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Wednesday, 25 November 1998
Page: 623

Mrs ELSON —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister inform the House why the Australian government did not support the United Nations resolution entitled `Towards a nuclear-weapons free world: the need for a new agenda', and whether the government has lessened its commitment to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Forde for her question. I recognise her interest in these issues and the interests that many members of the coalition have in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The short answer to the honourable member's question is that this government looks to achieve practical outcomes in foreign policy. We will support proposals that we think will help to advance the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

We did promote the Canberra Commission's report. I presented it to the United Nations General Assembly, I presented it to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, and it was circulated to all relevant foreign ministries—just about all foreign ministries—around the world. One of the conclusions of the Canberra Commission's report—which I suspect on the opposition side has only been read by the member for Holt, the man whom the Labor Party wants to hold an inquiry into now—was that the nuclear weapons states themselves had to act to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The truth is that action has been taken in the right direction. During the course of this decade, the United States and Russia have halved their holdings of nuclear weapons. We have high expectations that the Russian Duma will ratify the START II agreement so that START II will come into force and START III will be under way as well.

But we have been doing more than that. We have been out there promoting the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. The achievements of the Australian government in bringing to life that treaty will stand as one of the great monuments to non-proliferation by Australia. We are also in the process of promoting the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and I have very great optimism that, during the course of next year, a treaty can be concluded in the Conference on Disarmament.

The new agenda proposal put forward by a number of countries has many features that are attractive, but it is an agenda which is ill-defined. It includes, for example, the proposal for an international conference on disarmament and the elimination of nuclear weapons. Frankly, we believe that to hold such a conference now would complicate the work being done to promote the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and to conclude the further signatories of the comprehensive test-ban treaty.

There are some people of goodwill in this parliament who support the new agenda proposal and I recognise, in many cases, their goodwill. But I have gone to the trouble to find out where the Labor Party stands on this issue. I could find no reference at all to where the Labor Party stood on the new agenda. It has done no policy work whatsoever on this important issue. They set up the Canberra Commission and, since then, they have done absolutely nothing. They are a policy vacuum on one of the key issues that the international community is facing.

But then I hesitated because I did find that the Labor Party had done something. A few weeks ago they supported a resolution in the Senate promoting the new agenda. But did the Labor Party put up the motion? No, Senator Margetts did. So the Labor Party's policy in so far as it exists is written by none other than Senator Margetts.