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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 519


Mr TIM FISCHER(4.13) —I must take issue with the honourable member for Phillip (Ms McHugh) in relation to just some of her comments on this important Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill. I do respect her strength of feeling on matters nuclear and her decision to specialise in this area and to follow it through at great length. But I believe the House has just been treated to a somewhat emotional and blinkered vision in respect of the nuclear question, with particular reference to the operation of the establishment at Lucas Heights. For example, the honourable member for Phillip failed to mention the extensive role fulfilled by the Lucas Heights establishment in the provision across Australia of isotopes to carry out essential medical work such as cancer treatment and examinations of patients. This is a role which is much valued by thousands of Australians. Indeed, it is a role which is saving Australia from importing these isotopes, although, even so, we still have to import some. It is a role which has saved lives in Australia; and it is one which should be properly highlighted for balance.

I know the honourable member for Phillip is a very reasonable member who likes to examine questions in detail. I therefore know that she would want me to point out to the House a balancing item in respect of her reference to Lucas Heights and to highlight to Australia the fact that Lucas Heights plays a vital role in facilitating medical examinations across Australia and medical treatment for certain cancers and the like with the isotopes and starters which are made there. I might add that the proximity of Lucas Heights to Mascot airport is also significant in this regard because the life of some of these isotopes is very limited indeed. They require to be moved quite quickly from Lucas Heights to Mascot and then to be flown to other capital cities around Australia where they are then issued to the hospitals-all under the stringent safety requirements associated with the movement of these isotopes. This would be much more difficult if, for argument's sake, the Lucas Heights establishment were to be located at Darnick in the electorate of my colleague the honourable member for Riverina-Darling (Mr Hicks), between Ivanhoe and Broken Hill, which was a site that was briefly considered by the New South Wales State Labor Government for the disposal of Hunters Hill radioactive soil some years ago. Similarly, it would be much more difficult if the establishment were to be located at Pooncarie in the western end of my electorate of Farrer, near the South Australian border, or some other location. There are good and proper reasons for the operational location of the Lucas Heights establishment in terms of the production of these isotopes, and I think it is only fair that the House be reminded of these in its consideration of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill.

The honourable member for Phillip also referred to the need for a trade union delegate on the Board. I point out that the Bill provides that:

The Board shall consist of the Executive Director and not fewer than 2 nor more than 6 other members.

To my knowledge it does not specifically provide for such an appointment. It is merely the honourable members' hope that the Government will appoint a trade union representative. I suppose that is fair enough. It is my hope that the Government will also appoint someone from the medical field who is involved fundamentally with the work of Lucas Heights in the provision of isotopes so that that aspect can be properly represented on the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation which, as honourable members would know, is to replace the existing Australian Atomic Energy Commission and which will provide new directions for Australia's number one nuclear body.

Considering all the matters associated with this Bill-to which the coalition is not opposed but in respect of which certain amendments have been brought forward-I would like also to highlight to the House that despite or perhaps because of all that happened at Chernobyl, a tragedy that must register with every nation in the world, during 1986 21 new nuclear reactors were connected to electricity grids in various countries. That brings about a world total of 394 nuclear power reactors providing about 15 per cent of the world's electricity. Perhaps I should also say to the House that some countries, such as France, now generate the majority of their electricity through nuclear power. It now has to be said that France, which has had a socialist President for the last few years, has gone on with a very strong expansion program in respect of its nuclear reactors for the reason that it has no other choice.

If the world were perfect, if the availability of resources in terms of coal and other fossil fuels was such that we could get by without nuclear power, that would be an optimal thing. But we must be realistic. If France and West Germany denied themselves nuclear power, in the recent freezes thousands of Europeans would have died as a direct consequence of the cold. There would have been a complete breakdown in the energy infrastructure of both those countries. One has to be realistic enough to recognise that nuclear power is here to stay and that the world has to be very careful indeed in utilising nuclear power in all its facets. I appeal for some balance, common sense and a realistic approach in considering nuclear energy, and indeed all questions relating to nuclear issues. Though I do not want to see one more test of a nuclear bomb in the southern hemisphere, or for that matter elsewhere, one must look at the question in a balanced way. I reiterate my strong commitment to peace through security.

