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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 549


Mr BRAITHWAITE(9.03) —The Opposition supports the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill 1986. The Bill implements policies which the Opposition strongly supports and which have been developed by previous governments as well as by this Government. Australia's commitment to non-proliferation has been enshrined in a number of international agreements. They are the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and our agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, both under the nuclear non-proliferation regime and Australia's bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements.

The purpose of this legislation is to give effect in Australia's domestic law to Australia's international obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Bill addresses the international obligations arising under the nuclear non-proliferation regime, specifically in the Non-Proliferation Treaty ratified by Australia in 1973, and the statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the instrument which enforces the obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty throughout the world. It also gives effect in Australian domestic law to the bilateral safeguards agreements in respect of the export of Australian uranium oxide or yellowcake.

Although Australia has been a prominent supporter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime for many years and is a member of the governing council of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and although we have the Atomic Energy Agency and all the bilateral safeguards Bills pioneered by the Fraser Government, so far we have been able to get by under this international regime without legislation of the kind that is now before us, and we have been able to satisfy those international obligations. Indeed, the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) in his second reading speech said that this approach has been successful and there has never been the slightest suggestion from the bilateral partner or from IAEA that Australia has not complied with its nuclear safeguards obligations. One must ask why-I do not think the Minister for Resources and Energy has said why-it is necessary to have this legislation on the books.

The Government may feel it is desirable for political reasons. The Opposition does not oppose the legislation because it gives effect to policies supported by the Opposition. But there is a tendency for the Government to believe that there are some benefits per se in passing legislation. Certainly the Minister for Resources and Energy, who is in charge of this Bill, is a great proponent of the belief in legislation for its own sake. I do not know whether this legislation is in that category. I would like some further explanation from the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones), who is at the table, as to why we are putting on the statute books a long, complicated and difficult piece of legislation which contains draconian penalties.

As I said, the principal purpose of this legislation is to give effect in Australian domestic law to Australia's international obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons prohibits the transfer by the nuclear weapons States to any recipient whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It prohibits the assistance, encouragement and inducement of any non-nuclear weapons state to manufacture or otherwise acquire such weapons or devices. It prohibits the receipt by non-nuclear weapons states from any transferor whatsoever, as well as the manufacture or other acquisition by those states of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

Under the Treaty, non-nuclear weapons states undertake to conclude safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency-IAEA-with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful purposes to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The International Atomic Energy Agency is the watchdog and policeman of this regime throughout all the nations which are parties to it. The signatories also undertake to facilitate the exchange of equipment, material and scientific and technological information for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to ensure that potential benefits from peaceful applications of nuclear explosions will be made available to non-nuclear weapons parties to the Treaty. The parties undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.

In short, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is an agreement under which signatory non-nuclear weapons states, in exchange for access to peaceful nuclear technology, undertake not to develop nuclear weapons. The purpose of this Treaty is to prevent the diversion of nuclear material from use for peaceful purposes to the development of nuclear weapons. The international importance of this regime, if not almost universally acknowledged, certainly should be. Unfortunately, as we know, a number of nations are not parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Obviously, the more nations which sign this Treaty and which can keep control over the nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes, the more likely it is that the nuclear non-proliferation regime will be successful.

As I have said, the Opposition supports the Bill that is before the House. The Bill gives legislative effect to our safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Under this agreement a safeguards system has been established whereby all nuclear material within Australia is controlled and accounted for by the Australian Safeguards Office, which reports to the IAEA. The IAEA, for its part, verifies the reports by regular inspections of nuclear material held in Australia. This system is designed to verify the performance of international obligations. The legislation also gives effect in Australian domestic law to the bilateral safeguards agreement in respect of the export of Australian uranium oxide or yellowcake. The Government permits exports of Australian uranium only to countries with which Australia has a bilateral safeguards agreement. These agreements provide a detailed set of safeguard requirements designed to provide assurance not only that uranium of Australian origin remains in the civil nuclear fuel cycle, but also that Australia can at all times account for it. This is achieved by ensuring that the safeguards requirements apply to all transfers, processing and use of Australian uranium or uranium derived material. In addition to the safeguards agreement of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Australia now has 11 bilateral safeguards agreements. These agreements were pioneered by the Fraser Government and will be continued and developed by the coalition parties when we are returned to office at the next election.


Mr Maher —Ha, ha!


Mr BRAITHWAITE —I am glad that some note is being taken of this by members on the other side of the House. It is rather interesting that there are only three members on the Labor benches who appear to have an interest in this matter.

