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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3083


Senator MASON(5.55) —In looking at the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill, the first thing I would like to say is that any sensible government in Australia would have extended this Treaty to cover all nuclear technologies. A responsible government should be able to foresee a disastrous horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Pacific, as elsewhere, as a direct result of Australia's connivance at and encouragement of the nuclear industry. By horizontal proliferation I mean, in the jargon of the trade, an extension of nuclear weapons of one kind or another to smaller and smaller and less and less responsible powers-to dictatorships, to autocracies, and eventually even to determined terrorist groups. Work has been done by the responsible scientists of the world and they are telling loudly and clearly all those who will listen that a continuation of new technologies now under experimentation, and advanced experimentation, in the nuclear industry will lead within a foreseeable amount of time to the possibility-perhaps the likelihood; even perhaps the certainty-of small irresponsible powers and determined terrorist groups being able to manufacture for themselves not balance of terror weapons, not hydrogen bombs or anything of that kind, but only the small dirty atom bomb-the type of bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. I should have thought that that possibility was bad enough.

I was in Europe earlier this year and talked to a number of people, including some expert scientists in Israel and elsewhere, and including people who I was told were nuclear power hawks. They are now deeply concerned about this and regard it as one of the major problems facing the world. The Jekyll and Hyde aspect of the nuclear power industry will continue as its technologies improve. Will they improve? They have to improve if we go on with them because the present economic state is so bad that it is impossible for the nuclear power industry, as it is presently constituted, to continue. The costs are so high and the problems so great. That is why so few new reactors have been brought into service, and even fewer are planned for the future.

On this basis it seems quite perverse for the Government or any person not to see this connection and not to take it seriously into account. Certainly, many Australian Labor Party members-probably a majority of them-see this quite clearly. Like all reasonable human beings, they are deeply concerned about it. I noticed recently that Senator Durack mentioned this point when he opened the debate for the Opposition. He said that there is this driving force in the Labor Party, which he thought was in the left wing. He perpetually says that this is a left wing matter. I say to him that this is a matter that concerns all sections of the community, not just the left wing of the Labor Party; it goes right through the community. It is part of the knowledge that our school children have. Do we ever wonder why so many of them believe that they should not worry about getting a job or having a family? The reason is that survey after survey has shown that here, as elsewhere in the world, children do not believe that they will live long enough to have a career and have children. They believe that they will be dead long before they reach maturity-that they will be killed in a nuclear war.

If we want that sort of spin-off and are prepared to indulge ourselves in this wasteful industry, so be it. It is said that those who are incapable of learning from what they see around them are fated to their doom. I hope that that will not be the case and that as time goes on we will have more sense. But it did interest me to hear that, aside from those in the Labor Party and others, Senator Durack-I am greatly reassured by this-sees the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, which he mentioned right at the beginning of his speech.

Keeping the Pacific free of nuclear weapon proliferation may in time be very difficult indeed. The point that has to be made very clearly is that production of uranium 235 and plutonium 239 has in the past been very expensive and very difficult to conceal. This has been a big league matter. Now the situation is beginning to change quite dramatically. It is beginning to change in the interests, we are told, of a more economical and efficient nuclear power industry. The point, which I will repeat, is that that nuclear power industry, in being able to produce uranium 235 or plutonium 239 more cheaply and more easily and to have it around in greater quantities, is indeed creating the fuel not only for nuclear power stations but also for bombs. There is no doubt about this whatsoever. There will be plenty of cheap and easily obtainable power for nuclear bombs in the world in another 10 or 15 years if we go on as we are.

Centrifuge enrichment has improved radically. The use of carbon fibre in the centrifuges and new, very high speed bearings which simply run around at high speed and allow the slow separation of the U235 from the U238 mean that the time will come when a small power, perhaps in the Pacific Ocean or perhaps elsewhere, will be able to have a fairly small factory in which it can produce U235 more or less at its leisure. It will be able to conceal it easily. This is where the attempts at international supervision will fail.

Even worse is laser enrichment. One of the countries which is pioneering it is France, which is totally irresponsible, which does not see any consequences of its nuclear industry and which does not worry about nuclear proliferation. All its actions show this. Laser enrichment is even worse because it is not really an enrichment process at all. It is a natural separation by a single process of U235, which is the fissionable component of the natural uranium, from U238, which is not. If we go ahead and permit this technology or do not attempt to bring it under some sort of world control, some small country somewhere in South East Asia or east Asia could eventually use so-called peaceful methods to derive these weapons.

