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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1819

Senator MASON —Does the Minister representing the Minister for Defence agree that it is now common knowledge that the United States of America is fitting the maritime version of its cruise missiles, the sea cruise, to its nuclear submarines and that nuclear warheads are standard for these missiles? Is it true that United States nuclear submarines have home-ported in Australian cities, including Sydney and Perth? Does the Minister agree that any launch facility for cruise missiles represents a prime and immediate target in time of war? Does the Government agree that a single strike by a nuclear missile on, say, Sydney would be severely aggravated and the city contaminated for much longer periods if nuclear powered ships carrying nuclear weapons were vaporised in the explosion? Is it true that nuclear powered ships, including United States of America nuclear powered ships, are not permitted in major United States city ports, such as New York and Boston? In the light of this, will the Government persist in offering home-port and dry-dock facilities to ships which probably carry sea cruise missiles and where this is not denied?

Senator GARETH EVANS —In relation to the matters raised by Senator Mason, I am advised by the Minister for Defence that it is a matter of public record that the United States is undertaking a program to equip elements of its surface and nuclear powered attack submarine fleets with the long range Tomahawk cruise missile, which can be armed with either conventional or nuclear warheads. The annual report of United States Secretary of Defence Weinberger which was presented to Congress earlier this year includes the following statement:

Our first operational Tomahawk missiles have been deployed in armoured box launches on the reactivated battleship New Jersey. Tomahawk is also slated for deployment aboard attack submarines, cruisers and destroyers.

To move to the second part of the honourable senator's question, no United States nuclear armed or nuclear powered submarines have been home-ported in Australian cities. However, United States warships frequently make routine visits to Australian ports, primarily for rest and recreation purposes. Such visits are a tangible expression of our relationship with our principal ally. Nuclear powered warships are allowed to visit approved Australian ports only in strict accordance with detailed safety procedures designed to protect the public in the unlikely event of a reactor accident.

The Minister takes the view that it is quite likely-he accepts Senator Mason's position in this respect-that in a time of conflict the surface vessels and submarines of each combatant would be regarded as prime targets by the opposing power. It is precisely for this reason that in circumstances of tension or conflict it is almost inconceivable that the vessels of either combatant would undertake port calls for crew rest and recreation purposes. I also note that the Tomahawk cruise missile to be fitted to United States vessels does not have sufficient range to attack targets in the Soviet Union from Australian waters.

Concerning the hypothetical circumstances of a nuclear attack on any Australian city, it is possible that the sorts of effects mentioned by the honourable senator could occur. However, as I said earlier, it is unlikely that United States ships would make routine port visits in a conflict situation. That hardly needs to be spelt out.

Finally, with reference to nuclear powered warship visits to United States ports, I refer the honourable senator to my answer to his question without notice on a related matter in the Senate on 14 December 1983, which appears in Hansard at page 3744. I will not read it into the record. I have already stated that United States ships do not home-port in Australia. In regard to dry-docking , the Minister for Defence indicated in his statement on 26 February that each request for the use of dry-dock facilities would have to be considered on its own merits, taking into account technical and safety factors and the strategic and operational circumstances obtaining at the time.