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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2243

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.43) —Senator Jessop will be the main speaker for the Opposition in the debate on the Customs (Prohibition of Importation of Nuclear Hardware) Bill 1984. I just want to make a couple of preliminary remarks. I understand that a speaker from the Government side will speak very shortly. This Bill represents a part of a Bill which was previously brought before the Senate by Senator Chipp. I believe that he performs something of a service in bringing the Bill before the Senate, even though I have a fundamental disagreement with him with respect to what he proposes.

In very broad terms, the Bill would impose a general prohibition on the importation of nuclear hardware with some exceptions being permitted for medical and industrial purposes. I will leave the detailing of those exceptions to Senator Jessop and, I hope, in due course to a Government Minister if one appears. The concern of the Opposition in this matter is that we are totally at odds with Senator Chipp on the principle. Indeed, the Senate will have some further opportunity to debate this principle when the statement on the Slatyer committee of inquiry is tabled in the Senate later this afternoon. There really is a fundamental difference between us. That difference lies in the Opposition's belief that it is in the interests of Australia and the world that we should advance the peaceful use of nuclear energy at the same time as we should play a very active part in ensuring that the negative side of nuclear possibilities, the possibility of nuclear war, is fought against as substantially as possible.

Senator Georges —Your problem is that you cannot separate them.

Senator CHANEY —In a sense the difference which lies between some of us is encapsulated in the interjection of Senator Georges who says that the two things cannot be separated. That is a view which I am sure he holds very dearly, although I am not sure it is a view he will necessarily vote to support. The Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Bob Hawke, expressed the precisely contrary view in an address to the University of Western Australia just before Easter. I do not have that address with me at the moment but I will quote from it in the course of debate later this afternoon. The Opposition's view is clear and is gaining more and more support as more people in the community are prepared to take the time to examine the detailed arguments.

The Bill provides a service insofar as it focuses attention on a genuine difference of opinion which exists in the Australian community but it represents a minority view and a view which in fact is very wrong. It is not for me to make out the full case. That will be done on behalf of the Opposition by Senator Jessop. I will resume my seat shortly and let him get at it. In any event, whilst Senator Chipp has refined his proposition and has opened up some exceptions to the original total prohibition he proposed and those exceptions relate to some aspects of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, it is the clear view of the Opposition that the exceptions he has permitted are not wide enough. They do not cover many of the acceptable and proper uses of nuclear energy at present in this community. For that reason alone the Bill is impractical.

In any event, it is wrong to take the totally negative approach which is being adopted by Senator Chipp in this Bill. Whilst it is possible to admire the strength with which he holds and propounds the view, the Opposition takes the stance that he is wrong and it is becoming increasingly confident that the Government, which has had a rather divided view on these matters, is moving to a view which has much more in common with that of the Opposition. We have yet to see the Prime Minister's statement which, I think, is being put down in the House of Representatives about now, but when we debate that later in the afternoon I think there will be cause for some pleasure in the fact that there is some coming together of views on these matters, with the Government moving steadily in the direction which has been advocated by the Opposition in recent years. I speak to indicate the Opposition's attitude to this Bill, but I leave the more detailed arguments to my colleague, Senator Jessop. (Quorum formed)