What would happen once one of them had them? Once one had them, they would all want them. We would have a situation in which every small regional war in this region, as elsewhere, would use these nuclear weapons. Once the weapons are there, it is fairly obvious that they will be used. They will be seen then as fairly small league weapons in terms of the awesome nuclear arsenals of the super-powers. What is the odd Hiroshima-sized bomb used here and there in a desperate necessity, such as when our enemies may beat us? Why should it not be used? The consequences of that will not appear to be very great to begin with, but they will be great, of course, over a period. I have said before in this place, and I will say it again, that if we allow that-these weapons are very dirty; the radioactivity fallout from these crude weapons would be very high-the fate of the human race will be to end not with a bang but perhaps with a whimper.

The second point that I want to make in relation to this Bill is that I cannot see why we have to have nuclear powered warships in Australian ports. There is every reason, I believe, that Australia should follow the lead given by New Zealand. When Australian citizens are honestly questioned on this most of them probably will agree with that. If, indeed, Australian citizens of good intent could be convinced that the balance of world power would be seriously affected somehow by not allowing ships here, I think they might feel differently. It is a fairly open secret that nuclear powered and nuclear weaponed ships come here mostly to give rest and recreation to their sailors. I do not, and I think most Australians would not, believe that this is a reason for placing our major cities at risk. In this country past governments have been careless enough to allow major naval bases to be located in the heart of our major cities. This is the case in both Sydney and Perth. Those governments that tolerate the present situation ought to have a very careful look at the possible consequences of it before they bring forward pious Bills of this kind which are supposed to be achieving something of value for this country in the nuclear debate but which are doing very little indeed.

Certainly the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill is potentially one of the most important and significant Bills ever presented to this Parliament. It is of vital importance to the South Pacific region, to us and to the world that a workable and thorough South Pacific nuclear free zone treaty be established and strictly enforced as soon as possible. That will happen only when those matters which I raised earlier in my speech are taken into account and considered seriously on an international level. I see no sign whatsoever of the Labor Government here making any moves in that direction. It shrugs its shoulders and does its Judas act. It just allows these things to drift on. At one time we were told that unless we were in the nuclear industry we would not have an influence at all on the world. When we are in it we do not attempt to exert any influence. What sanity is there in that, or is the Government so stupid that it and its researchers are not capable of knowing the things of which I have spoken and their dangers? Of course they know. The point is that the Labor Government, the Hawke Government, is washing its hands of this and does not want to know.

In its favour, the Bill prohibits the manufacture, production and acquisition of nuclear explosive devices in Australia, research and development relating to manufacture or production of nuclear weapons in Australia and the testing of nuclear explosive devices in Australia. That is a very considerable step forward, and I concede it because I understand that Australia is the first country to enshrine these principles in legislation. It comes back, I think, to our cringe, or our national or parliamentary sense of an inferiority complex, that we are able to take this good and valid step in our country yet our Government somehow feels too scared, too concerned or not confident enough to try to extend these principles into the wider world.

We give credit, as Senator Durack has mentioned, to those Government back benchers who pushed very hard in the ALP Caucus to have this Bill introduced.


Senator Durack —I didn't give any credit to them.


Senator MASON —As I recall, Senator Durack did not actually give credit to them; he mentioned them, I think. I differ from him. I give them credit for it because I believe in giving credit where it is due. I think it is reasonable that the Labor back benchers who pushed for this should be given credit. I am aware of how much this move was resisted by many powerful members of the Government. That the Bill was presented by the Government at all in the circumstances of the Government's nuclear record in other respects is amazing. I know that the ALP Caucus possibly has been influenced by the fact that the Australian Democrats have presented so many anti-nuclear Bills in this place. We feel that when we presented those Bills we presented a reasonable argument and debate for them. I think that was conceded by many people who were prepared to look at them in a rational and unbiased way.

