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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2253


Senator CHIPP (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(4.29) —in reply-Mr Acting Deputy President, thank you for the call. I do point out that I close the debate and I would not wish to preclude any other senator from speaking.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lewis) —Yes, I recognise that Senator Chipp , but no one else has risen to speak. (Quorum formed)


Senator CHIPP —Although every honourable senator thinks that the private member' s Bill he introduces is the most important Bill ever to be debated by the Senate , I would have thought that a Bill brought in by me which is designed totally to preclude any opportunity Australia has of ever becoming a nuclear power, of ever building its own nuclear bomb, would have attracted more than 45 minutes debate in this place and would have brought more than five senators to their feet. I believe it is an absolute scandal, an absolute disgrace and an absolute condemnation of the major political parties in this country that a matter upon which the fate and safety of every Australian might well depend attracts only five speakers.


Senator Townley —I take a point of order. Many people who wanted to speak on this matter were asked not to do so by the Whips because they want to get to a vote. I believe that Senator Chipp knows that.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.


Senator CHIPP —Can I speak to the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Chipp, there is no point of order. The honourable senator has the call and he can speak to the motion.


Senator CHIPP —Thank you. I would have liked the opportunity of replying to the point of order raised by Senator Townley. Two and a half hours, beginning at a quarter to four, have been allotted for debate on General Business matters. It is now 4.30 p.m. There are still almost two hours left to debate this legislation if members of the Senate want to. The only other matter listed for debate is an important matter that has been raised by Senator MacGibbon. However , there would have been plenty of time to deal with that.

I regard it as a tragedy that there seems to be so little interest in the subject before the Senate at the moment. What does the Customs (Prohibition of Importation of Nuclear Hardware) Bill 1984 seek to do? Passage of this Bill would have prevented the establishment of a nuclear industry in Australia. It would have put paid for all time to any question of Australia building a nuclear bomb.


Senator Sir John Carrick —Or nuclear research.


Senator CHIPP —'Or nuclear research' says Senator Sir John Carrick. Senator Walsh and Senator Jessop have made something of this point. Indeed, it would seem that the information that Senator Jessop provided was almost identical with that provided in the speech made by Senator Walsh. No doubt the information he got came from either Senator Walsh's office or the Department of Resources and Energy and, of course, there is nothing wrong with that. I want to answer the interjection of Senator Sir John Carrick and the statements of Senator Walsh and Senator Jessop about the exclusions that I have put in my Bill. Nuclear hardware could still be imported for the manufacture of industrial isotopes and medical isotopes. They said that the Bill would totally end any possibilities for research for industrial or other purposes. In answer I refer them to clause 6(2) (b), which they must have read. Sub-clause (2) states:

A permission to import nuclear hardware-

. . . .

(b) shall not be granted to the Australian Atomic Energy Agency unless the Minister is satisfied that the nuclear hardware is essential for the purpose of enabling the Australian Atomic Energy Agency to maintain its capacity to produce isotopes for medical or industrial use;

. . . .

I would submit that clause 6(2)(b) would have been ample to enable a Minister to use his discretion in that regard. So I do not regard as serious the allegations that this Bill would finish any form of nuclear research for the purposes mentioned by Senator Walsh, Senator Jessop and Senator Sir John Carrick.

This Bill would have allowed Australians to rest easy. Australia could not have built a nuclear bomb and it could not have added further to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in this region. I find it incredible that the Government now in power talks about a nuclear free zone and denounces French nuclear tests in the Pacific yet still allows Australia to have the capacity to build a nuclear bomb when by agreeing to this Bill it could have denied future governments or, for that matter, anybody, the opportunity of doing just that.

