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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4349

Mr HOLLIS (10:20 PM) —On this most serious topic it is pleasing that in what some people call a robust chamber, where we so strongly disagree on so many issues, we can really speak this evening on this issue with, if you like, one voice. I think that might say something about the strength of feeling on this topic and, indeed, about us as members of parliament. This nuclear test ban treaty is the cornerstone of international security and Australia has played an important role in this. I do appreciate the need that some people feel for security and how people feel threatened, but I do feel that there has been an overreaction in some quarters. I do congratulate not only the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer) at the table but also the preceding foreign minister, Mr Gareth Evans, as well. They have both worked diligently on this and they both bring to this topic not only a lot of experience but also deep feeling.

Just when we thought the world had finally come to its senses and understood the absolute destruction of civilisation as we know it that can be wrought by nuclear weaponry, over the past couple of weeks the world has seen two nations explode nuclear devices. The debate over the comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty legislation before us provides a timely opportunity for Australia to once again indicate to the rest of the world that we strongly oppose the testing and use of nuclear weaponry by any country.

Australia, under both political parties, has been a key player in the adoption of this treaty and we can be proud of our longstanding record on disarmament issues. It is therefore extremely disappointing that we have seen the explosion of nuclear weapons by India and now, over the last few days, by Pakistan—nuclear weapons explosions by two nations in this part of the world. India and Pakistan have been playing macho games, trying with all their might to outdo one another in the testing of nuclear weaponry. Both nations have fundamentally thumbed their noses at international opinion and now both nations face the prospect of biting sanctions on economic, political, diplomatic and military fronts.

It is a matter of great tragedy that two countries within Asia, notwithstanding their great promise, have turned their backs on their own people and diverted hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and produce nuclear weaponry. Both India and Pakistan are, as the Prime Minister justifiably related last week in media reports, dirt poor countries. Both countries have huge populations with enormous social problems. Both countries are struggling to feed, water and shelter their people and to ensure that even basic health standards are maintained and developed for their huge populations. Yet this overriding need of their own people is ignored to develop and produce nuclear weapons. The leadership of both India and Pakistani governments, I am reduced to say, have their priorities mangled and confused.

I saw a cartoon by Prior over the weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald which really put this issue into perspective. It is in deep contrast to the television images we have seen of jumping, excited Indians and Pakistanis greeting another test explosion and their political leadership revelling in the so-called `glory'. The cartoon showed a woman with three small, thin children hanging off her back and shoulders squatting amongst smoke and ruins. There was no sign of relief on her face that her government had successfully tested a nuclear weapon; she was not up dancing with joy or excitement—in fact, as Prior captured it, her face revealed more of the same hunger, pain and poverty which have always been her lot in life. I get a little tired and cynical whenever a government in a poverty-stricken nation sounds off with such pride that they have tested nuclear weapons.

There is no greater supporter of Australia's foreign aid program in this parliament than I. I support Australia making a contribution to improve the living standards of our neigh bours, be they here in our own backyard or in other troubled continents of the world. I, like, I suspect, all members of parliament, cop the usual questions about looking after our own before we look to others. I defend our aid program because it is right, it is principled and it is absolutely appropriate that Australia as a first world nation should contribute to the improvement of the living standards of people in other nations. It does become difficult, even for great supporters of aid contributions, to continually defend these contributions when nations like India and Pakistan—dirt poor—use their resources to develop weapons of absolute destruction. I have absolutely no argument with the stand the foreign minister took on this issue.

Periodically I get information from the Iraq Embassy—nice, neat tables of statistics indicating the suffering of many people of Iraq, particularly children. Yet Iraq has squandered resources to develop nuclear and chemical weapons and took the world to the brink of military action again quite recently. Only good commonsense and the leadership of the United Nations Secretary-General averted retracing the steps of Desert Storm after the war of 1991. There are so many nations with nuclear capacity in the world: the big five—the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China—and of course the would-be nations like Israel, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya. And now we have India and Pakistan wrapped into the bargain.

It is also interesting that nations that explode nuclear weapons often call immediately for peace initiatives once they have done the deed. In the weekend media there were endless reports about the government of India wanting peace talks and the immediate convening of the conference on disarmament. It seems to me all just a little too late and a little too clever by half. India showed no sign of willingness to sign or ratify the test ban treaty and Pakistan indicated that her actions would be conditional on those of India. Now there are calls for convening yet another talkfest.

In all my years in the parliament, I have never before been critical of India. But as someone who has enormous affection for India and who recognises the potential of India, I am appalled at what it has done. This is not the way. You in India have so much; there is no need for this. I also believe that a true friend of India, which I believe I am, will tell you when you are wrong. Some years ago I was part of the group of members of parliament that went to Tahiti to protest about what the French were doing in that part of the world. Again today I protest very strongly about what India and Pakistan are involved in.

It is good that we can approach this issue in a bipartisan manner. We recognise the tremendous contribution of the former foreign minister under the Labor government and the current foreign minister. I am very pleased to be associated with this legislation before the House.