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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1964


Senator MASON(5.20) —In view of the amount of effort that the Australian Democrats put into trying to get the Government to bring down this elucidating statement, I must say that we welcome it without very much enthusiasm because it is bland, superficial and late. The portions of the National Times report that originally gave concern to us and, I think, to very many people in Australia were these: The belief that Australia might develop nuclear weapons if our neighbours did so and that the lead time for the development of Australian bombs should be watched; in other words, we should be keeping an eye on our neighbours to see what they are doing and we ought to be keeping up with them. This is an imputation which I believe the Government has yet to put to rest. Certainly this statement does not put it to rest.

If we want nuclear proliferation in this area we are going about it in the right way if we persist with this line of argument. I would have thought that probably most of our neighbours, who have plenty of problems of their own and who, as we know, at present have no nuclear capacity of this type, not even nuclear power capacity, might well have been prepared just to let matters drift on. But when the Australian Government comes up with a document of this consequence and importance which has been endorsed by Cabinet and which raises this dangerous lead time, this virtually competitive element, that is greatly to be regretted. In a world where I think all men and women of good intent want to see fewer nuclear weapons and some de-escalation of this absurd situation which places the world itself at threat, I think it is highly irresponsible of the Government even to bring this matter up, particularly in a document which it knew perfectly well must leak because there are hundreds of copies of it around.

As a matter of fact, a day or two after this leak I was talking to somebody who shall be nameless but whose opinion I respect and who sees me from time to time. This man said that he had been to see a senior military man in Australia and had asked his friend in the military: 'Can you confirm or deny whether this stuff in the National Times is the document concerned?' His friend, who was a high ranking military officer, I understand, said: 'I can neither confirm nor deny it , but the first thing I did when I came into my office today was to look in my safe to see whether it was still there'. That was the degree of security in this matter. I think the Government has not taken into account the fact that this is material which presumably was going to leak. The Government must have wanted it to be leaked, because it would be incredibly naive if it saw it in any other light.

The second point is the alleged Soviet superiority in nuclear weapons and the need to support a United States strategic nuclear build-up. This is a highly controversial area, and a pot which I suggest we have no right or reason to be stirring. Yet we have stirred it. In doing so, we would seem to support such views as those exhibited by President Reagan that whole new generations of nuclear weapons should come into being. After all, that is what the Australian Government's statement means. Of course, among other things, we are encouraging the United States in its deployment of advanced cruise missiles. What is the latest one sees about that in respectable scientific magazines this month? The Soviet Union is known to be already further ahead with its cruise missile technology than the United States suspected. This has now been revealed. I saw it in the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science only last night. The consequence of this will be that the peril of the people of the United States will be increased enormously because of Soviet retaliation. The Soviet Union will escalate this by ringing the United States with a pattern of submarines carrying their version of sea cruise missiles. In other words, this bland assertion which our Government brings up that changing strategic relativities could give the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics significant political advantages unless the balance can be redressed by United States strategic programs was put in this statement, I believe, without any proper examination, without any justification and without the serious consideration it ought to have been given. It is leading us to support of that kind of situation rather than to a responsible attitude on the part of this Government in trying to be deterrent. That makes the following statement on page 6 of this report ring pretty hollow:

The Government's commitment to support of the non-proliferation regime is absolute.

I should think it would realise that this matter is a little more complicated than just standing on a pedestal and saying: 'We do not want nuclear weapons'. It is a lot more complicated than that.


Senator Gareth Evans —Coming from your mouth, Democrats, that is a bit cheeky.


Senator MASON —I see that I have made that point with the Attorney-General. That is good; I am delighted. The response of the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) mentions deterrence as a catch-all and positive policy. I think the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) mentioned that too. He saw this, I think properly and reasonably, as a movement of the Government towards the defence position of the Fraser Government. There is no doubt that that is the case. So I fear that in this situation, as in many others, in the words of Animal Farm, it is becoming very difficult to distinguish the pigs from the men. I refer to the following sentence on page 6:

The assessment notes that we should continue to support deterrence through the defence relationship with the United States, including the joint defence facilities.

I would like to have seen a little qualification of that. I would like to feel that our Government did not say that just as a bland and blunt statement, as something that we just accept. We are passive apparently. We are among the lemmings who move passively towards the brink. There is no indication here from our Government that deterrence might be scaled down or that we are a responsible , middle ranking power which wants to bring the number of nuclear weapons down. There is none of that at all. It is just the same uncritical statement that we will go along with exactly what the United States wants and that we do not apparently want any input into that.

For instance, what about the Star Wars program? That will undermine deterrence totally. Has the Government thought about it? It does not say anything about that here. It has not given us a view on it. Here is the Government's opportunity in the second statement, we had hoped in calling for it, to put paid to accusations which we, among others, brought to bear as a result of the National Times articles. I would have hoped for a whole thoughtful section in this statement from our Minister for Defence on the implications of the star wars program. What does Australia think about it? Is this part of deterrence or not, because it is happening? It is very disappointing that the Government has not done that. By not saying anything, of course, we implicate ourselves in this destabilising technology.

The Government of the United States is perfectly entitled, on the basis of this further statement, to assume that the Australian Labor Government is perfectly in favour of these continuing technologies and does not appear to take any cognisance of the highly responsible view being put forward by authorities all over the world-not just by left wingers or its own party but by eminent scientists all over the world; it goes beyond politics-that this technology goes beyond deterrence to a situation where, perhaps at a few minutes notice at some time, the risks to this planet are increased appallingly. Yet the Government cannot even make a statement on that, when so many of our citizens are concerned . I will not take up too much more of the time of the Senate. I could speak for a considerable time on this. Although the statement, I suppose, is to be welcomed to the extent that it is here, it certainly does not answer the bulk of our concerns and we will be questioning the Government further on the issues I have raised and on some others as well.