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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3080


Senator DURACK(5.28) —As has been indicated, the Senate is about to debate a Government Bill, the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill 1986, to ratify a treaty to establish a South Pacific nuclear free zone, a treaty which was entered into by the members of the South Pacific Forum, of which Australia is one, a little over a year ago. At the same time and as a result of the provisions in the Treaty the Government is seeking to amend the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 to give wider effect to that Act in relation to the dumping of radioactive waste, which is an obligation which Australia has assumed under this treaty. As honourable senators will be aware, it is not usual for treaties entered into by the Executive Government of the day to be ratified by legislation. Under our constitutional system those decisions are made by the Government, not by the Parliament. That procedure is under considerable challenge these days and it is suggested that there should be greater parliamentary control over the ratification of treaties.

The ratification process is that under which the obligations of a treaty are assumed by any country which is a party to it. It is an important process, particularly in Australia where, by the interpretation of the external affairs power, the Government and the Parliament can obtain powers they would not otherwise have under the Constitution. The fact that the Government has brought this Treaty into the Parliament to enable the Parliament to determine the ratification rather than the Government's simply ratifying it of its own volition is welcomed by the Opposition, and certainly a treaty of such significance as this, in our view, should be fully debated and voted upon by the Parliament.

The Opposition is opposed to the ratification of this Treaty for reasons which I shall deal with shortly. That means that it is even more desir- able that the matter should be properly debated in the Parliament before the Government takes steps to ratify the Treaty. Therefore, the move to enable Parliament to debate this Treaty properly is welcome. However, in the Opposition's view the effect of the Treaty is not desirable, even though on the face of it it may seem to be a desirable proposition that the South Pacific should become a nuclear free zone. Unfortunately, declarations of nuclear free zones are made these days without any careful thought being given to the nature or consequences of such a zone. This Treaty is a very good example of that. Here we have the nations of the South Pacific-I shall not list them exhaustively-which include the traditional island states of the South Pacific and other nations such as Australia which have a major interest in the region, gathered together in the South Pacific Forum. The South Pacific area is of great importance to Australia and of great interest to Australians. Australia's role in the region is of great importance to the other countries which constitute it. Australia has a growing relevance in the region. It has always had an historical association with it but in recent years the role of Australia in the South Pacific Forum has become very important, particularly in view of Australian aid to the region. The region is certainly of great importance to us. It is not our view that Australia's role should be in any way diminished. We certainly encourage Australia's taking a leading role in the area as we have supported Australia's taking a leading role in the South Pacific Forum. Indeed, we encourage Australia's taking note of the views of our neighbours in the South Pacific, their wishes and their needs as states which are in need of further economic development. We can play our part, as we have in the past, in assisting the region in many different ways.

Whether we assist the region by joining in a treaty to establish a nuclear free zone in the area is another matter altogether. The Opposition's final conclusion is that this Treaty is not of any benefit to the region and, in fact, it could be to the region's detriment that it is ratified by Australia and that this country assumes the obligations that that requires. First, let me point out that the phrase `nuclear free zone' is a misnomer. The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), who represents the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) in this place, recognised, when he introduced this Bill, that there was some doubt about the appropriateness of the title `nuclear free'. This Treaty does not, as so many local authorities around Australia are prone to do when they are taken over by anti-nuclear forces, declare a nuclear free zone in that sense at all. In the popular mind, nuclear free zones tend to be associated with declarations that a particular place shall have absolutely nothing to do with anything nuclear, either for peaceful purposes or for the deployment of nuclear weapons. This Treaty does not purport to ban all things nuclear from the South Pacific region. For a start it cannot do that, there is no legal power for the nations of the South Pacific to do that, nor would it be in their interests to preclude for all time-as this Treaty would do-the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in the region.

The Opposition believes that it is a matter of great regret that the present Hawke Government is virtually moving in that direction because of its nuclear policies. It is placing very great restrictions on research into the nuclear fuel cycle by our own Atomic Energy Commission and is greatly restricting the exploration for and development of uranium mines in Australia and the export of uranium. This is not a debate about those matters. However, this Bill is a further reflection of the very myopic attitude of the Hawke Government to the nuclear industry and nuclear power. Of course that policy represents the very great influence of the left wing of the Australian Labor Party on this Government. I believe that it is largely due to that sort of influence on this Government that it has taken part in and indeed has been leading the movement towards the declaration of this nuclear free zone in the South Pacific. The same forces are behind the Government in this case as were behind it in its domestic nuclear policies.

This Treaty itself and the Bill giving effect to it do not, as I have pointed out, purport to make the South Pacific or Australia totally nuclear free. As the Minister recognises, it really wants to establish a nuclear weapon free zone. According to the Minister, it is perfectly appropriate to talk about something being nuclear free when one only means it to be nuclear weapons free. I find this a most extraordinary use of the English language because there is a vast difference between an absolute nuclear free zone and a nuclear weapons free zone. Obviously, one of the most important and widely supported treaties in the world is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons-or the NPT-in which Australia is an important partner. We are part of the governing council under that Treaty of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That great worldwide movement is concerned to prevent the diversion of the nuclear fuel cycle at any point into the production of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear weapons states. It is a vitally important part of the world in which we live that nuclear power should be harnessed and controlled for peaceful purposes. Probably billions of people in this world would be gravely affected in respect of the availability of elementary electric power if the whole world was a nuclear free zone. We are talking here about a nuclear weapon regime.


Senator Gareth Evans —I hope you have noted the title of that Treaty though, Senator. The title is the same, for nuclear non-proliferation.


