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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1932

Senator CHIPP —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is it a fact that Australian researchers are co-operating with the United States in developing the so-called hyper-velocity and electro-magnetic guns defence systems for the United States? Is it a fact that this research will aid President Reagan's plan for a system of defences against nuclear missiles and the lunacy of putting nuclear missiles into space? How does this co- operative research effort square with the Government's repeated statements that it opposes the extension of the nuclear arms race to space implicit in the development of a space-based ballistic missile defence? How is it possible that, with one hand, this Government opposes a nuclear arms race in space, yet, with the other hand, is helping to develop those very same weapons?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I suspect that Senator Chipp's question is based on an article in last Saturday's edition of the Melbourne Herald, under the headline ' Australia in ''star wars'' project', which article, in turn, seems to have been based on an answer given by the Minister for Defence to a question on notice-No. 1046-in the House of Representatives in which he said, among other things, that Australia and the United States are involved in a joint collaborative program on electro-magnetic launchers. This program is one of a number of programs carried out under the auspices of the Australia-United States Memorandum of Understanding on Co-operative Research and Development. He went on to say that the potential applications of electro-magnetic launchers cover any situation where an ultra-high velocity projectile is required, such as for the interception of anti-ship missiles. While not of interest to Australia in this respect, they have also been proposed for strategic systems such as defence against ballistic missiles.

I am also able to give the honourable senator some information on this subject from the Minister for Foreign Affairs which relates more, I think, to the latter part of the question. It is to the effect that recent United States studies indicate that the successful deployment of a system of defence against ballistic missiles is likely to be extremely costly. They also indicate that the technical feasibility of such a system has yet to be conclusively demonstrated and that it would in any event be many years before deployment could be contemplated. The United States has not taken a decision to deploy a system of defence against ballistic missiles. The Australian Government has expressed concern on a number of occasions that outer space is the coming arena of super-power competition and has called for the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Military activity in outer space is already circumscribed through several existing arms control agreements. We support strengthening this arms control regime through further verifiable agreements. Australia is an active participant in the consideration of outer space questions in the conference on disarmament in Geneva. We urge all countries, especially those with space capabilities, to work in good faith to avoid an arms race in outer space.