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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1265

Senator ROBERTSON —Did the Minister for Resources and Energy hear a report on this morning's AM program claiming that certain documents had been withheld from the McClelland Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia between 1952 and 1963 by the United Kingdom Government? What is the truth of this report? If it is true, will it prevent the Commission from adequately carrying out its task?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I did hear the AM report this morning recording that in the House of Commons Mrs Thatcher had said that some papers had been withheld on the grounds of national security, international security and personal sensitivity. This is a matter which I have been monitoring fairly closely since assuming this portfolio. That matter, along with a number of other matters concerning the course of the inquiry, has been the subject of a number of discussions by me with the relevant United Kingdom Minister, Mr Adam Butler, with Mr Justice McClelland and with other British officials both here and in London. It is my understanding from those discussions that the United Kingdom Government has been co-operating with the Royal Commission and that there is no belief in the Commission that it has now been denied access to documents of significance for its inquiry and its conclusions.

I have been advised-this does conform with what was said to be Mrs Thatcher's answer in the House of Commons-that there are three categories of documents which have given rise to some questions of difficulty in determining their release to the Royal Commission. The first category concerns documents relating to detailed questions of weapons design and the composition of the weapons, to which access has been denied on national security grounds.

Secondly, there are documents relating to the effects of these weapons and containing information or individual records about particular persons involved. Information about the effects of weapons has not been denied to the Commission, but to the extent that questions of personal sensitivity have been involved the documents there have been subject to clearance.

Thirdly, there has been a category of documents containing sensitive foreign relations issues. These are primarily associated with the fact that there were one or two third countries involved at various stages of the test programs. I instance the United States, New Zealand and Canada. Access to documents affecting such third countries again is subject to clearance by them.

Finally I mention that I have been advised that counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Mr McClellan, sought and received an assurance of co-operation from the United Kingdom Government at the Commission's last sitting day in London. The assurance was in the following terms:

All documents that have been identified to date have been provided-or will be provided-either as complete versions or, where appropriate, in a sanitised form.

The British counsel continued:

Secondly, I would like to say that my clients will do their very best to ensure that all relevant and material documents which emerge after the Commission has left the United Kingdom are made available.

I have not heard anything subsequently from the Commission which would suggest that there is any degree of concern at all about the level of co-operation by the United Kingdom Government and access to the material that the Commission has had from the United Kingdom Government. I think this morning's report should be understood in that context.