Melbourne: Australia's ruling Labor on Sunday voted to overturn a decades-old ban on uranium sale to India, paving the way for Canberra to supply yellowcake to a nation outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Delegates at the 46th national conference of the Labor in Sydney endorsed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's plan to export uranium to India, with 206 of them voting in favour and 185 against.
Gillard, while moving a motion to change the party's policy on the issue, said that clearing the move would boost trade and enhance Australia's ties with India.
"We are at the right time in the history of the world to seize a new era of opportunity in this, the Asian century," she said.
"We need to make sure that across our regions we have the strongest possible relationships we can, including with the world's largest democracy, India," she said.
The landmark policy change came after a fiery debate, with Gillard, who was supported by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, saying that it was not rational that Australia sells uranium to China but not to India.
She also faced opposition from some of her own ministers.
Australia has almost 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves but has not been supplying yellowcake to non-NPT signatories. India has been requesting Canberra for long to overturn it ban on exporting uranium to it.
Labor's move came as anti-uranium protesters demonstrated at Sydney's Darling Harbour Convention Centre, from where they were ejected before the debate went into full swing.
The vote on the issue brought to the fore deep divisions within the Labor, with Transport Minister Anthony Albanese among those opposing any sales to India.
Albanese told the conference that the Labor should not be seeking to expand the uranium export as Japan had witnessed a major nuclear disaster at Fukushima just months back following a massive earthquake and tsunami there.
"I say that until we have resolved the issues of nuclear proliferation and we have resolved the issue of nuclear waste we should not change our platform to further expand our commitment to the nuclear fuel cycle," Albanese said. "I ask you delegates to stick with principle."
He was backed by speakers like former anti-nuclear campaigner Peter Garrett, backbench firebrand Doug Cameron and Left factional convener Stephen Jones.
While moving the motion, Gillard admitted that there were internal differences in the party, but said uranium sale to India was in Australia's national interest.
"We are not a political party that shirks hard decisions," Gillard told conference. "At this conference we should take a decision in the national interest."
She contended that Australia could sell uranium to India without breaching its obligations under the NPT as any agreement in this regard would include strict safeguards to minimise proliferation risks.
The policy change was seconded by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.
Former Prime Minister John Howard had approved uranium sales to India in 2007 but that policy was reversed by the incoming Rudd Government that time, because it was inconsistent with Labor's longtime ban on selling uranium to countries outside the NPT.
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