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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 907


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(4.22) —Mr President-

A quorum having been called and the bells being rung-


Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Harradine, what are you calling a quorum for? I am here.


Senator Harradine —I want people to listen to you, and I will keep calling quorums until Walsh stops welching.


Senator Walsh —Senator Harradine, you are an odious rodent.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Walsh, you will withdraw that remark.


Senator Walsh —Very well, Mr Deputy President, I withdraw. He is not odious.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —You must withdraw completely.


Senator Walsh —I withdraw without reservation.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! A quorum is now present.


Senator GARETH EVANS —Mr Deputy President, when the debate on the Australian Waters (Nuclear-Powered Ships and Nuclear Weapons Prohibition) Bill was interrupted I had been outlining the different strands in the Government's policy to visits to Australian waters and ports of nuclear powered ships and ships which may or may not be nuclear armed. I indicated that the first strand was the proposition that the Australian Government would not under any circumstances allow nuclear arms on Australian soil. The second strand was that so far as visits of nuclear powered vessels are concerned, they would be allowed to visit Australia subject to certain guidelines. The third was that so far as nuclear armed ships or ships which may be nuclear armed were concerned the Government, in accordance with long-standing bipartisan policy, would not ask its allies either to confirm or deny whether nuclear weapons are being carried. The fourth strand concerned the use of dry docking facilities by such ships and I said that it was the Government's position that such matters should be dealt with essentially on a case by case basis, taking into account particularly technical safety and the strategic and operational factors applying at the time.

I go on from there to say that the Government's support for all these various arrangements is consistent with points established and agreed to at recent ANZUS Council meetings. In the Communique of the 1982 Council meeting in Canberra, the ANZUS partners:

. . . confirmed the high priority each partner placed upon a regular and comprehensive programme of naval visits to each other's ports, as well as to friendly ports in the Asia/Pacific region generally. They recognised the importance of access by United States naval ships to the ports of its Treaty partners as a critical factor in its efforts to maintain strategic deterrence and in order to carry out its responsibilities under the terms of the Treaty. In this regard the Australian and New Zealand members declared their continued willingness to accept visits to their ports by United States naval vessels whether conventional or nuclear-powered. They noted and accepted that it is not the policy of the United States navy to reveal whether or not its vessels are armed with nuclear weapons.

That was the 1982 communique. More recently, at the 1984 Council meeting in Wellington, the ANZUS partners agreed that:

Access by allied aircraft and ships to the airfields and ports of the ANZUS members was reaffirmed as essential to the continuing effectiveness of the Alliance.

I do not believe that the Government's contribution to the debate on Senator Chipp's Bill should conclude without my reminding the Senate briefly of the variety of initiatives which have been taken by the Government in relation to the disarmament issue. I do not think the Government's continued adherence to a policy of allowing visits to Australian waters of ships which are nuclear powered and which may be nuclear armed should be construed as in any way undermining the strength or force of our commitment to achieve disarmament by every means within our potential or at least to continue our moves in that direction.

Since assuming office the Hawke Labor Government has taken a very high profile- a much higher profile than its predecessors-on disarmament issues. Within the framework of the need to protect national security interests and to maintain deterrence in the present international situation, it has done the following things: First, it has affirmed Australia's readiness to join a consensus to hold an international conference on the question of the Indian Ocean zone of peace. Secondly, it has vigorously condemned the continued underground nuclear testing by France in the South Pacific region. Thirdly, the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to work for an end to all forms of nuclear testing by all states through a balanced and verifiable comprehensive test ban treaty. Australia is actively promoting an early commencement of negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament and has provided an expert for ongoing work on a CTB seismic verification system. Australia is also looking to bolster its own seismic detection capabilities in that respect.

Fourthly, and particularly important in the light of recent developments, consistent with our regional security interests and our ANZUS Treaty commitments , Australia has promoted the concept of a South Pacific nuclear free zone in the South Pacific Forum and in consultations with South Pacific countries. At the recently concluded South Pacific Forum in Tuvalu we proposed the establishment at the earliest possible time of a South Pacific nuclear free zone and that Forum agreed to the desirability of establishing such a zone. The South Pacific Forum also agreed that a working group of officials chaired by Australia prepare a draft on a South Pacific nuclear free zone treaty for consideration at the 1985 meeting. The essential elements of the proposal endorsed by the Forum are a ban on the use, testing and stationing of nuclear weapons and on the dumping of nuclear waste material in the region. The proposal would not affect the sovereign rights of countries in the region to decide for themselves such questions as security arrangements and access to ports and airfields by vessels and aircraft of other countries. Of course, contrary to some reports in the Press I should mention that this last point was raised by Australia at the 1983 Forum meeting in Canberra. It was endorsed by that meeting and formed an essential part of the proposal submitted by Australia to the 1984 Forum. The Government's view is that the move towards a South Pacific nuclear free zone would be an important contribution towards disarmament and arms control objectives, and would help preserve the peace and stability of the South Pacific region.

Fifthly, this Government has secured membership of a United Nations review of a study on nuclear weapon free zones and of a United Nations study on concepts of security. Sixthly, we have demonstrated our support for the United Nations Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and its system of verification including International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Seventhly, we have recognised that outer space is a coming area of arms competition between the super-powers, and have called for agreement to avoid an arms race in space. Eighthly, we have appointed Australia's first Ambassador for Disarmament, who has since been an active delegation leader and advocate for the Government's policies in international bodies. Ninthly, we have bolstered our institutional capacity to analyse and contribute to the international considerations of arms control and disarmament issues. Tenthly, we have taken steps to establish a peace research body in Australia.

Eleventhly, we have made voluntary contributions to the world disarmament campaign and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Twelfthly, we have indicated our willingness to participate in United Nations exercises connected with the examination of the reduction of military budgets. Finally, we have given our strong support to efforts to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race through a reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the nuclear weapon states, including the resumption of bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and intermediate range nuclear force talks between the super-powers.

Australia is not a party to the bilateral negotiations between the super-powers on the reduction of their strategic and theatre nuclear arsenals. We have, however, on numerous occasions supported the process of negotiation between the super-powers and urged them to negotiate in good faith to bring about substantial reductions in their nuclear arsenals. We expressed our disappointment at the Soviet walkout of the INF talks and have urged and have continued to urge, that both sets of negotiations be resumed as quickly as possible. This Government in pursuing its approach to disarmament and arms control, looks toward measures which provide basically three things: Promotion of stability in the strategic balance; adequate verification that international obligations and commitments are being complied with-that is, checks against cheating-and improved what has been described as transparency; that is, ready availability of understandable information about the range of defence and military activities throughout the world.

With this approach and against this background of activity and achievement it can hardly be complained and can hardly even be suggested that this Government's efforts on behalf of the cause of disarmament and world peace amount to anything less than total commitment-total commitment of the kind that, quite properly, has been called for by the Australian Democrats in their public statements on this issue, total commitment of the kind that underlies Senator Chipp's Bill which we are now debating-but a commitment which it is simply unrealistic to expect to work itself out in the form of a rejection of nuclear powered and nuclear armed ships ever visiting Australian waters. We cannot go as far as the Democrats' Bill would want us to go in that respect, but we do sympathise with and understand the policy commitments which lie behind it. I hope that in the light of the account I have given of the nature of the Government's policy on the nuclear ships question and putting that policy, as I have done, in the context of our larger commitment to disarmament, those points will be perhaps better appreciated than they have been in the past and the Government will be given, by the Democrats in particular, a little more credit for common sense and commitment in principle than it has been given in the past.