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    Uranium enters political centrestage: Dryblower

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005
    POLITICS is a dreadful subject because the players are so darned slippery. Good, old-fashioned, greed makes business so much easier to follow. But, later this week the business of mining and politics will collide in what could turn out to be one of brawls of the century because the expected calling of an election in Western Australia will thrust uranium back to Australia's centre stage.

    For the first time in Dryblower's memory three events have coalesced to produce a situation whereby uranium might not be portrayed as a mix of the ultimate evil, and the devil himself, combined into a single metallic element.

    First cab off the rank was last year's the re-election of the Howard Government in Canberra, complete with control of the Senate.

    Second away is what Dryblower believes is one of the most dramatic flip-flops in the history of the western world –large slabs of the environmental world discover that nuclear power actually does less harm to the environment than coal, and that alternative energy sources such a solar and wind are decades away.

    The third shoe which may drop next month is the election of a Howard-friendly government in WA, one which is yet to openly declare that uranium mining is o.k. – but one which may be drawn to that conclusion.

    If the third event does happen, and Dryblower's forecast is in the "may" category, then a situation is created whereby all government approvals can be assured, and it will be up to uranium-resource owners in WA, such as WMC, to declare their hand.

    This, as you can imagine becomes seriously interesting for many reasons. Not only is there the potential for a new political wind to blow through the uranium industry – setting alight an entirely new sector of the stock market. But there is the potential for WMC to play another potent card in its fight against foreign takeover, be it from Xstrata, or another foreigner, such as Rio Tinto.

    However, before allowing his thoughts to drift too far into the WMC/Xstrata situation Dryblower points to the third essential political card to be played, the election of a coalition government in WA.

    On this event, the jury is out. At last year's Federal election Howard romped it in over an inept opposition led by a maverick in Mark Latham who not only shot from the hip, but invariably had his gun pointing at his foot.

    In WA there is a benign Premier in Geoff Gallop who, despite the faults of all school teachers, is seen as a reasonable chap – if only he would grow up and stop treating everyone as if they were in grade three. And then there is an opposition leader in Colin Barnett who not only knows he is smarter than everyone else but can't help telling them, or dismissing them with a dreadful smirk.

    It is for this clash of personalities that Dryblower only rates Barnett a chance of winning, despite Howard's walk in the park against Latham.

    However, should events fall the coalition's way then the scene will be set for a remarkable return by uranium to Australia's political centre.

    In theory, a coalition government in WA removes any impediments to uranium resources such as Yeelirrie getting a development green light because Howard is presumed to be in favour, Barnett is leaning that way, and a big chunk of the environmental lobby is changing sides.

    In practice, it might not be that easy to throw the pro-mining switch for uranium simply because it would be such a change in Australian politics, and significant change always takes time, and politicians need to be convinced that they're on a winner – and uranium is not yet in that category, it's getting closer, but it's not over the line.

    Look ahead gentlemen --
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