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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3827


Mr HICKS —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What initiatives has the government pursued in order to end nuclear testing? Can the minister confirm that Australia's efforts in this respect are about to come to a successful conclusion?


Mr DOWNER —I thank the honourable member for his question about an extremely important issue, that of the future of the comprehensive test ban treaty. As honourable members know, the government is strongly opposed to nuclear testing, not just because of the damage that nuclear testing can do but also because of the implications of a continuation of nuclear testing for nuclear proliferation. With that in mind, the government has taken a strong stand against nuclear testing where, in particular, China most recently has conducted nuclear tests. We have been delighted that China has brought its nuclear testing program to an end.

The government also played an active role for a long time in the negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Throughout that process, which lasted about 2½ years, Australia always played a constructive role. It was then a matter of great disappointment to us that the Conference on Disarmament was unable to reach the appropriate consensus on the text for a comprehensive test ban treaty, and there was a general view that the lack of consensus would lead to failure of the treaty to be concluded.

We took the judgment that we should not allow 2½ years of work and overwhelming international support for the text that was negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament simply to be wasted. As a result, the government took the initiative of taking that text to the General Assembly in New York and, over the last couple of weeks, we have been attempting to gain support—not just support but also co-sponsorship—for an Australian resolution in the General Assembly to open the comprehensive test ban treaty text for signature.

I am glad to be able to report to the House that we have been able to get 126 co-sponsors for the Australian resolution, which is an extraordinary number and is slightly more than two-thirds of the members of the United Nations. This Australian resolution will be voted on in the next 24 hours—I assume early tomorrow morning Australia time—in New York, and obviously I am very confident that we will be successful in salvaging the comprehensive test ban treaty.

This is a very important contribution that Australia has been able to make to the cause of banning nuclear testing. We have the support now of all five nuclear weapon states for the Australian resolution. We have all five nuclear weapon states now committed to signing the treaty and committed to the termination of nuclear testing. As a result of Australia's initiative and indeed the work that has been done over quite some years by the Australian delegations in Geneva and in New York, we have made a very valuable contribution to something I know all Australians regard as important—that is, bringing to an end the process of nuclear testing.

We will await tomorrow but, as I said already, I am very confident that the Australian resolution will be supported and that as a result of that we will have made a very substantial contribution to the process of nuclear non-proliferation.