This Bill prohibits the permanent stationing of nuclear weapons in Australia. The Australian Democrats applaud this excellent provision. However, there again it falls pitifully short because none of its provisions applies to any foreign ship or aircraft visiting Australia or travelling through Australian waters or airspace. When we come to look at it, I think we see it as a pretty weak and watery sort of provision. In other words, we cannot actually have weapons permanently in Australia. To give credit where it is due, when one looks at the situation in, say, Britain and the rest of Europe, one sees that it is a pretty good concession in that we at least will not have cruise missiles and things of that kind going backwards and forwards on our country roads and stationed all over our country. That, I suggest, is probably due to a lack of pressure and a lack of necessity for us to have such weapons in this country. If it were necessary and if we were pushed very hard, one wonders whether the present Australian Government would be capable of standing up against it. My view is that that may well not be so.

I was pleased to read in the second reading speech of the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) on the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill that the Bill makes it a binding, legal, international obligation on Australia that Australian uranium cannot be exported for use by any country in nuclear explosives. The Minister goes on to say that Australian uranium may be exported to France with no fear that it will be used in such weaponry. I find this a most curious statement. I do not see how the Government has got itself to believe what it is saying. It is totally incredible that uranium should be exported to France, which has said many times that it will use material from its nuclear reactors for weapons. We can believe it. France is building Superphenix, its fast breeder reactor, to obtain huge quantities of plutonium. The quantities of plutonium that a breeder reactor produces over a period are such that it is inconceivable that they could all be used in a single country for nuclear power. There is simply too much produced to consider it worth while. There is a plain and obvious use for that type of technology. The reason fast breeders have not been introduced in other parts of the world is that, ultimately, at the bottom line, a fast breeder is there to produce Pu239 for weapons.

I would be very surprised if the Government could hold that ground. It is a totally unjustifiable stance on the part of the Government. If it looks at the facts, it will see that, if Australian uranium is exported to France, there is no way humanly possible that anybody can tell over the years whether it is our uranium or somebody else's that finally comes out of some spent fuel rods that are reprocessed, or whether some U238 that goes into the blanket of a breeder reactor is ours or anybody else's. It is quite likely that France will, of course, use all the uranium it can get in its nuclear weapons to pollute and destabilise the South Pacific region. France is maintaining its colonial stand in New Caledonia and other places. I do not believe it would hesitate to use nuclear weapons in this region if it felt that it was a necessary act of war.

The Government will, of course, now realise, in our opinion, if it gives any serious consideration to what this Bill states and the facts, that it can no longer allow the export of Australian uranium to France, as it will undoubtedly be breaking the law that it has established, once this Bill has been enacted. The Australian Democrats will not allow the Government to forget that point. We will, if necessary, insist on whatever inquiries are necessary to prevent the continued export of uranium to France within the scope of this Bill.

I cannot compliment the Government highly enough on the introduction of the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment Bill 1986, which we are debating cognately. It has not been lost on me that this Bill is virtually an exact replica of my own private member's Bill-the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment Bill 1985. I am delighted that the Government has taken it on board. I introduced that Bill because the Government was dragging the chain. It said years ago that it would bring in this provision. I thought I would be a little helpful to it by introducing my Bill last year. It seems to have had the desired effect. I am glad that the Government has now introduced its own Bill. As such, I give it my wholehearted support.

I conclude by referring to the delightful quote which the Minister used in his second reading speech and which I think everybody deserves to hear. In the words of the preamble to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, the people of the South Pacific are:

. . . determined to ensure, so far as lies within their power, that the bounty and beauty of the land and sea in their region shall remain the heritage of their peoples and their descendants in perpetuity to be enjoyed by all in peace.

That is an excellent and praiseworthy determination. It is a great pity that it was not the attitude of the United States Government when it decided to subject the people of the Marshall Islands to the consequences of its weapon testing. Of course, this concept is obviously quite beyond the arrogant and shortsighted attitude that is being expressed by the current French Government. While it is okay for the Minister in his second reading speech to use those lovely words, I would like to see more determination and more careful thought by the Government as to how it will actually bring those concepts into practice.

On behalf of the Australian Democrats I congratulate the Government on introducing these Bills, while at the same time stressing their serious limitations. Although the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill does not, in our opinion, go nearly far enough, it can be said, I think, that it is a start-possibly a good start-in the direction of a nuclear free South Pacific region. But it will only be that start if we have stronger legislation of this kind from the Government in the future, and some indication that it understands in totality what the influences are, bearing not only on the nuclear weapons industry, but also on its strong and dangerous association with the nuclear power industry.