Aussie media lobbies for uranium for India

Aussie media lobbies for uranium for India

Slamming Prime Minister Julia Gillard's foreign policy as "obsolete and discredited", a writer in The Australian has contended that it is prejudicing Australia's ties with India, the emerging third-biggest economy in the world.

"That the ALP (Australian Labour Party) ... should continue to impair Australia's economic and strategic interests is intolerable. If this situation continues uncorrected at the December national conference then Gillard should be held to account for allowing Labour's atiquated obsessions about uranium and nuclear power to prevent Australia from following an India policy that its ministers know is desirable and inevitable," wrote Paul Kelly, the paper's editor-at-large.

Kelly quoted Rory Medcalf of the Lowy Institute, a think tank, as saying: "A decision to stick with the old policy (of not selling uranium to India) will convince India's political elite that Labour is never going to be a natural partner for a rising India."

Kelly wrote: "Consider the facts. Australia exports uranium yellowcake to China, Japan, South Korea, the US, Taiwan and several European countries... (Hence) there is no justification, strategic or economic, for the ban (on selling to India)."

The ban was imposed by the Kevin Rudd government in 2008, reversing an earlier decision by the previous Howard government.

The Australian media sees Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's absence at the ongoing Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) as a clear snub to Australia over its no-uranium-for-India policy.

Kelly quoted Labour Senator Stephen Loosley, described as a foreign affairs specialist, as saying: "The Indians have sent a clear and unambiguous message at Perth,. They regard this issue as important to them."

He again quoted Medcalf to say that "New Delhi does not immediately need our uranium but responds to Labour's ban with 'frustration and bafflement'. The situation is so bad that Australia, in Medcalf's words, 'refuses even to talk' to India about uranium exports."

In another piece, titled 'Empty chair at CHOGM shows India policy hurdle', Greg Sheridan, The Australian's foreign editor wrote: "...We only need to look to India, as the world's most populous democracy, to realise that for all the fashionable dogma about colonialism, the spread of democratic institutions has been beneficial for people in countries where they have been properly administered.

"Despite enormous challenges, India continues to lift millions of people out of poverty as it modernises its economy and asserts itself as an international power. Just as India represents the greatest weight of the Commonwealth, and perhaps the strongest manifestation of its ideals, so the absence of its Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, from Perth delivers the sharpest blow to CHOGM."

He went on to add: "If this summit is to affirm its relevance it must attract engagement from India. Julia Gillard will be privately disappointed at this snub, which cannot be divorced from the pallid state of Australia's broader relationship. Over many decades Australia did not place sufficient emphasis on this relationship. John Howard belatedly recognised this and, after his second visit, in 2006, sought to elevate the bond.

"One important initiative in this process was agreeing to export uranium to India. On coming to power, Kevin Rudd also saw the potential and visited New Delhi. But Labor overturned the export decision because India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This, together with attacks in Melbourne on Indian students, soured the relationship. The figuratively empty chair in Perth (India has sent its vice-president) emphasises the urgent need to repair this relationship. Ms Gillard should endorse former South Australia premier Mike Rann's call to change Labor policy on uranium exports."

Noting that "India is a responsible nuclear power and vibrant democracy facing massive energy needs", he said: "The move will help achieve the aim of minimising global carbon emissions, aside from the benefits in boosting our trade and strategic relationship. Bonding with India should be a top foreign policy priority and should not be held hostage to the Labor Party's feel-good anti-uranium symbolism."

The last Indian prime minister to visit Australia, the media noted, was prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.

Though media reports say that Vice President Hamid Ansari, who is leading the Indian delegation to CHOGM in Manmohan Singh's absence, will take up the matter of uranium exports in his meeting with Gillard on Sunday, officials say this is not likely.

Indian High Commissioner Sujata Singh told reporters here that "Australia has a stated position on uranium exports... and we will not bring up the matter till that position changes".

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