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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 556


Mr MacKELLAR(9.41) —The Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill sets up the Australian Safeguards Office as a statutory office. The terminology `nuclear safeguards' readily communicates an understanding of the subject denoted by the term. But safeguards are best thought of as the measures or the arrangements which are set in place to prevent the wrongful use of nuclear materials, such as uranium. The great issue is to prevent the flow of materials produced for peaceful uses from being misappropriated for military purposes. The activity of making such arrangements has been going on for decades. There is nothing new, except to make doubly sure that any Australian government can make good the assurance to the Australian people that Australian exported uranium is not contributing to military purposes-those of either friend or foe. This legislation is about making good the assurance that Australian uranium will not supply a military program.

Earlier today I made remarks on the legislation for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and I pointed out that Australian scientists and officials have played a most significant and creative part in the international program to develop international safeguards to limit any leakage to military use of nuclear materials dedicated for peaceful purposes. The destructive power of nuclear energy is a force which we and future generations have to contend with. It is a terrible and frightening technology when dedicated to military use. We have seen the dangers of international competition to gain a predominant use of that power. We have seen that technology for military purposes used increasingly to drain away resources which would be better used, and are tragically needed, for the betterment of mankind. We have seen political leaders impotent in their efforts to get out of this human predicament. Arms control negotiations have been exhaustively pursued; not made easier, one might add, by the terrible record of the Soviet Union in its handling of international issues.

So there is no doubting the legitimacy of those fears that embrace all of us. So terrible is the issue that it has become an obvious theorem of super-power relationship that neither side should allow its relationship to develop into confrontation. The terrible drain on the public purse and international stability of the arms race in nuclear weapons have given great credibility to all those groups that seek to raise political concerns in Australia. There has, however, been one fundamental confusion-a confusion which, I believe, creates its own special form of disaster-and that is the argument that nuclear energy is the bad thing, not just the military use of it.

I beleive that the Soviet Union found it convenient, through instrumentalities such as the World Peace Council, to confound the argument in this way. It reckoned that, if Western public opinion was manipulated to oppose nuclear energy in all its forms, as a spin-off the pressure would complicate the whole Western defence system. It would be easier to mobilise political objections to military deployment. We can see so readily how this system has worked in New Zealand. I remind the House that significant trade unions in New Zealand are affiliated with the World Peace Council and they make it mandatory for the New Zealand Government to follow a policy which has had the effect of banning of United States ships in New Zealand ports.


Mr Cleeland —Down with peace.


Mr MacKELLAR —This Government fell into the trap of appeasing the same forces by developing a nuclear free zone treaty in the Pacific, against United States objections. The point I am making is that a very great mischief has been done by the campaign to condemn all forms of nuclear energy. I am sure that the honourable member for McEwen, who interjected, has not really considered these matters. He is just a tool of the Australian Labor Party.


Mr Cleeland —I just like peace.


Mr MacKELLAR —Do we not all like peace? How to obtain it is the essential argument. I have said that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics saw advantage in this program and its supporters were amongst it strongest advocates. I will not dwell on this point further except to draw attention to an article last week written by Mr Mark Baker, the Age diplomatic correspondent. This article, which is entitled `Nuclear-free Pacific has high price', points out that, as a result of this Government's initiatives, the Pacific Forum may denounce the United States. It is clear that this Government made the mistake of going against United States advice and, as a result, the United States has had to criticise the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. Mark Baker said:

The confirmation two weeks ago that the US will not ratify the relevant protocols of the Treaty has raised the prospect of even deeper enmity in a community whose security and unity the whole process was intended to enhance.


Mr Hand —Shame on them!


Mr MacKELLAR —The honourable member says: Shame on Mark Baker for saying that it has brought about this problem with the United States. Mark Baker has been utterly realistic in what the results of this treaty have been in real terms-something that the Left has not really considered. The article is written with a keen sense of criticism of the United States, but the fact remains that this kind of response to nuclear power derives from the Soviet-inspired campaign to blackball all nuclear energy. Mark Baker also said:

Yet again the Soviet Union has picked up a diplomatic windfall without cost.

The simple fact is that the concerns about all forms of nuclear energy lie at the heart of this Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. The Hawke Government wanted to export uranium and, rather than confront its left wing, it chose to press on with the Nuclear Free Zone Treaty which the Age now depicts as a diplomatic disaster. But this legislation before the House is a different thing. It proceeds on the premise that the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is of benefit to mankind. It is practicable for Australia to contribute to the world's supply of nuclear energy and thereby contribute to the betterment of mankind. Earlier I placed on record my concern that the Australian Government was imprudently reducing the future technological contribution Australia should be making to the future in this field. We will do this by denying ourselves any research effort into developments in the nuclear fuel cycle. We will no longer be in a position to contribute as effectively in the future as we have in the past to the development of creative policy making in this field. If the left wingers on the Government side think that is a good thing, let that be on their consciences.


Mr Hand —It is a good thing.


Mr MacKELLAR —The honourable member for Melbourne said that it is a good thing that we can no longer contribute creatively to efforts in this field. In the course of time our Safeguards Office, instead of being first rate will become second rate and that is a characteristic of second rate left wing thought. That seems to me to be inevitable.