I wish to focus on clause 5 (1) (d) of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill. It states that the Organisation's functions are:

. . . to act as a means of liaison between Australia and other countries in matters related to its activities.

This in many ways is the international dimension of the Bill. To some extent the Organisation will have a monitoring and advisory role to the Government of the day-to the Minister for Science and other Ministers in the Cabinet-in relation to all matters nuclear. During the summer recess-sadly, across the Christmas week period-I had the privilege to travel to Antarctica for the first time, as part of an all-party group of four members of parliament, with my colleagues the honourable member for Banks (Mr Mountford), the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) and the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Nehl) to see first hand the Antarctic environment. We had wide-ranging discussions with the scientists on questions relating not only to the Antarctic environment but also to the sub-Antarctic environment.

Until my visit, I had always thought that I, along with the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Snow), represented a part of Australia that is our highest mountain. However, I have to tell the House that Mount Kosciusko is not Australia's highest mountain; that Big Ben on Heard Island, a territory of Australia between Perth and Antarctica, is higher. I have no plans to climb Big Ben, even though I climbed Mount Kosciusko in January again for the third time as part of a very successful Tumbatrek tourist promotion of Tumbarumba Shire Council. I commend the climb to members and staff, a number of whom have on occasions climbed Mount Kosciusko. It is a wonderful experience, and one sees splendid vistas associated with the western side of Kosciusko National Park, and especially the walk out from the top of the mountain down direct to Geehi. That route avoids one having to drive on the shocking Alpine Way between Thredbo and Khancoban on the western side. There is a great deal for the tourist there.

However, not to digress from the Bill, I would point out that Heard Island is very close to the Kerguelens, and Kerguelen Island in particular, which is French territory. The reason arises from historical events and is associated with the visit of Dumont d'Urville to that area many years ago. The four members of Parliament who travelled to Antarctica comprised the largest delegation to travel by sea to that area ever. We travelled on the MV Icebird, a German ship chartered by the Antarctic Division. I welcome to the gallery of the House Mr Gunther Schulz who owns the MV Icebird and is involved in considering all aspects of the transport problems between Australia and Antarctica and the reasons we must facilitate that transport. If we do not do so the Territory and its servicing will fall apart.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute not only to those on the Icebird and the Nella Dan, but also to the very dedicated Australians who serve the Antarctic Division of the Department of Science in Antarctica in the four permanent bases, Casey, Davis and Mawson and Macquarie Island, and in the various summer camps. They carry out most important work mainly of a scientific nature in maintaining our presence in Antarctica. I have nothing but praise for this commitment and dedication.

One of the works associated with that scientific thrust of our efforts in that area relates to meteorology and monitoring the atmosphere and radiation. The ways in which this work is carried out in the ground stations in that area could not be done through the use of satellites. Kerguelen Island is alongside the Heard Island territory where a summer camp was established this year again. This points to our interest in Antarctica. More significantly I would highlight to the House that so much of our weather, especially for the southern half of Australia, comes from the circle of atmospheric lows which surround Antarctica, there being more or less a permanent atmospheric high sitting right on the South Pole and then a series of lows around the continent-a continent that is about twice Australia's size. There is an average thickness of one kilometre of ice sitting on Antarctica.

I come to the thrust of the matter concerning this Bill. If the French Government starts carrying out any form of nuclear testing on Kerguelen Island, it would do so at great risk to the sub-Antarctic environment, to the environment of Antarctica and to the polar cap, and to the risk of all Australians who would suffer from any massive radiation spill, given the prevailing winds from Kerguelen Island, located some 3,200 kilometres south-west of Perth. I am utterly and totally opposed to the French Government in any way developing its scientific station on the Kerguelens to facilitate the testing of atomic weapons or bombs in any shape or form. I do not equivocate on this matter, and I might add that the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock), and my coalition colleagues are of the same mind. It is high time that the French got out of the southern hemisphere in terms of their nuclear testing. It is high time that the French declared absolutely that they will not commence testing on the Kerguelens located to the south-west of our continent.