The international non-proliferation regime does not begin at the uranium mining stage. In other words, it does not apply to the monitoring and checking of yellowcake production and sale. But our own bilateral safeguards agreements require that control, even at the production stage. It is a condition of our export of uranium under those agreements that these safeguard arrangements should apply. They give an added dimension to the safety and control of the nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes in which Australia participates by the mining, milling and export of uranium. Thus these bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements extend further, in a more developed and sophisticated way, the obligations that Australia has under the International Atomic Energy Agency Statute and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As we have already seen in last Thursday's debate on the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill, unfortunately as a result of this Government's policy, Australia has only a limited nuclear industry, which is constricted even further as government policy is maintained. At that time I made a comparison with the development of the nuclear industry in Canada, which has basically the same conditions. Canada has the reserves, does the mining and has the technology. It is able to put its nuclear power to use for peaceful purposes in a country which desperately needs that type of energy, particularly with the difficulties being encountered through traditional methods of using other energy resources. Australia is mining and exporting uranium from only three mines and this is the contrast with Canada. One of these mines has a very limited life, but the Government's policy will not even allow that mine to be replaced by another. Indeed, there seems to be some doubt about the extent to which the Government will allow Queensland Mines Ltd to continue to pursue reserves elsewhere.

The Australian uranium industry is very small and under this Government it has little growth. The Opposition is most concerned about the Hawke Government's irrational policies on the development of uranium mines and the nuclear industry in Australia. In fact, Australia has few industries available to it which offer such scope for growth and development. We should not delay the opportunity for further development of the uranium industry in Australia. The Opposition supports the mining and milling of uranium, subject to stringent Australian health and safety standards, and we would remove the veto on the development of new uranium deposits. Most importantly, from a trade point of view, the export of uranium would be permitted subject to existing stringent safeguards agreements put in place by the Fraser-Anthony Government. Australia has low-cost uranium resources totalling 530,000 tonnes-a staggering 28 per cent of the world's low-cost uranium resources; more than a quarter of those resources throughout the world. The Northern Territory alone possesses 350,000 tonnes of this. The value of the existing Northern Territory uranium is more than $30 billion. I would like honourable members to consider the amount which would be available in the light of Australia's foreign debt at the moment, which is more than $100 billion. If ever there was a case where Australia needed extra dollars on the export market, it is here-it is this industry at which we should be looking. It could help to alleviate the grave situation which we now face. With more than one quarter of the Western world's estimated uranium resources, Australia should be a major force in the international market, rather than the minor player that it is. The possible returns of additional exports, under stringent safeguards, are several times our existing earnings from uranium. The longer we keep our uranium in the ground, the more difficult it will be for our producers, both current and potential, to expand their exports. Therefore, we are denying ourselves one further support for our bleeding balance of payments.

Several aspects of Australia's obligation under IAEA agreement and bilateral agreements require domestic implementation through control of the possession and transport of nuclear material, nuclear equipment or technology. This Bill addresses these aspects. The Bill really applies only to the mining companies and, of course, to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. However, it would also apply to universities; particularly to independent research into the nuclear fuel cycle in those universities. It may have implications for academic research. I am told that is does not apply to the production of radio-isotopes as a by-product of the Lucas Heights reactor, but it does apply to the use of depleted uranium in several commercial activities.

The Bill imposes draconian penalties for those who possess or transport nuclear materials without the permits that are required under this legislation. The Minister for Resources and Energy indicated in his second reading speech that the Government had widely advertised the possible application of this legislation so that those people who may be caught by it will almost certainly be alerted and will be able to obtain the necessary permit. Fortunately, there is no evidence in Australia of any misuse of nuclear material by way of diversion to weapons production. Nevertheless, the legislation could apply to quite innocent people who are going about their affairs in a lawful manner and who may not know it. The Opposition would like to know the result of those advertisements. Does the Government believe that its efforts to alert people to the dangers of the possible application of this Bill to them have been successful and does the Government feel that innocent people will not be affected by the application of the legislation? The scheme of this Bill requires a permit for the possession and transport of nuclear material and associated items. The term `associated items' is widely defined to refer to equipment designed for use in nuclear activities, such as the enrichment of uranium, and nuclear reactor technology. It also covers documents containing information other than that contained in lawfully available publications concerning such equipment, material or processes. Heavy penalties are imposed on people or institutions which do not acquire the necessary permits for possession of this equipment or who may exchange information.

Again, there seems to be real concern that academic researchers going about their ordinary endeavours of pure scientific research may well be caught by the extended definitions in this Bill related to associated items unless there is the necessary publicity. This could be a considerable concern to people in universities. It could affect scientists in independent institutions and the Atomic Energy Commission itself, although I presume that the Commission will be sufficiently alert to the provisions to ensure that it is not caught by them. Nevertheless, this could happen. I urge the Government to give some attention to this aspect of the legislation. I feel that there is a serious problem here in terms of academic freedom and research in the fact that the permission of the Minister will be required for such research to be carried out in relation to associated items connected with nuclear material. The question must be raised whether this in itself will add to the `brain drain' from Australia associated with the shortsightedness of this Government in this and other research fields.