So often we fail to realise that diplomacy in the field of international regulation has to have high grade scientific backup I have not heard that argued for one moment by the apologists for the Left in this Parliament. Why have they not addressed this fundamental problem? Of course, in the future this is where the gap will show. We will be seen to be a second rate nation in the area of technology. The distinguished contribution that Australia has made in this field in the past owes much to those Australian scientists who spent their professional lives at the frontiers of knowledge. I believe that it is illusory to think that the generalist skills of the Public Service will function adequately in a technically ill-served environment. Honourable members should not be surprised for a moment if the greenies come up with specious arguments which become difficult only because we have run down our scientific expertise. All honourable members on the Government side who have no inclination or understanding of the scientific detail required in this area should go out and gain a bit of knowledge.

Again, this potential decline in our expertise is as a result of the decision of the Government to trade off to the Left Australia's involvement in monitoring the nuclear free cycle. The Left sees all nuclear energy as a bad thing. The Government would be better advised to use its not inconsiderable resources for intervening in the market-place of public opinion by taking the argument by the scruff of the neck and showing it for the dangers that it courts. The issue is to accept the reality that nuclear fuel creates very serious new problems. One cannot, as a matter of public policy, evaluate those problems except in the context of the alternative. The first reality is that modern industrial economics can function only if they have access to large resources of energy. Oil and coal, fossil fuels, have been the major source of much industrial power. Nuclear energy is a major option because the high use of fossil fuels leads to accelerated exhaustion of supply. Let me remind the House again that these supplies are finite. It is calculated that oil will be exhausted by the middle of the next century. We have heard just in recent weeks of the problems of the dwindling reserves of oil that have supplied this country. Excessive use of coal is creating a separate, but associated, problem. It is simply that there is an excessive quantity of pollutants which are destructive to the upper atmosphere. Let me deal with that matter for a moment.

The upper atmosphere gets very poor attention by the political hippies of the Left who crusade against the sale of uranium. Yet the upper atmosphere protects our planet from destruction by maintaining a reasonable stability in our climatic patterns. But there is a serious possibility that the effects on the upper atmosphere may produce a fundamental global environmental crisis. The Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) made this clear in this House last year. He drew attention to the problems in relation to the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere caused by the fossil fuel pollutants, such as carbon dioxide. I remind the House that the effect of that is to heat up the upper atmosphere, causing what is called a greenhouse effect. The Minister for Science said that even now Australia should be taking action to minimise the onset of problems for coastal areas over the next decades.

Nuclear energy decreases the incidence of fossil fuels polluting the upper atmosphere and that is simply a fact. A further fact is that even if the use of nuclear energy were undesirable, which I do not believe it is, there would be no way in which the nuclear power generating systems presently operating could be replaced. The fact is that while it is a matter of economic common sense to export uranium, it is also vital to ensure that adequate arrangements are made to prevent its misuse. The essential point is that adequate arrangements are made to prevent its misuse. The actions of the Government in this House this day are decreasing that possibility because they are undermining the scientific backup which must be available for those people entering into arrangements. It has been available in the past and it will simply not be available in the future.


Mr Hand —That is not true and you know it.


Mr MacKELLAR —It certainly is true, and the honourable member has not even argued it. I believe that Australia has a duty to clarify public opinion on the issue that nuclear energy is making energy systems which avoid an accelerating damage to that most vital part of our existence on earth-the upper atmosphere. We know, too, that grave problems are facing the northern hemisphere from the pollutant acids issuing from the effluent of coal-driven power stations. The loss of great forests and the consequence for present quality of life standards can only grow worse if this mindless attack on nuclear energy for power generation continues. I ask honourable members opposite who continue to interject to see for themselves the effects of acid rain on the forests of Europe. They should look at the effects of acid rain on the lakes in Sweden, where lime has to be dropped in to reduce the acidity of the water. They should look at the effect which is already taking place and then start to argue against the pollutant effects of fossil fuels being used to the exclusion of all else.

There is no excuse for the protest movement against uranium not to take on this point, and if it were honest it would. But, of course, that is too much to hope for. It has been well illustrated and dramatised by the media. It is about time that spokespersons-honourable members should notice the term `spokespersons'-of the Australian Conservation Foundation changed their tune and mended the ways of those who have followed this organisation's diatribes of recent years. The Australian Conservation Foundation, in this matter, has done itself no credit and should now use its resources to heighten public concern about the problems posed by atmospheric pollution. That is a challenge that this Government could put before the Foundation, which, of course, is a major recipient of government funds. If the Government put that challenge before the Conservation Foundation it would, in my view, be a much more honest presentation than is presently the case.

The Nuclear Safeguards Office will provide the function of reassurance about the export of Australian uranium. It is important that it functions in the framework of a positive evaluation of nuclear energy, and I believe that this Government should do more on that matter. If it does not, if the Australian position is undermined by lack of high grade scientific back-up, our position in terms of negotiations, our position in terms of strength of argument, will be seriously undermined. That is not a laughing matter; that is not a matter which one can simply shove to one side; that is not a matter for party polemics. It is a matter of fact. If the Government is to enter into negotiations with other governments, it needs the effective back-up not only of highly qualified public servants but also, behind that, it needs to have the back-up of well organised scientific opinion and expertise which can stand up against those people being put forward by the countries with which Australia is negotiating. This legislation, together with the legislation introduced earlier in this House by this Labor Government, will diminish Australia's possibilities and Australia's capabilities in that respect. Because of that, the whole nation, and the whole world, will be ill served. It is a matter which should be put aside from sheer factional differences, from party political differences; it is a matter of great international moment. To set it aside cavalierly in order to appease some form of radical Left or some group which says that it is important to denigrate nuclear energy as well as anything else to do with the nuclear cycle, is really to put this country in a position of great disadvantage and to diminish in a very real way the work that we can do and the influence that we can command on the world stage.