Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 25 September 1997
Page: 8564

Mr TONY SMITH(10.17 a.m.) —In his second reading speech, the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer) made reference to a number of areas of considerable interest to me. I intend to touch on several of those areas in my speech in respect of this omnibus bill, the Foreign Affairs and Trade Legislation Amendment Bill 1997 . In particular, the minister referred to Lucas Heights and the fact that it would be subject to increased international inspection. Recently, the treaties committee visited Lucas Heights and I was privileged to inspect the facility there. We went into the area where the reactor was. It is a very old reactor, of course, and that is why the government has recently announced a replacement research reactor, that facility being a $286 million facility which will replace the existing ANSTO ageing HIFAR reactor.

It was very useful for me to see that facility and to realise the considerable benefit that facility provides to Australia. It was something I was unaware of. In fact, I had some scepticism about the siting of a nuclear reactor in an area adjacent to a large capital city. I was reminded by the director there, and others, that there is a considerable buffer zone around that reactor of something like 1.6 kilometres and I was reminded of the siting of some nuclear reactors of much greater size. For instance, at the Boston Hospital a large nuclear reactor is sitting right in the middle of the hospital.

This reactor, as well as the Lucas Heights reactor, is used considerably in nuclear medicine. That can provide considerable advantages that are continuing to be provided for the benefit and health of Australian people generally, and also in enhancing our status as producing experts in the field who can advise other countries engaging in a nuclear program.

I am not a great supporter of nuclear fission as an energy source, but I understand that various countries have to use this form of energy. I would rather have no nuclear energy, of course—I think most people would—but we are in a society where we accept that we do have this.

The benefits that can be derived from it must not be overlooked. In that respect, I am pleased to hear the announcement of the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr McGauran) about the replacement reactor which will be commissioned in 2005. It will create 800 new jobs during the building phase and, ultimately, the new reactor will be a much safer and more efficient facility in its use and operation. The actual ANSTO reactor contains about seven kilograms of nuclear fuel, as opposed to a typical power reactor which contains about 150 tonnes—not kilograms—of nuclear fuel.

HIFAR is one of 274 research reactors operating around the world and there has been no evidence whatsoever of any adverse impact on the community. There are 180 nuclear medicine centres in Australia performing more than 430,000 diagnostic treatments and tests annually. Almost 80 per cent of these are reactor based and over 50 per cent of the total procedures are for life threatening reasons.

ANSTO is Australia's only producer of radioisotopes, which are used in the detection and treatment of numerous illnesses and medical conditions, including cancer, thyroid and heart disease. Simply put, lives would be lost without a reliable source of radioisotopes. It has to be borne in mind that the half-life of some of these isotopes is such that you could not have these materials imported because you would have to have a large quantity of the material to get it in time to the source where it is needed. Even to send this material from Sydney to Perth means you have to send a much greater quantity because of the half-life of the material.

Overall, while not having turned into an avid nuclear fan overnight, I must admit that the inspection that I, along with other members of the Joint Treaties Committee, had of the facility was a particularly useful one overall.

In relation to the notion of disarmament generally, and the efforts by the government in that regard, I do at the outset commend the present Minister for Foreign Affairs, when in opposition, for his statement that followed the announcement that the French were going to test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific at Mururoa. That was during 1995. In my own electorate of Dickson, I organised a petition which was signed by several thousand people and I delivered it personally to the French embassy in Canberra.

The present foreign minister, then in opposition, took a very innovative and courageous stance against the French testing. Ultimately the former minister for foreign affairs, who took a not so distinguished stand, given the comment that he made in Tokyo, was brought round to the reality that this arrogant behaviour by the French was outrageous. Now, ultimately the French testing ceased. I hope that is for forever, although one can never be sure with the French behaviour in this respect. Certainly, it is something for which I do commend the minister.

The question of landmines, personnel mines, was touched upon by the shadow minister, the member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Brereton). Australia was one of the first countries to support a ban on landmines and is a world leader in de-mining.  It is interesting—in fact, startling—to reflect on the incredible preponderance of landmines in the world. There are 110 million active mines scattered in over 70 countries. There are just as many waiting to swell their numbers, in stockpiles all over the world. The most severely affected countries are Afghanistan, with 10 million mines; Angola, with 15 million; Bosnia-Herzegovina, with six million; Cambodia, with 10 million; Croatia, with six million; Eritrea, with one million; Iraq-Kurdistan, with 10 million; Mozambique, with three million; Somalia, with one million; Sudan, with one million; and Vietnam, with 3.5 million.

There is one landmine for every 16 children in the world, one for every 48 inhabitants of the planet. It is estimated that 800 people are killed by landmines every month and another 1,200 are maimed, totalling about 2,000 victims a month. One person is either maimed or killed by a mine every 20 minutes. Most are civilians and most are killed or injured after hostilities have ended. Nearly one-third of mine victims have at least one limb amputated. In the last 16 years, the International Committee for the Red Cross has manufactured over 100,000 prostheses for over 80,000 amputees in 45 projects in 22 countries. In 1995 alone, 11,262 artificial limbs were manufactured in Red Cross workshops. In January 1997, the Red Cross was running 19 prosthetic-orthotic projects in eight countries, all infested to varying degrees with landmines.

