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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 738

Mr BRUMBY(6.10) —It is my pleasure to support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill which I believe to be good legislation and which, it seems, enjoys bipartisan support in this House. The Bill gives effect to Australia's international non-proliferation obligations which require domestic legislation. Those obligations arise under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Australia's safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Australia's bilaterial nuclear safeguards agreements with other countries and Euratom and the Physical Protection Convention, which is not yet ratified. The Bill also provides the legislative bases for the operation of the Australian Safeguards Office in administering Australia's safeguards system.

As the explanatory memorandum to this Bill points out, the Bill establishes a system of permits for the possession and transport of nuclear material and other nuclear items such as equipment, information and material which is used in nuclear reactors. The permits will be issued by the Minister who will be given the power in this legislation to impose conditions which govern all aspects of the possession of nuclear material and items. It is worth pointing out by way of background that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated in the mid-1960s, first between the United States of America and the Soviet Union and then by the 18-nation disarmament committee. It was endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. The establishment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was a major step forward in international agreements for the limitation and control of nuclear armaments. Article III of the NPT requires each non-nuclear weapons state to accept the International Atomic Energy Safeguards on all nuclear activities which are carried out within its territory.

Australia became a party to the NPT during the days of the Whitlam Labor Government in January 1973. If I remember, those were the days when the dumvirate was the Cabinet of Australia. The International Atomic Energy Agency came into being in 1957 when its statute entered into force. The statute states two objectives for the agency: Firstly, to enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world; and secondly, to ensure that the assistance provided by it is not used in such a way as to further or assist any military purpose. So the technical development and the implementation of the safeguards required by Article III of the Treaty are entrusted to the Atomic Energy Agency which then applies the safeguards to verify that countries are complying with their NPT obligations not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear explosive devices. So the two parts work hand in hand. In a sense, they are mutually dependent.

Australia signed its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency in July 1974, again during the Whitlam Labor Government period. As far as this Bill goes, physical protection measures are intended to protect nuclear materials and facilities from theft or sabotage, especially by terrorists. Physical protection can also be regarded as one of the measures which reduce the risk of proliferation and may overlap some safeguards measures verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, such as containment and surveillance. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material concluded in 1980 under the Atomic Energy Agency auspices provided certain levels of physical protection during international shipments of nuclear material. It also defines certain serious offences involving nuclear materials, which parties to the Convention have to make punishable. So this Bill gives legislative effect to Australia's obligations under the NPT, the Agency agreement and the Convention.

We can make many points about this legislation. In its impact and scope, in a sense, it is very broad. I should emphasise that Australia is very strongly committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and we believe very strongly in its effectiveness. The NPT, with all its associated safeguards, has proven in our view to be the most effective international arms control and disarmament treaty which has yet been devised. We believe that that is highlighted by the fact that no diversion from any safeguarded facility has been recorded by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This impressive safeguards record reflects the political influence of the system as a deterrent, as well as the technical effectiveness of safeguards.

In pursuance of our NPT obligations and our firm policy of non-proliferation, the Australian Government permits exports of Australian uranium; but we permit them only to countries with which we have a bilateral safeguards agreement. We have concluded 11 bilateral safeguards agreements which cover 19 countries. The basic requirements of those agreements are that Australian original nuclear material will be used only for peaceful, non-explosive purposes and that Australian original nuclear material will be covered by the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. The bilateral partners with whom we have signed are obliged to seek prior Australian consent on a number of matters. If they wish to reprocess any of the spent fuel which is derived from Australian original nuclear material they must seek prior Australian consent. If they wish to transfer any Australian original nuclear material to a third party there must be prior consent; and if they wish to enrich Australian original nuclear material beyond 20 per cent of the isotope U235 they must also get prior consent. So those bilateral agreements are very strong and far reaching in their implications.

This Bill also strengthens the Australian safeguards system by putting it on a sound legal basis and by giving statutory authority to the Australian Safeguards Office. The application of the safeguard requirements to the Atomic Energy Agency has not been a problem because the Agency is a government entity. In the case of other holders of nuclear material, principally the mining companies, the safeguards system has been functioning satisfactorily on the basis of goodwill and co-operation. A legally enforceable system is necessary-that is what this legislation brings into effect-because Australia has international obligations to fulfil and it is inappropriate simply to rely on goodwill to fulfil such obligations. The Australian Safeguards Office is a small unit in the Department of Resources and Energy which, I understand, has been functioning very efficiently for a number of years. It is the intention that the issuing of permits and other administrative procedures should be carried out with the minimum of inconvenience consistent with the fulfilment of obligations under the legislation.

