This document, prepared in August 1977, is from former prime minister Malcolm Fraser’s personal papers. It is evident from the changes pasted over the original text and those added in blue pen that he made amendments while finalising the statement. The document explains the conditions included in the Australian Government’s decision to allow Australian uranium to be mined and exported.
- Uranium is a naturally occurring chemical element (like silver or gold) which is found in rocks, soils, rivers and oceans. To extract it miners must first create a large pit by blasting and drilling away 'overburden’ – the ecosystem covering or surrounding a uranium deposit. The uranium is then used for producing electricity through nuclear power reactors, as well as for diagnosing and treating certain medical conditions, for scientific research and in nuclear weapons.
- Australia possesses large uranium resources – approximately one-third of the total known reserves worldwide. Many of these resources are concentrated in or around the area of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, which is recognised as a World Heritage site for its unique natural and cultural value.
- The Australian Government established the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry in 1976 to look into whether Australia should mine and export uranium. The report of this inquiry informed the decision to allow the further development of uranium mining in Australia.
- Environmental groups were concerned about the environmental destruction caused by mining uranium, particularly given the extensive clearance of soil and vegetation that is required to access uranium deposits. The Ranger and Jabiluka uranium sites, where mining commenced as a result of the 1977 decision, are both surrounded by Kakadu National Park but do not technically fall within its protected area as they were specifically excluded when the park was created in 1981.
- Uranium mining has also been controversial due to the threat of nuclear proliferation. At the time of Malcolm Fraser’s (1930–) decision to allow uranium mining and export, Australia was already a signatory to international agreements on non-proliferation. However, it was still feared that Australian uranium may end up in nuclear weapons if it was exported.
- The Australian Government decision provided that consultation with Aboriginal traditional owners of the land had to take place before any mines could be established. Although Indigenous leaders eventually agreed to the mining operations at Ranger and Jabiluka, many have since questioned how fair the process of negotiation was.