Antipersonnel mines are priced at $US3 to $US30. The cost of neutralising landmines ranges from $300 to $1,000 per mine. Removing the world's 110 million active mines would cost $US33 billion. Experts think that under current conditions it would take more than 1,100 years to clear the entire world of landmines. It is something to bear in mind that in Libya, in northern Africa, there are parts that are still desert—deserted and non-arable—50 years after the end of the war because they are full of landmines. That shows you the extent of the problem. We talk about pollution and we talk about other things but this problem is a major one. It is a massive one.

The lethal nature of mines varies. In Bosnia, for example, each blast kills an average of 0.54 people—I hate to say it that way—and injures 1.4, while in Mozambique 1.45 are killed and 1.27 injured. It is estimated that up to 50 per cent of mine victims die within minutes of the blast and therefore approximately one person dies in the field for every one who makes it to hospital. Also, 28.5 per cent of mine victims lose one or both legs. Of these, 16½ per cent have a single below the knee amputation, nine per cent have a single above the knee amputation and 2.9 per cent lose both legs.

A large number of victims are alone and in isolated places when they are injured, and obviously delays cause exacerbation of already horrendous injuries. Landmines, of themselves, are generally laid in rural areas, far from urban centres and easy means of transport. A large number of victims—peasant farmers, shepherds, nomads, children collecting wood—are alone and isolated when they are injured. Some lie with shattered limbs for hours waiting for help, and many die before help arrives.

Ambulance services are rare and medical evacuation by helicopter is non-existent. During what is generally an arduous trek to hospital by what means are available—camel back, bumpy ride in a truck—death through haemorrhage, gangrene infection and tetanus, in what are largely non-immunised populations, all too often occurs—let alone all of the psychological trauma involved.

Landmine infestation increases the likelihood of waterborne diseases, when access to safe drinking water is cut off; of malnutrition, when mines block access to arable land; and of infectious diseases, because vaccination teams avoid heavily mined areas and because the scarcity of resources and equipment to test blood supplies in mine infested countries means they are not always free from infectious agents, so the increased frequency of blood transfusions favours the spread of various diseases.

For amputees—and this is another terrible statistic—the cost of artificial limbs is prohibitive. The Red Cross estimates that a child's artificial limb should be replaced every six months and an adult's once every three to five years. A child injured at the age of 10, with a life expectancy of another 40 to 50 years, will need 25 appliances during his or her lifetime. Since prostheses cost $US125 each, this amounts to a total of $US3,125. In most countries where the per capita income is between $US10 and $US15 per month, crutches are all amputees can afford—if that, sometimes: just a bit of a stick that is made up.

In Libya, according to a United Nations study, 20 per cent of the total arable land is unusable because of the World War II infestation of mines. A UNHCR study in 1992 found that the majority of Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan mentioned the presence of landmines as their main reason for not returning home.

Those statistics are really quite frightening. The quantity involved and the cost of removing them really makes us all think and makes us aware of the imperative for all of us as parliamentarians to communicate this message to the people of Australia. When we do hear many people complaining about the cost of foreign aid and other things, we ought to tell them of these sorts of statistics and how, in many respects, we do have a duty to try and rid the world of these horrendous things. That also means, in my view, removing them from the calendar of weaponry that should be used.

There was a recommendation in the fifth report of the joint standing committee on this particular area. Since 1941, Australia has made a contribution of $24.5 million to these de-mining activities. In the statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 15 October 1996, Mr Downer referred to a $12 million, three-year de-mining program for Laos and Cambodia and a further three-year $4 million program for Cambodia and Mozambique for 1996-97. This would make Australia one of the major donors to the UN sponsored de-mining and ordnance clearing efforts in the region.

Australia is trying to play its part with respect to the clearance and also in taking initiatives to try to rid this world of these terrible weapons and expose some of the countries who are involved in their manufacture and the enormous conflicts of interests involved—for example, manufacturing them and then manufacturing devices for clearance. It is quite horrendous what is going on in terms of conflict of interest. The countries concerned really have a lot to answer for, and they are generally the ones who have not been involved in the Ottawa conference process. Ultimately, if Ottawa is not going to succeed in effecting a total worldwide ban, then the auspices of the UN must be brought into effect.

All in all, I urge some consideration in relation to these particular matters. I commend the joint committee's report, and its recommendations to eliminate the use of these weapons and also the stockpile, to the House. I think the committee has taken the initiative there. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith made some criticism of the minister but it is to be remembered that the approach of the former minister in relation to this area has been somewhat ambivalent. In a speech to the Evatt Foundation on 7 February 1996 the former minister for foreign affairs said:

. . . however much we wish to see an immediate end to the international scourge of landmines . . . an immediate ban is not achievable.

He went on to say:

Our judgement is nonetheless that . . . an incremental approach is the one most likely to be successful.

The member for Kingsford-Smith said, quite honestly, that until recently many governments had dragged the chain on the landmine issue. This is certainly a criticism levelled at the former Labor government. With regard to Labor's approach in opposition, he said:

It quickly become apparent to me that the landmine issue was something Labor, in government, could have handled much better.

He went on to say:

One must acknowledge that we came to this position late. We did so slowly and many would say, grudgingly, more often than not, arguing why things could not be done.

He finished with the quite candid remark that:

I must accept my share of collective responsibility for an approach in which we lost sight of the most important dimension of foreign policy, the human dimension.

I urge members to consider these matters in the context of the overall remarks by the minister in his second reading speech and I support the legislation.