I would also like an explanation on how the Government sees the legislation being administered sensibly, not increasing the paperwork, red tape, bureaucracy and general irritation that people feel flowing from the extended regulations that this Government seems continually to impose on the Australian electorate. By that I mean the additional cost of compliance to the people who wish to work under this Bill in this area of research.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill before the House also contains provision to give effect to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which Australia has signed but not yet ratified. Perhaps the Government will give some indication of its plans for the ratification of this Convention. The Convention is aimed at the unlawful acquisition of nuclear material by theft, fraud, robbery, et cetera. Of course, in this day and age it is not fanciful by any means to suggest that this could occur. Therefore, strict international rules should be implemented, as far as possible, by all nations, and most certainly by all of those which are parties to this Convention.

Another thing that this Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill does is to upgrade the status of the Australian Safeguards Office to that of a statutory authority, with the Director of the Office being appointed by the Governor-General. The role of this Office is to act as a nuclear policeman within Australia, as the agent of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and to police our safeguards agreements in relation to exported Australian uranium. This is a very important and significant role. The Opposition supports giving that Office this additional status.

I will be proceeding to move amendments in the Committee stage of this Bill. The Opposition is seriously worried about the extent to which this Bill could be used by a government to prevent the operation of the defence arrangements with our nuclear allies. The Bill in general requires a permit for the possession or transport of nuclear material, but it would be almost impossible to administer this legislation literally when it comes to our existing defence arrangements. It is clear that under the ANZUS Treaty and within our traditional Western alliance we have in our defence arrangements allies who are nuclear powers and who do not, as a matter of policy, state whether their warships carry nuclear weapons. The ANZUS Treaty and other less formal but traditional alliances with our other allies are very important to the defence of this country.

The fact is that some of these countries possess nuclear weapons. They have ships that carry nuclear weapons; they have nuclear powered ships and so on; and, as far as these international agreements are concerned, they quite lawfully possess that material. Whether or not some people like it, it happens to be the Government's policy to allow those ships to come to Australia, and indeed to welcome them. It is certainly the Opposition's policy to do so also. As we well know, a number of people in Australia take very active steps to protest about these visits. A very small and probably declining element in the Australian community is prepared to take very extreme steps to make its objections to this known and, I suggest to the Government, would even be prone to taking legal steps to try to prevent this from occurring. It seems to me that we could well have a situation in which the interpretation of this legislation could be put in question by certain people in Australia for very political reasons.

If this situation arose I think there would be a difficulty. There may well be a difficulty in explaining to a court exactly what is intended by this legislation and by the international instruments to which it gives effect. I am concerned that we should make it explicit that this legislation does not apply to our defence arrangements, particularly our defence arrangements dealing with our nuclear allies. The suggested amendment seeks to insert in the legislation a provision which makes it quite clear that this Bill and all the international instruments with which it deals will not apply to our defence arrangements, and in particular to those arrangements with allies who are nuclear armed.

Not only is it not intended that the legislation should apply to those defence arrangements but also as a matter of law it will not apply to them. The fact that the Government, through Senator Gareth Evans in the Senate, has confirmed this is some comfort for the future, and hopefully will add to the strength of the otherwise powerful legal argument that would be advanced in courts by the Government if the eventuality that I fear did occur. I still believe it would be wise for this Parliament to make its view crystal clear, and not leave it to the discretion of some court in the future.

One aspect of the proposed second amendment, which may be more controversial than the first amendment, is that it deals with proceedings before a court relating to an alleged offence under this proposed Act; that is, the offence of possessing or transporting nuclear material. As our allies may not wish to confirm or deny that nuclear arms are being carried on their warships or on their aircraft when they come into Australia, this Bill could potentially have a very serious effect on those defence arrangements. In court proceedings in relation to an offence against this proposed Act, involving matters which may relate to visiting ships, aircraft, equipment or members of an allied force, the court should be closed. I know there is a clause in the legislation which will give the courts powers to have a hearing in camera in relation to proceedings under this legislation. However, the Opposition's objection to that is that it is giving a discretion to the courts. As I have already said, the Opposition is not happy about the way in which such discretion might be exercised by some judicial officers. Therefore, I think it ought to be quite clearly laid down in the legislation in this way.

With the reservations I have outlined, the Opposition does not oppose the Bill before the House. We would like to have assurances from the Government on the various matters that I have raised.