranger Uranium Mine mine

The Ranger Uranium Mine is a uranium mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is surrounded by, but separate from Kakadu National Park, 230 km east of Darwin. The orebody was discovered in late 1969, and the mine commenced operation in 1980, reaching full production of uranium oxide in 1981. It is operated by Energy Resources of Australia, a 68% subsidiary of Rio Tinto Group. Uranium mined at Ranger is sold for use in nuclear power stations in Asia, Europe and North America.

The following year, 1983, Labor won the federal elections and came into power for the first time since 1975.

1983 Australian federal election

The 1983 Australian federal election was held in Australia on 5 March 1983. All 125 seats in the House of Representatives and all 64 seats in the Senate were up for election, following a double dissolution. The incumbent Coalition government which had been in power since 1975, led by Malcolm Fraser and Doug Anthony, was defeated in a landslide by the opposition Labor Party led by Bob Hawke. This was the first of 5 consecutive election victories for the Labor party. This election marked the end of the 3 term 7 year Liberal-National Coalition Fraser Government and started the period of the 5 term 13 year Hawke-Keating Labor Government. The Coalition would spend its longest ever period of opposition and the Labor party would spend its longest ever period of government at the federal level. The Coalition would not return to government until the 1996 election.

The three-mine policy was officially introduced in 1984, after the federal elections that year had confirmed Bob Hawke of the Labor Party as Prime Minister of Australia. The policy restricted uranium mining in Australia to three existing mines, Ranger, Nabarlek and Olympic Dam. [1]

1984 Australian federal election

The 1984 Australian federal election was held in Australia on 1 December 1984. All 148 seats in the House of Representatives and 46 of 76 seats in the Senate were up for election. The incumbent Labor Party led by Prime Minister Bob Hawke defeated the opposition Liberal–National coalition, led by Andrew Peacock.

Bob Hawke Australian politician, 23rd Prime Minister of Australia

Robert James Lee Hawke, was an Australian politician who served as Prime Minister of Australia and Leader of the Labor Party from 1983 to 1991. He was also Member of Parliament (MP) for Wills from 1980 to 1992.

Prime Minister of Australia executive head of the Government of Australia

The prime minister of Australia is the head of government of Australia. The individual who holds the office is the most senior minister of state, the leader of the federal Cabinet. The prime minister also has the responsibility of administering the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is the chair of the National Security Committee and the Council of Australian Governments. The office of prime minister is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia but exists through Westminster political convention. The individual who holds the office is commissioned by the governor-general of Australia and at the governor-general's pleasure subject to the Constitution of Australia and constitutional conventions.

The policy was abandoned in 1996, after the 1996 federal election replaced the Labor Party with John Howard's Coalition in power. [3] The new policy was to develop the country's uranium mining industry and uranium exports. [1]

1996 Australian federal election election

The 1996 Australian federal election was held to determine the members of the 38th Parliament of Australia. It was held on 2 March 1996. All 148 seats of the House of Representatives and 40 seats of the 76-seat Senate were up for election. The centre-right Liberal/National Coalition led by Opposition Leader John Howard of the Liberal Party and coalition partner Tim Fischer of the National Party defeated the incumbent centre-left Australian Labor Party government in a landslide led by Prime Minister Paul Keating.

John Howard Australian politician

John Winston Howard, is an Australian former politician who served as the 25th Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. He is the second-longest serving Australian Prime Minister, behind only Sir Robert Menzies, who was in office for over 18 years. He is also the oldest living former Australian Prime Minister, as of 16 May 2019. Howard was leader of the Liberal Party from 1985 to 1989 and from 1995 to 2007.

Coalition (Australia) group of centre-right parties in Australia

The Liberal–National Coalition is an alliance of centre-right political parties that forms one of the two major groupings in Australian federal politics. Its main opponent is the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and the two forces are often regarded as operating in a two-party system. The Coalition has been in government since the 2013 federal election, most recently being re-elected in the 2019 Australian federal election. The group is led by Scott Morrison as Prime Minister of Australia since August 2018.

The Australian Labor Party changed back its policy in the 1990s to a "no new mines" policy to allow uranium mines already approved by the Coalition government to go ahead. [4] With the opening of a fourth uranium mine in Australia in 2001, the Beverley uranium mine, and the approval of a fifth mine, the Honeymoon uranium mine, Labor's stand had essentially become a "five-mine policy", as Nabarlek had since been closed. [2]

The Labor Party, however, continued its opposition to increased uranium mining until 2006, when, under the leadership of Kim Beazley, discussions to abandon the "no new mines" policy were initiated. [5] In April 2007, the Labor party, under the new leadership of Kevin Rudd voted at their national conference to abandon the policy. The vote was only won by a narrow margin- 205 to 190, and heavy internal criticism resulted. [6] Ministers Peter Garrett and Anthony Albanese remained outspokenly opposed to the decision due to the unresolved problems of nuclear waste storage and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Premier Mike Rann Mike Rann.jpg
Premier Mike Rann

South Australia

South Australia's Premier Mike Rann and treasurer Kevin Foley had lobbied the Federal government to abandon the policy, [7] and Rann reflected on this during his opening address at the 2010 AusIMM International Uranium Conference. Of the Rann Government's role, he said:

"Our support for the exploration and mining of uranium can also be seen in the role we played in having the ALP overturn its "no new uranium mines" policy in 2007. I have to say, it was one of the more difficult tasks that I've been given over the years, but I personally campaigned strongly for that out-dated and illogical policy to be discarded and it has been. It's gone now, for all time." [8]

South Australian Liberal party Senator Nick Minchin supported the lobbying efforts of the Rann government, saying:

"We of course welcome Mr Rann's advocacy of getting rid of one of the most stupid policies the federal Labor Party has ever had." [9]

At a working dinner of the South Australian Minerals & Petroleum Expert Group (SAMPEG), the opening address by the Minister for Mineral Resources Development Paul Holloway responded to the result of the vote. It was recorded in the meeting's minutes thus:

"The narrow vote in the recent scrapping of the no new mines policy made apparent the amount of ignorance there is present regarding uranium. It will now be a challenge for the SAMPEG group to address the lack of knowledge in both the public and government... SAMPEG can now make sure the world is aware that South Australia is open for business in regards to uranium."

At the same meeting, the SAMPEG Chair Dr Ian Gould spoke on uranium. The minutes reflect:

"SAMPEG should consider that the public doesn't understand the industry and members could directly contribute to the continued enhancement of resources information in this state. Information has never been presented in relatively simple terms to the public. A lot of people at a Ministerial level still don't understand uranium. As a group, SAMPEG could play a role in talking to colleagues of Minister Holloway about the uranium business. This could lead to converting those at a Minister level to become ambassadors themselves. The more ambassadors we can bring on board the better off the industry will be." [10]

The abolition of the "no new mines" policy allowed the development of the Honeymoon and Four Mile in-situ leach uranium mines, which officially commenced production in 2011 and 2014 respectively. [11]

State-based uranium mining bans

Individual states continued their ban on uranium mining, however, with Western Australia lifting its six-year-old ban in 2008 after state elections, which saw the Labor Party replaced in government by the Liberal Party. [12] Queensland continues to impose a ban on uranium mining but trade unions have advocated the end of the ban in the hope of uranium mining creating more jobs. [13] Uranium mining remains banned in Victoria and New South Wales, though exploration for uranium is permitted in the latter. Uranium mining is permitted in Tasmania, but no uranium mines have been established there.

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