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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 747


Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science)(7.05) —This matter has already been disposed of in the Senate. In fact, the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) has just been reading very eloquently from the Senate debate. If, by some inadvertence on my part, the amendments were to get through, the legislation would have to go back to the Senate, so its passage would hardly be speeded up. The amendments are curious. The honourable member for Dawson began by saying that he thinks the legislation is unnecessary; he then added complex amendments which we believe to be totally superfluous to requirements and which may at one point add an unnecessary complication.

These are the reasons that we do not accept the amendments to exclude the application of the legislation to visiting armed forces. Firstly, it has to be said that the issue was considered in some detail during the drafting of the Bill because it would have been an option that was open to the Government. If we were keen on superfluous legislation Parliamentary Counsel would have been foaming at the mouth looking forward to the chance to put it in the Bill. The Government certainly agrees with the intent of the proposed amendments, but it has to be said that in any event visiting allied forces would not be affected by the legislation. The legislation would not apply to nuclear weapons or nuclear material on board a visiting foreign warship or military aircraft by virtue of the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity which provides for immunity for visiting foreign warships and military aircraft from prosecution under Australian law. Further, visiting military personnel are immune from prosecution for actions pursuant to their duties under the Defence (Visiting Forces) Act 1963. We could say that a common law provision is not enough; what about a statutory provision? The statutory provision is there in the Defence (Visiting Forces) Act 1963. In the circumstances the amendments proposed by the Opposition are not necessary.

The complication, as we see it, comes in the proposal to insert new clause 8A (c)-the reference to a member of the Defence Force or a Commonwealth officer associated with a visiting allied force acting in accordance with the member's or the officer's duty. Since the safeguards legislation can apply only to such persons in specified circumstances, such as those in possession of nuclear material or technology, it would appear that the Opposition envisages Australian personnel being in possession of, or having access to, nuclear material and technology of the visiting forces. That seems a very unlikely contingency if one looks at the reality of the matter. The Government rejects the amendments, and I hope that in order to get the legislation through quickly honourable members opposite will not press the matter to a division.

Question put:

That the amendments (Mr Braithwaite's) be agreed to.