Senator DURACK —I want to make it perfectly clear to Senator Evans that we are not talking about a totally nuclear free zone. The Treaty does not renounce the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the South Pacific region; it simply deals with the renunciation of explosive nuclear devices. The Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) recognises that, even in that limited sense, this Treaty also presents what he suggested that many people may see as an inconsistency. The Minister went to great pains to explain, and no doubt Senator Evans will go to great pains to explain, that this Treaty does not prevent Australia from maintaining its defence arrangements under the ANZUS Treaty because, even though the member nations undertake to renounce the use of explosive nuclear devices or nuclear weapons in the South Pacific, they are limited only to a certain extent under the Treaty, consistent with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So it is really only a local application, so to speak, of the latter Treaty. Nevertheless, certain definitions in this Bill go much further than the Treaty requires, and that is what is worrying the Opposition. The Treaty does not, as the Government claims quite rightly, affect our defence arrangements because it does not prevent Australia from allowing nuclear powered or nuclear armed warships or aircraft to visit Australia, nor does it prevent any other nation in the Pacific from allowing that to occur. It does not require those nations to prevent nuclear powered or nuclear armed ships or aircraft from being in their territorial waters or airspace. It also cannot stop them moving around the international waters or airspace of the Pacific region.

As I have said, the Opposition's concern is the wider definition of the stationing of such allied warships or aircraft which may be nuclear armed. It is this very wide definition that has been adopted in the Treaty which is of great concern to us. Although we are presently in a situation of peace and allow visits from allied warships which may be nuclear armed, it seems that this definition would prevent a number of activities which would be required if in fact we moved from a state of peace to a state of war. The very circumstances and conditions in which the ANZUS Treaty applies would be brought into place as a result of armed conflict involving Australia. If our allies were, under the ANZUS Treaty, to come to our aid, whether it be the United States under that Treaty or any other allies who may have nuclear armed ships or aircraft and who would be a very important part of our defence, definitions and provisions in this Treaty would prevent their full participation in a state of war, which of course we cannot assume will never happen. Indeed, the ANZUS Treaty is the cornerstone of our defence policy and of our security and protection against the possibility of war. If war did occur, we would want allied ships or aircraft, which may or may not have nuclear arms, stationed in Australia. I want to refer to the meaning of `stationing', which in the Treaty and, of course, in the Bill giving effect to it extends to:

. . . emplacement, transportation on land or inland waters, stockpiling, storage, installation and deployment.

These are the very things that may well be required in those circumstances. Although in one sense the Minister is correct in saying that this Treaty does not interfere with our defence arrangements so long as we are in a state of peace, as we are at present, it undoubtedly would interfere with our defence arrangements if we were unfortunately to enter a state of war. The Opposition cannot see what value there is in saying that the Treaty does not affect our defence arrangements in those circumstances. In view of that definition, the Treaty is reduced almost to absurdity.

We believe that the Government has taken an overoptimistic view of the benefits of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. I have already pointed out that the Treaty cannot even prevent nuclear armed ships from proceeding through the international waters of the region. This is an area of great concern to our major ally, the United States of America. Thank goodness the United States does have a major presence in the Pacific region with its ships and aircraft. It would be a sorry day for Australia if that were to change. Nor does this Treaty stop the Soviet Union penetrating the international airspace or the international waters of the Pacific region as a result of either invitations extended or permission given by the other members of this Treaty, the South Pacific nations themselves. As we all know, there is a rapidly growing interest by the Soviet Union in the South Pacific, just as it has shown interest in the last decade or more in the Indian Ocean. The South Pacific region is clearly going to be subjected to more and more interest and penetration by the Soviet Union.

The United States is in the Pacific region most importantly for the security of the region, particularly the security of Australia, and the Soviet Union is also moving into it, yet we are here entering into a treaty giving the impression that we are really aligning ourselves against our major ally, the United States, while at the same time we are not prepared, or are unable, to prevent the Soviet Union from entering the region and endeavouring to destabilise the present situation. It is not only the specific legalities of the Treaty that concern the Opposition; it is also the perceptions of the Treaty by our allies, particularly the United States of America, that concern us. It is those broader concerns, rather than the specific problems that I have mentioned under the Treaty, that deeply disturb the Opposition.

The Treaty certainly does nothing to enhance security in the region. The effect of it may well be to encourage the Soviet Union further and further destabilise peace in the region. As we know, nuclear weapons free zones certainly do not protect us from nuclear war and do not provide an adequate deterrent against the commencement of nuclear war. That uneasy but successful balance of deterrence, which has been the basis of peace in the world over the last 40 years, could well be eroded by treaties of this kind. We are deeply concerned by that aspect of it.

The Opposition will support the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment Bill. Nothing that I have said on behalf of the Opposition in this debate should be taken as indicating any lessening of our opposition to the testing by France of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. We have a proud record of opposition to and concern about the dumping of radioactive waste in the Pacific region as we have of opposition to nuclear tests being conducted in the Pacific. There seem to be stringent definitions of radioactive waste in the Treaty and in the Bill to amend the sea dumping Act. The Opposition supports the Bill, at least until some worldwide agreements and rules can be made about the disposal of radioactive waste. As I have said, the Treaty has taken an extremely strict view of what is radioactive waste, as has the Government in giving effect to that Treaty. Even the most low level waste would be prevented from being dumped as a result of the definitions in the Treaty. The Opposition believes that position is justified at present and we will support the Bill accordingly. If the Treaty is not ratified, it may be desirable for the Government to promote a further treaty limited to the disposal of radioactive waste in the region because, if this Treaty is not ratified, the question of disposal of waste will be left open. The Opposition would certainly have no objection to a treaty being entered into on that matter.

For all of those reasons, the Opposition is opposed to ratification of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty and thus to the Bill to ratify that Treaty. But we support the opposition of the Government, which has been our position both in government and in opposition, to nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific and the dumping in the Pacific of radioactive waste.