[Australia Mining History] French nuclear test tensions threatened Olympic Dam expansion plans, declassified Cabinet documents reveal – by Peter Jean (The Advertiser – December 31, 2017)


IT WAS a government destined to be swept from power at the 1996 election. Prime Minister Paul Keating was focused on the Working Nation program to kickstart the economy and negotiating a defence treaty with Indonesia. Other issues — including public outrage over French nuclear testing in the South Pacific — became thorns in the Government’s side.


KANGAROO meat and other exports to Europe could be jeopardised if Australia took a hard line against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, the Keating cabinet feared in 1995. A ban on uranium exports to France could also have put at risk a potential $1 billion expansion of South Australia’s Olympic Dam.

The resumption of underground nuclear testing in French Polynesia sparked boycotts of French businesses in Australia and plunged the Labor government into a diplomatic and political crisis.

Mr Keating recalled Australia’s Ambassador from Paris and suspended some defence co-operation with France, including ship visits and training arrangements.

In a May cabinet submission ahead of the nuclear tests, Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans and Pacific Island Affairs Minister Gordon Bilney warned that Australia’s interests could be damaged if the Government overreacted.

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