It would not be appropriate to speak on this important legislation, dealing as it does with nuclear non-proliferation, without making a number of general points about Australia's overall efforts to bring about disarmament, arms control and reductions. This Government stridently endorses our world-wide aspirations for stability and arms reductions. This Government would be failing in its responsibility to the Australian community and the wider community of nations if we failed to make our voice heard on what, in our view, clearly is a matter of fundamental importance to the world. Some of the ways-and there are many-in which we have pursued this objective of disarmament and arms control are as follows. The first way in which we have given increased emphasis to that task is by appointing Australia's first Ambassador for Disarmament. We have as well considerably increased the resources available to the Department of Foreign Affairs for its efforts to produce disarmament, arms reductions and arms controls.

The second matter in which this Government has been active is in the context of a comprehensive test ban. In this regard we place enormous emphasis on the work which is being undertaken in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, work which was aimed-and is still aimed-at creating a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. If we are serious about placing a lid on the growth of the arsenals which are held by the super-powers, a verifiable, comprehensive test ban treaty is obviously an important and integral part of that process. We believe the Treaty is a sensible and feasible proposal which will not get bogged down in intricate detail. It would quickly inhibit the deployments of new weapons and the modernisation of existing ones. It would place international pressure, for instance, on the French to cease their testing program in the Pacific. A comprehensive test ban treaty would also be an additional obstacle to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by countries which do not have them, and it would provide valuable support to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The third matter on which this Government has been particularly active and on which we have a good record is that of chemical weapons. We have been making special efforts to develop international sanctions against chemical weapons. Again, the United Nations Conference on Disarmament has been the principal venue for work in support of negotiations aimed at a comprehensive convention banning the use, possession and manufacture of chemical weapons. The proposed convention would also ensure the destruction of existing stockpiles of chemical weapons and their means of production. So that also is an important and valuable initiative that we have taken.

As I mentioned earlier, the precise focus of this Bill, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is also an integral part of the ways in which this Government pursues its objectives of peace and disarmament. We have played a vital and influential role in the Third Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which was conducted during 1985. As I said earlier, the NPT brings together all of those nations, such as Australia, which have voluntarily agreed not to become nuclear weapons states and, as such, it provides an important means of exerting international pressure on the United States and the Soviet Union to negotiate for nuclear arms control. We contributed in a considerable way to that Third Review. We still have an effective international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and this Government can take some credit for keeping that Treaty effective and functional.

The fifth matter that I wanted to mention was the role of this Government in our relations with Washington and Moscow. In all, we have made a substantial contribution to the various negotiations which have been under way and are, in a sense still under way, which are aimed at arms control. In our dialogue with and representations to the super-powers we have made it clear that we are strongly opposed to the escalation of the arms race in outer space and that we support neither the United States strategic defence initiative, Star Wars, nor its Soviet counterpart. We view both the American and the Soviet research programs as threats to the framework of mutual deterrence on which the world's security relies. They also, in our view, threaten to undermine the anti-ballistic missile Treaty, which remains the principal achievement of arms control negotiations between the super-powers.

The final matter I wanted to raise in relation to our efforts to bring about arms reductions was the aspect of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone. This Government is particularly proud of its initiative and achievement which led to the conclusion of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. Australia and 10 other members of the South Pacific Forum have already signed this Treaty and we view it as a significant arms control measure and a positive contribution to regional security. The Treaty addresses itself to the common concerns of South Pacific nations on nuclear testing, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the dumping of nuclear waste. Last year, on 21 August, this House passed legislation which will allow Australia to ratify the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. In fact, our legislation goes beyond the minimum that is technically required for this purpose. As well as covering all of the substantive provisions of the Treaty, it also reflects our policy of opposition to the manufacture, testing and stationing of nuclear weapons in or by Australia. We presently have discussions under way with the super-powers, of course, to try to ensure that they will also sign that Treaty.

In conclusion, this legislation before the House is good legislation. I dare say that we would not be debating this legislation, nor would we in any way have an effective voice in international affairs on nuclear disarmament and arms control matters, were we not an exporter of uranium. We are an exporter. Being an exporter of uranium gives us a strong voice in international affairs as far as nuclear disarmament goes and the issues of world peace. I repeat: Without being an exporter of uranium we simply would not be in a position internationally to take the positive measures and stands that we have taken to contribute to world peace and disarmament. I make that point because it is often one of contention in our community. In that regard, I strongly support the export of uranium, bearing in mind, of course, that we export it only to those countries with which we have signed bilateral safeguards agreements. I mentioned earlier that there are some 11 of those, covering 19 countries, and those agreements ensure that the uranium Australia exports can be used only for peaceful purposes. I have pleasure in supporting the legislation.