By Ron Walker, currently a visiting fellow at the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at ANU. Ron is a former DFAT officer who worked for 20 years in Australia's nuclear diplomacy. Among the positions he occupied were the first Head of the Nuclear Safeguards Branch and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency
Besides its collateral damage to Australia's security, commercial and diplomatic interests, the soon-to-be ratified Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement notably fails to meet its objectives.
The aim was to give a green light to Australian uranium exports to India. Two objectives were to be served, one commercial, the other diplomatic. A vast new market was to be opened for Australian uranium exporters and India was to be convinced Australia was a reliable partner, worthy of a closer relationship.
Instead, as has been exposed in the Joint Parliamentary Committee, the Australian side gave away so much in the course of the negotiations on safeguards against nuclear proliferation and left open such loopholes for Australian uranium to end up in bombs or otherwise help their manufacture, that this proposed treaty does not do what Australia's 23 existing nuclear safeguards treaties do.
Unlike them, it does not give Australian exporters legally watertight guarantees that the trade will be subject to effective controls against misuse of the uranium in ways Australian companies neither want nor could afford. So many deficiencies in the proposed treaty have been exposed it amounts at best, not to a greenlight but to a blinking yellow one. Not 'all is guaranteed safe' but 'proceed carefully at your own peril'. And JSCOT's main recommendation is a red light: no uranium exports to be permitted for the foreseeable future.
How Australian companies will respond and what risks they will be prepared to take remains to be seen, but no responsible government would have placed them in this situation.
The Indian Government has every reason to feel it too has been dudded. Instead of a reliable supply, there is a big element of precariousness. As for a demonstration of the Australian Government's trustworthiness as a close partner, the contrary impression is conveyed of a bumbling inability to manage our own end of the deal.