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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1931


Senator McINTOSH —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy been drawn to calls for some form of public inquiry into the British nuclear tests conducted in South Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, and into the effects of those tests? Can the Minister advise the Senate of the response to date of the Government to these requests?


Senator GRIMES —The Minister for Resources and Energy and the Government are aware of the calls from a number of sources for a public inquiry into the atomic weapons tests at Maralinga. This morning the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs met representatives of the Pitjantjatjara Council Executive to hear that Council's case for such an inquiry. Senator Walsh informs me that the Government can well understand and appreciate the concerns expressed by Aboriginal people and by many other Australians about the weapons tests and about their possible effects on the health of many Australians. As Senator Walsh has already made clear here it would be generally agreed, with today's knowledge, that many of the things done by the British-with the full approval of the Australian Government of the day- were at best careless and at worst irresponsible.

The Minister has also pointed out that last December the Government engaged a consultant, Dr John Symonds, to provide as full a report as possible on the British weapons tests program in Australia. Dr Symonds and officers of the Minister's Department have, with the co-operation of the British Government, assembled relevant documents both in this country and in the United Kingdom as a background to Dr Symonds's report, and in conjunction with the Government's response to a number of common law actions for compensation. Secondly, the South Australian Government has established a study into the effects on Aboriginal health of the weapons tests program-a study with which the Commonwealth is co- operating in providing relevant information from its own sources. Thirdly, the Minister for Resources and Energy will be taking a proposal to Cabinet on Monday for an expert scientific assessment of the data which is available on the fallout from British weapons tests conducted in Australia.

These three investigations will document the information which is currently available. Just as importantly, they will reveal where there are deficiencies with data and information currently available, and what those deficiencies are. When the reports from these studies are available-all three are obviously matters on which the Government wants advice as soon as possible-the Government will be able to examine whether any further studies or inquiries could and should be made. As far as any further inquiries are concerned, the Minister has already indicated that he has an open mind on that question, and it would be premature to establish an inquiry at this stage, before a full assessment has been made of the information currently available to the Government, and of any deficiencies or gaps in that information.

These are obviously matters of serious concern and they deserve to be treated as carefully as possible. This Government does not condone the test program conducted in Australia 20 or 30 years ago nor the way in which it was conducted. Our responsibility now is to see that the facts about these tests are established as far as we possibly can. The inquiries which have been set in train are designed to do that. I urge everyone who has an interest in this matter to be patient long enough for those inquiries to be conducted and assessed.