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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4347

Mr NUGENT (10:08 PM) —I am pleased to rise in this debate on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Bill 1998 , which has obviously assumed a largely bipartisan approach. I was pleased to see that that tone was set by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Brereton) and carried in large measure by subsequent speakers, although I must say that I was a little disappointed to hear the member for Denison (Mr Kerr) suggest that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer), who is at the table, might be resiling from our pursuit of the CTBT and associated matters. Of course that is not the case, and I congratulate the minister on his actions to date.

It is interesting that the first nuclear test occurred on 17 July 1945—more than 50 years ago, but within the lifetime of, if not most, certainly a large number of members of this chamber. The second explosion was about three weeks later at Hiroshima, which killed between 70,000 and 130,000 people. Three days after that there was another explosion at Nagasaki, which killed 45,000 people. It is those statistics that we need to stop and think about from time to time to remind us about why this is such an important topic.

It is good news that, after those two explosions, we have never seen nuclear weapons used in war again. But there have been approximately 2,000 nuclear tests since that time, including 12 British tests here in Australia between 1952 and 1954. And we went through all that long period of the Cold War where nuclear weapons were the `deterrent' that stopped further world-wide conflagration. Recently, of course, we have seen a number of other nuclear controversies over testing by China and more recently by France in the South Pacific. Over many years, all of this has led to a lot of calls for banning nuclear testing.

The CTBT was open for signature on 24 September 1996. We have heard that that there was groundwork done by the previous government, and that was carried on under the auspices of the present foreign minister. The CTBT was signed by the United States, the UK, Russia, France and China—amongst the nuclear nations—and by Australia. The treaty enters into force either 180 days after some 44 signatory countries have ratified it or two years—whichever is later. France and the United Kingdom have already ratified, and I understand that we are likely to ratify this year. The purpose of the bill we are debating tonight is to give effect to Australia's obligations as a party to the CTBT. The treaty bans for all time the carrying out of nuclear weapons tests. It provides for a stringent verification regime, for the establishment and operation of Australian monitoring stations and for a number of other detailed measures.

In an earlier life when I was in the military—quite a number of years ago—I received training and exposure to films and other information about the ramifications of nuclear weapons. What I saw and learnt then was quite horrifying. When I learnt it as a young man in the military, I would have to say that I believe we thought it was a real prospect that it might occur—and that really was quite terrifying. As years have gone by and the prospect of nuclear conflagration has diminished, we have seen an exposure to the general population as to what nuclear weapons might bring through television, mass communications and other ways. Generally there is a total acceptance throughout most of the civilised world that it must not be allowed to come to that.

In this country we are aware of the residue of the British tests here in Australia. We have seen that in some of the ongoing legal battles here in Australia, particularly in South Australia, with the British government seeking to make good the damage that was done and some compensation for the residents, particularly indigenous people in South Australia. We are aware of the French tests in the Pacific and we are currently very much aware of the front page news in respect of India and Pakistan and the tests which they have conducted—and a number of previous speakers have alluded to those tests.

I had the opportunity to visit India and Pakistan in 1996 as part of a parliamentary delegation, and I know that the minister has been there since. One of the better analyses I have come across amongst much of the media coverage in the last few days was in an article in today's Australian by Professor Amin Saikal. He talked at some length, but he made the point that Pakistan's economy is on the verge of bankruptcy and that its society is in the grip of deep social divisions, expanding sectarian violence, widespread corruption—both at government and non-government organisational level—and that it is noted for its human rights violations as well as for its extensive lack of law and order and political instability. It seems to me that in that environment you run into the problem where governments are inclined to look for external matters to raise in order to paper over the internal problems and to get the populace to focus on nationalistic issues.

Of course, one could say much the same thing about India. Although India is allegedly a strong democratic country, it has gone through a number of governments in short order, often minority governments. It has appalling poverty to deal with, and so it is a fact of history that governments throughout the ages, given a situation where they have had problems at home, have tended to try to divert attention to the wider or external issues that confront those countries.

When I was in India and Pakistan we as a delegation actually raised with both the Indian government and the Pakistani government the subject of CTBT because it was at a time when we were leading up to the vote on it and the commitment in the United Nations. There was a total non-acceptance of the view that Australia was putting forward. From the highest levels of government down to the man in the street, it was quite clear that there was strong support for the sort of action which the governments of India and Pakistan have taken today. There is no question in my mind that there is popular support in both of those countries.

I find it incredible that there are resources for developing a nuclear capability and, potentially, nuclear weapons and their delivery systems in countries that have such appalling poverty. It is almost incomprehensible. But there is a strong nationalistic spirit. We have seen the pictures on television of the dancing in the streets and so on. That is representative of the attitude in those countries.

What worries me is that we are not only talking about a potential escalation of problems between India and Pakistan or—of course, the trigger might well be there—the Kashmir problem; and we are looking at a long history of enmity between the two countries, going back to when they were first formed and to subsequent events and wars. It seems to me also that there is a real problem with those two countries in terms of escalating the potential nuclear strife in other areas as well. For example, Pakistan has exploded its bomb fairly close to Afghanistan and it has sided very much with one side of the civil war in Afghanistan. It has perhaps issued something of a threat, de facto to places like Iran and certainly to some of those central Asian republics that have become independent since the USSR broke up. One can see some potential concerns there and one can see that some of those countries under the Russian nuclear umbrella might well look to their own defensive positions. India, of course, has concerns in respect of China and its nuclear capability. As one of the previous speakers mentioned, there may even be a flow-through from the Middle East on to Israel.

So it seems to me that we are not only debating tonight our concerns about India and Pakistan in that sense but talking about the potential spread of that damage, that potential danger, through far wider regions. Therefore, the only real way that we are going to deal with this problem is to implement things like the CTBT. It is through the United Nations—through all nations of the world coming together—that we are going to deal with this problem and we are going to apply pressure to some of those nations that may not otherwise willingly come to the table and fall into line in getting rid of their nuclear capability and nuclear weapons. I think it is important that the United States, China and Russia ratify and set an example in terms of this treaty. I would also like to see them go further and start to eliminate some of their stockpiles.

I think it is important that India and Pakistan start talking and not testing. For our part, we must continue to be active participants in the international debate. I know the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the table will do that and he is to be congratulated on his efforts to date. I am sure he will pursue that vigorously in the future because it is important that we go down that line. A continuing step in that process is passing this legislation tonight and I commend the bill to the House.