I, along with a great number of other Australians, was terrified when I read some months ago the leaked strategic basis paper from the Defence Department as disclosed by the National Times. Nobody who read those leaked papers could conclude anything else but that the generals and the boffins over at Russell Hill want Australia to adopt a nuclear option. Is there anybody in this chamber who does not believe that the Defence Department-the generals, the admirals and the air vice-marshals-want Australia to build a nuclear bomb? There is no doubt about it. Those papers clearly indicate that. I will have something more to say about this matter when the Slatyer report is debated. But did we have a total denial from the Government on that question? We do have a statement from the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) in response to this issue. Honourable senators will remember that Senator Gareth Evans, representing the Minister for Defence in this chamber, said that the Government had accepted that statement in principle. The Minister said:

The Government's commitment to support of the non-proliferation regime is absolute. This means that, as part of doing what it can to promote universal acceptance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the conclusion of a Comprehensive Test Ban and a South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, and working for international agreement on a wide range of other measures in the arms control and disarmament arena, the Government has renounced any interest of its own in developing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons. It regards that renunciation as binding and permanent.

They sound like reasonable sorts of words for a government that has determined against building a nuclear bomb in Australia. After having said those words, what is this Government going to do? What is every member of the Australian Labor Party in this chamber going to do when this legislation goes to a vote within five minutes time? They are going to vote against the Bill that would nail that conclusion to its policy. They are going to vote against a Bill that would allow them to go out of this place and say: 'I put my democratic vote to a Bill that will prevent any government building a nuclear bomb in Australia'. Yet they are not going to do that.

I heard some interjections from honourable senators on my right when I made a reference to those people at Russell Hill still wanting the nuclear option. Senator Jessop was gracious enough to answer an interjection I made during his speech. But during that speech Senator MacGibbon clearly said: 'I would advocate building a nuclear bomb in Australia if our neighbours acquired one'. I am not saying that Senator Jessop has this mentality because he made his position clear . But this is clearly the position adopted by some people in this place. That is why I introduced this Bill. I introduced it for those sabre-rattlers, those people who believe that nuclear proliferation is the only answer to detente or the only way in which--


Senator Elstob —You do not really believe that Australians are sabre-rattlers, do you, Senator?


Senator CHIPP —I said there are some people in this place who are sabre-rattlers . There are people who would advocate the building of a nuclear bomb or advocate our having the wherewithal to build a nuclear bomb if our neighbours acquire one . There are people in this place who believe that. All I am saying is that the passage of the Bill would prevent the possibility of Australia building a nuclear bomb if our neighbours acquire one.

The situation in the world now is desperate. Arthur Koestler, one of the greatest minds of our time, said in one of his last books that, because of man's incapacity to gear his emotional responses to technological explosions, man's self-induced extinction from this planet is now approaching a statistical certainty. Is that scare-monger tactics or is it the truth? Let us examine that. As I stand here today, there are 50,000 nuclear bombs in existence. Something like 36,000 of those bombs are pointing at human beings. There are some nuclear bombs pointing at Australians. That admission was made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden).

Let us look at the arsenal of 50,000 nuclear bombs now in existence. The average bomb has 42 times the destructive power of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My finite mind finds difficulty in comprehending that kind of destruction. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki killed about 200,000 human beings in a most devastating way. Many of them were not killed instantly but died over six-day, six-month and six-year periods. Those 50,000 bombs would kill on average 42 times 200,000. Many of them would die in a way that would make them envy the dead. I am talking about the average bomb, not the biggest bomb. The 50 megatonne bomb is certainly beyond my power to comprehend. Its destructive power is greater than the sum total of all the explosives let off in the six years of the Second World War. It would virtually fit under the desk which stands in front of you, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker.

