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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 65

Senator DURACK —My question is directed to the Deputy Leader of the Government and Manager of Government Business in the Senate, the Minister for Resources and Energy, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister and the Minister Assisting the Foreign Minister in his capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Senate. In case honourable senators do not recognise the Minister, it is Senator Gareth Evans. I refer the Minister to renewed reports that the French Government is planning to move its nuclear testing site from Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific to the Kerguelen Archipelago, which is south-west of the Australian continent. Is the Minister aware of the great concern amongst Australians at these reports and at the possibility that radioactive toxins escaping into the atmosphere above the islands could be carried at least across the south-west corner of Australia and possibly to other parts of Australia? I ask: What action has the Government taken or will it take to ascertain whether such a move on the part of France is likely and to dissuade the French Government from such a serious course of action if that is the case?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I hope that this question from Senator Durack signals some renewed enthusiasm on the part of the Opposition for expressing its opposition to the French testing in the Pacific. The indignation that we have heard from the other side on this issue is very selective. It is only when it seems to come close to Senator Durack's own electorate that his senses start to come to the boil. As I have indicated, the reality is--

Senator Peter Baume —Cheap and smart.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is not cheap. I am distinguished and statesmanlike. This is my new image, Senator Baume. I promise that that is as insulting as I will ever get from now on. As I have indicated previously to the Senate, the Government is not aware-it is still not aware-of any hard evidence to support the recent speculation that the French authorities are planning to move France's nuclear testing program from Mururoa Atoll to the Kerguelen Islands. In 1983 scientists from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea visited Mururoa Atoll to investigate the effects of the French nuclear testing program. As is well known, the report was critical of some aspects of French testing but overall found no immediate cause for alarm. The team found that the risks of radioactive leakage occurring, if at all, were to be in the 500-year to 1,000-year time frame. Claims that radioactive leakage could occur within a much shorter time frame of 10 to 100 years are now being checked. A preliminary comment is that while there is a possibility that leakage could occur, as suggested within 10 to 100 years, the balance of probability still supports the conclusion of the 1983 scientific mission.

Of course, the Australian Government would be as strongly opposed to French nuclear testing in proximity to Australia in the Indian Ocean as it is opposed to France's current testing in the Pacific Ocean. Our assessment is that a move of the testing program from French Polynesia to the Kerguelen Islands would be unattractive to France on political grounds and in view of the considerable economic cost that would be involved in the relocation of facilities. The Government has sought to check the latest reports. While the French Government has not made a formal statement on the matter, senior French military officials have firmly denied to Australian Embassy staff in Paris that France has any intention to move its nuclear testing program from Mururoa. Finally, I record President Mitterrand's utterance on 3 February:

Mururoa exists and will continue to exist. We need to be able to carry out nuclear testing there.

So for all those reasons there do not appear to be foundations for the speculation, but obviously it is an issue that the Government will continue to monitor very closely.