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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 669

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (10:48): I rise today to support the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. The bill seeks to add new offences to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 by implementing our obligations under the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

I want to record my occasional criticisms of the United Nations conventions and other elements that do not function so well. This of course is a worthwhile initiative of the United Nations, the United States and Russia in supporting nuclear nonproliferation and ensuring that we deal with the very modern challenges of terrorism, particularly in the nuclear domain. It affords me the opportunity to make some remarks on my ongoing interest in matters nuclear: nuclear energy, nuclear waste and how we deal with that and, of course, nuclear terrorism. It is important for us to reflect that in an era when much of our culture deals with matters of nuclear terrorism, whether it be in literature—the latest book I am reading by Tom Clancy, Dead or Alive, deals with a group of terrorists undertaking a nuclear plot in the United States—or whether it be on television shows such as 24 or other programs dealing with the prospect of nuclear terrorism, this cultural reflection is really a snapshot of what people are thinking about and concerned about in today's world.

Following 9/11 something that was previously completely unimaginable became imaginable. And we now know that there are people in our world today who are seeking to do these evil things, including to turn what is a fantastic development in human achievement, science and progress—the splitting of the atom—into something that is negative for humanity.

It is important that we create these categories of offence in Australian law so that we can help to prevent these sorts of acts. Law is one tool, and law enforcement agencies do need these laws to deal with these sorts of crimes. However, if we ever get to the point where these offences are enacted we will have failed. Our law enforcement, terrorism, intelligence and other agencies are at the forefront of fighting people seeking to do these very evil things, and it is very important that we ensure the adequacy of the law in prevention and in enabling these agencies to seek out and prevent these acts before we ever get to the point where we may have to deal with something under the provisions of the bill before us today.

However, it would be remiss of me to talk up the doom and gloom about nuclear problems—considering that we do have a facility in Sydney at Lucas Heights, which is a fantastic achievement in nuclear medicine, and that we are proposing to put a nuclear waste facility in the Northern Territory—without dealing with some of the pertinent comments from around the world about nuclear energy and its benefits. Looking at what has happened at Fukushima and the scepticism that has come forward about nuclear power generation, it is pertinent to quote just a few things that deal with some of the matters in this bill and, indeed, the general debate about nuclear power today.

I had a quick look at some top environmentalists and other people who are concerned about nuclear power. Even very senior levels of people who have had a view about the nuclear technology suite, whether it be in power generation or other mechanisms, have come to the view that they formed the view wrongly and prematurely. For example, I want to quote Stephen Tindale, who ran Greenpeace for five years until 2005:

My position was necessarily that nuclear power was wrong, partly for the pollution and nuclear waste reasons but primarily because of the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons. My change of mind wasn’t sudden, but gradual over the past four years. But the key moment when I thought that we needed to be extremely serious was when it was reported that the permafrost in Siberia was melting massively, giving up methane, which is a very serious problem for the world. It was kind of like a religious conversion. Being anti-nuclear was an essential part of being an environmentalist for a long time but now that I’m talking to a number of environmentalists about this, it’s actually quite widespread this view that nuclear power is not ideal but it’s better than climate change.

Given that is the view of very senior environmentalists and other people in the world today—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Mitchell is testing my patience with relevance to the bill before me. I have allowed a wide ranging debate, but this is going too far.

Mr HAWKE: Madam Deputy Speaker, if you allow me to continue you will be pleasantly surprised. Given that it is—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No. The member for Mitchell will return to the bill.

Mr HAWKE: Given that it is, we will see an increasing number of facilities for nuclear power—particularly in Australia. When countries in Europe, such as France or England, are allowing many mainstream facilities within suburban areas, the prospects and the potential for terrorism will increase. They have increased in Europe and particularly in the United Kingdom. I feel that in Australia today, whether you look at the views of any prominent scientist or environmentalist, the argument for nuclear power and facilities is increasing. The momentum is increasing, and we will see more facilities in Australia in urban areas and in other appropriate areas. I do think that is only a matter of time.

Of course, that means that the prospect for these sorts of illegitimate acts will increase. It is definitely there today in a country like France, where there are dozens and dozens of nuclear power plants. We know that 70 per cent of the UK's power is generated from nuclear sources—allowing for more of this activity to be focused around key targets, and seductive targets, like nuclear facilities. Even in Sydney, this sort of thing has been an issue over the past five years that I have been observing this. Sometimes on the front page of the Daily Telegraph you will see a report about the Lucas Heights facility being an attractive terrorist target—problematically highlighting something that is a legitimate concern to people but also reinforcing to those people who may seek to engage in these acts that there is a target.

This is an important debate, considering that, as a society, we will increasingly be looking at nuclear as a solution to our energy generation and medical problems. The provisions in this bill are legitimate in the sense that they exempt the Australian defence forces from activities on the battlefield and do not involve any legitimate use of the defence forces in areas where they may have responsibility for nuclear materials. The conventions and the criminal offences are substantial and useful in terms of us making a case about the United Nations convention being a valuable mechanism, and the penalty of 20 years is a legitimate penalty.

It is also important to note that there are countries pursuing nuclear technology for the purposes of employing nuclear weapons, including countries such as Iran, most notably in recent times. The member for Cook spoke about the recent United Nations Security Council resolution that was not supported by China and Russia. One of the disappointing features of that was that Syria was seeking to supply Iran with low-grade nuclear spent fuel and other mechanisms to help them develop nuclear weapons—which of course is the other side of the nuclear terrorism debate. There are also nation states, particularly totalitarian regimes, that seek to develop nuclear weapons for the purposes of nuclear terrorism employed by the state and not by an isolated group seeking to cause terrorism in our country.

This is appropriate legislation. This bill will be helpful to law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies. It is a reactive mechanism but it is important to note in law that it is an offence to do these things. I do not see many instances of people being charged with the lawful possession of radioactive materials or other things. If we ever get a situation where someone is prosecuted for this, we have a much broader problem. I continue to support the government's efforts to proactively give intelligence and law enforcement agencies powers to find people who seek to do evil things and to prevent them from doing so. This is a worthwhile United Nations convention. The United States and Russia are to be commended for developing it, and it is a worthwhile bill for this parliament to adopt.