This is the kind of destructive power humankind has now created in this world. We now have the capacity to destroy all life on this planet within a reasonably short time, yet we continue to mine, mill and sell our uranium for profit. We persist with the myth that we are exporting our uranium to get a few dollars. That is incidental. We are not doing it because of the dollars we get for it; we are doing it because it allows us to use more leverage in international affairs to make nuclear bombs safe. Has that policy succeeded to this point? Has the production of nuclear bombs diminished since we began exporting our uranium? That argument has never been substantiated. It is like saying that if we want to prevent murders being committed in this country we have to join Murder Incorporated. I have never heard such an absurd, illogical argument. Let those who put that argument be honest and say that we are exporting our uranium for money. That is the only reason why we are exporting our uranium. If it is not for the money we are getting from exports, it is for the money that people earn from jobs. I am not saying that it is not important for people to have jobs. Of course it is. I am not saying that the people who will be disadvantaged by the cancellation of our contracts for uranium should suffer. Any person who lost his job through the banning of the exporting of uranium should not suffer at all. Those persons should be compensated from the taxes paid by the rest of the Australians who have not been so disadvantaged. If somebody said to me that that would result in a slightly lower standard of living for most Australians I would say 'So be it'; I would rather accept half the standard of living that I have now and at least have off my conscience the fact that, by my actions in exporting uranium, I am endangering the world and putting all people, particularly children, under a threat which they do not deserve. Let those who talk about nuclear bombs tell me about one nuclear bomb that has not been manufactured from uranium. Yet we continue to export it at the most scandalous and hideous rate.

If the Labor Party objects to my Bill because, as Senator Tate and Senator Walsh indicated, it would be unduly restrictive of the use of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, let it make a simple amendment to it. It has been available for consideration for several weeks. If the Government feels that technically it would have been too limiting, it has the resources of its departments, and of the parliamentary counsel to make some simple amendments to my Bill to make it such that it would not be unduly restrictive. It has not done that. Clearly, this Labor Government is embracing the nuclear industry with a vigour and with a passion that would rival Malcolm Fraser's Government and other Liberal governments. It is a shame to be a part of a parliament in which one can observe that happening. The Australian Labor Party should remember that hundreds of thousands of Australians voted for it at the last election because they genuinely believed that the Labor Party wanted to defuse the nuclear situation. They believed the words and the unequivocal commitment of the Labor Party to phase out uranium mining. They believed what was said about a nuclear free zone in the South Pacific. Those sorts of statements attracted hundreds of thousands of people who had never voted for Labor in their lives. They felt their children were imperilled and voted for Labor because of that. I say after consideration and not in a moment of political passion that the Labor Party has betrayed those people who cast their votes because they thought that, by voting for the Labor Party, they would find some safety.

If the Government cannot amend my Bill because of some technical difficulty, why does it not produce its own Bill? Why does it not close off the nuclear option? Clearly, this Government is keeping its nuclear options open. There can be no other interpretation of the Government's action today in unanimously opposing this Bill. The only purpose of the Bill is to prevent Australia, under any circumstances, building a nuclear bomb without disadvantaging the way in which medical and industrial isotopes can be manufactured. I sometimes despair of the justifications for the nuclear industry.

Senator Jessop, whom I admire in many respects, spoke about alternative uses. Surely alternative uses are the only safe and long term solution to the energy problems of England, Europe, Australia and the rest of the world. In quoting my letter to the Australian, Senator Jessop spoke about the United Kingdom experience. He said that research showed that alternative energy from wood, coal , wind, solar and tidal energy and all other alternatives would supply only 15 per cent of the needs of industry in the United Kingdom by the turn of the century. I interjected by saying: 'What is your source?' He was kind enough and gracious enough to answer my interjection by saying: 'The Uranium Information Centre'. That would be like my asking the Tobacco Institute of Australia Ltd for its view on whether tobacco smoking causes lung cancer. It is ludicrous.

I have two private member's Bills before the Senate. One, the Customs ( Prohibition of Exportation of Nuclear Materials) Bill 1984, is designed to ban totally the export of uranium. The Bill before us is designed to ban the importation of nuclear hardware, except for medical and industrial use. I have given up hope, because of the direction that the Australian Labor Party has taken, of its voting for the first mentioned Bill. That is why I did not bring it forward today at this opportunity to deal with private business. Clearly, the Government has taken a turn to mine the biggest uranium mine in the world at Roxby Downs. I brought forward this Bill hoping, perhaps naively, that the Government might honour its election promise by voting for it. I am about to give Government members the opportunity to stand up and be counted by calling for a division to decide whether this Bill shall pass the second reading stage.