I would seek to draw the attention of the House to some of the reasons why we are justified in fearing the intentions of the French. Dr Abraham Behar, who is a biophysics professor at the Curie Institute in Paris, said recently that 22 years of nuclear weapons testing at Mururoa in the South Pacific have seriously damaged the atoll's volcanic base and that they are now looking for other areas. He said:

. . . informants in the French army and scientists from its nuclear program believe that a move was imminent-either to another isolated Polynesian atoll or to the south-Antarctic Kerguelen Islands, south west of Western Australia.

In addition, the possibility of atomic tests on the Kerguelens was first raised as early as 1961 when it was reported that France was planning to explode her first hydrogen bomb on the Kerguelens, which was headed off at that time. Subsequently, France established a scientific station on the Kerguelens with 100 people, and in 1981 the French weekly magazine VSD said the French nuclear testing would switch to the Kerguelens sometime after 1985. I can only say again that we must reject absolutely any French Government intentions to utilise the Kerguelens for atomic testing and the Federal Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the range of other departmental weaponry should be utilised to ensure that the French do not proceed with this development in the Kerguelens.

I warn the House that, as has been pointed out in a comprehensive article recently in the West Australian, there is a school of thought to the effect that the ultimate location of French testing will be the Kerguelens. I believe that the new Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, under this charter to act as a means of liaison between Australia and other countries in matters related to its activities, should also take a forefront role in seeking to preclude the French from proceeding with nuclear testing on the Kerguelens. Australia recently sent a visiting team to the area. I believe it needs to continue to send such teams. Under the Antarctic Treaty, we have a capability of visiting adjoining stations, especially those on the continent itself, such as some of the Russian stations, to carry out mutual visits and inspections to see that those stations are being used entirely for scientific purpose and endeavour and not for any military or nuclear purpose.

Nuclear testing of any kind which took place in the Antarctic proper, or the sub-Antarctic, as I said a moment ago, could lead to a massive change in the make-up of the polar shelf. It could lead to a massive meltdown of the huge amount of ice in Antarctica. If that were to happen, it could affect the electorates of those members who represent coastal seats, because the level of the sea could be permanently altered by such a meltdown. Whilst I know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would not want me to dwell unduly on this topic, because the contents of the Bill relate specifically to the setting up of ANSTO, I felt it was my duty to point out to the House at this most appropriate opportunity the real fears and the real dangers associated with atomic testing on Kerguelen Island and to spell out to the House the need for the Australian Government, through all its organisations concerned with this question, to oppose the French all the way in respect of their developing any capability for nuclear testing to the south west of Australia.

I join my colleagues in their comments on the Bill and in respect of the proposed amendments to the Bill regarding the setting up of this Organisation. In conclusion, I say to the House that Australia should be mindful, in all its legislation, particularly in terms of agriculture, that not only does much of our weather research take place in the Antarctic area, but also a lot of other good work is being carried out there in regard to our future environment, including glaciology work. Drilling of the polar ice cap is revealing the state of the atmosphere of the earth 200, 400, 600 and 800 years ago. It shows that we had a much cleaner atmosphere and a very low proportion of carbon dioxide many years ago. But since the Industrial Revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the percentage of carbon dioxide has risen rapidly, and there is the so-called greenhouse effect. In addition, work is being done by some very dedicated scientists and their assistants on moss beds. They are looking particularly at the skin of the moss which, in turn, has important relevance to developing breeds and varieties of wheat, oats and barley whose skin might be more resistant to frost damage, utilising the mechanism of the skin of the moss in the way it keeps out the permafrost which occurs in so much of Antarctica.

In regard to the legislation that is before the House, and the setting up of this Organisation, I hope that the new Organisation will be very conscious of its function under clause 5 (1) (d) and that it will act as a proper means of liaison between Australia and other countries to ensure that nuclear testing is not developed around the perimeter of Australia and, least of all, on the French territories known as Kerguelen Island.