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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 148


Senator KILGARIFF(11.10) —The Senate is debating today the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill. The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) has said that once the Bill is enacted it will give effect to certain of Australia's international treaty obligations which require domestic legislation. Before addressing the specifics of this Bill and the aspects of the Bill to which the Opposition objects, I wish to make a few brief remarks of a more general nature concerning the Federal Government's ongoing neglect of the nuclear industry in Australia.

The Minister said in his opening remarks: `It should be noted that Australia's nuclear industry is quite limited in scope compared with other industrialised countries'. The Minister went on to comment that, while we are a major producer of uranium, processing is limited to the production of yellowcake for export. I am not sure whether the Minister was proud to admit to the Senate the inadequacies of the Federal Government's policy on uranium and the development of the nuclear industry; but even if he was not proud he did not appear to be remorseful-which he certainly should be as a Minister for Resources and Energy whose Government is refusing to foster the development of the nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes in Australia. As my colleague, Senator Hill, said, it will bring about increased control of the Australian product. Certainly it enhances the Australian economy-surely that is required very much these days with our economic problems-not to mention the vast numbers of people who would be employed.

The Minister continues to ignore the Australian Science and Technology Council, ASTEC, which in a 1984 report commissioned by none other than the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) recommended that Australia increase its involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle. It seems to me that certain members of the Government sometimes would like to ignore the fact that Australia is a major uranium producer, despite their policies, and has a part to play in the nuclear fuel cycle. Bills such as this and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill-debate on which was completed in the last 24 hours and which made no provision for the new organisation to become involved with uranium enrichment-are indicative of the Federal Government's short-sightedness.

To return to the specifics of the Bill and the elements to which I am opposed, this Bill will give legislative effect to certain of Australia's obligations under international treaties. Last year the Senate debated the Bill which gave legislative sanction to one of those treaties. I refer to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. While the Labor Government is intent on setting up legislation to enable the fulfilment of this Treaty obligation, it is interesting to see the way the Government is blithely putting aside any consideration of the impact of this legislation upon our relationships with our other treaty partners and allies. The main difficulty that the coalition has with the Treaty Bill and this legislation is the restraints they impose on Australia's capacity to maintain our national security and the potential danger they pose to our alliances with the United States and other allies.

In relation to the Treaty Bill two other aspects of legislation which related to the prohibition of nuclear testing in the Pacific and dumping of nuclear waste were supported by the Opposition. We have no qualms about those. But on balance the Bill was opposed because of the critical impediments it put in the way of the maintenance of Australia's alliances. As I have said, those alliances are threatened by the provisions of the Bill before the Senate today. The Bill sets out a scheme whereby permits are required for the possession and/or transportation of nuclear items. The permits are to be issued by the Minister, with administrative arrangements to be handled by the Director of the Australian Safeguards Office.

As the Minister says in his second reading speech: `The intention is that every aspect of possession, use and transportation of nuclear items should be strictly controlled'. If this provision is taken to its logical-or perhaps I should more aptly say illogical-conclusion it could seriously damage our relationships with our allies such as the United States and Great Britain in that it will require visiting allied nuclear powered or nuclear armed vessels and aircraft to have permits to possess and transport nuclear items. It will be an offence to possess and/or transport such items without a permit. Honourable senators are aware that some of the naval vessels of these two countries-England and the US-are nuclear powered, nuclear armed or both. We are also aware that both countries have a policy of not disclosing whether their ships are armed with nuclear weapons-for sound strategic reasons.

While under the proposed legislation the Minister will have some power to exempt certain nuclear material from the provisions of the legislation, it does not appear from the remarks of the Minister in his second reading speech that such exemption will automatically be accorded to visiting naval vessels or aircraft which may or may not require exemption. It may be that the relevant Minister will be able to declare a particular vessel exempt, but equally there seems to be nothing in the provisions of this legislation to prevent a Minister from refusing a permit on the basis that a vessel may be carrying nuclear material. Given the present Federal Government's record to date, it is in no position to idly dismiss this possibility. Honourable senators have only to recall the Invincible fiasco-that disgraceful episode in which the ship of an ally was refused permission to use Australian docking facilities in Sydney when the ship was in need of repairs-to be well aware of the animosity of some members of the Federal Government towards our allies.


Senator Collard —A shameful action by a weak government.


Senator KILGARIFF —As Senator Collard says. The Federal Government cannot simply write that incident off as an isolated one which will not occur again. One only has to be reminded of the politics and philosophies of so many on the Left of politics to be well aware of their antagonism towards our allies, particularly the United States of America. I am sure that there are many on the Left who would be only too happy at the prospect of our allies being denied the right to bring their military craft into Australian ports. While at present the pragmatists on the Right of the Australian Labor Party maintain a fragile control over their more left wing colleagues, we cannot ignore the possibility of the situation being radically different a bit further down the track. Even if the Government is prepared to state categorically here and now that it does not believe or intend this legislation to interfere with or impair our relationship with our allies whose vessels or aircraft may wish to use port facilities in Australia, there are no guarantees for the future when the ideological balance of the Labor Party may have altered quite considerably.


Senator Button —Those on that side should be the ones to talk about that!


Senator KILGARIFF —I invite the Leader of the Government in the Senate to listen if he will because what is required in order to overcome any possibility of damage to our relationship with our Treaty partners is an amendment to the Bill to exempt the vessels and aircraft of our allies from the requirement to comply with the legislation. I think that is a reasonable request which would put the legislation more in order. Unfortunately, there are very many people in this country, many of whom belong to the Labor Party, who would like nothing more than to see our alliance with the United States eroded and abandoned. These are the people who supported the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, which proposes a prohibition on nuclear armed vessels in the South Pacific area and imposes upon signatories an obligation to refuse home porting to nuclear armed vessels. This Treaty, which the Federal Government has embraced so wholeheartedly, will severely restrict Australia's capacity to protect our national interests in the event of a shift in the military balance in our region, which is precarious to say the least.

The Treaty ties our hands, as it ties the hands of any other Pacific nations which choose to sign it. Significantly, it does not tie the hands of the nation whose ever increasing naval presence in the Pacific is threatening to alter the strategic balance of our region. Of course, I refer to the Soviet Union, which has built up its largest naval base outside the Soviet Union at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam and which is embracing the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty with open arms. No wonder. I stress that-no wonder. While the Treaty restricts the United States, which is the only weapons state to deploy nuclear weapons in the defined zone, the Soviet base at Cam Ranh Bay will be unaffected by the Treaty. The installation at Cam Ranh Bay provides a base for Bear and Badger strike bombers which are equipped with nuclear armed cruise missiles and are capable of reaching Australia and many other places in the Pacific. The Soviet naval presence in the waters of the Pacific has increased alarmingly in recent years and we now see overtures from the Soviet Union being made towards some of the smaller island nations, such as Kiribati and Vanuatu. Indeed, the events of recent weeks have shown that the Soviet Union is seeking to gain a firm foothold in the South Pacific by, for example, making landing rights for its airline, Aeroflot, part of a fishing deal with Vanuatu. Its tentacles are creeping out. It is quite clear that the Soviets will exploit the financial and political problems of smaller Pacific island nations to pursue their wider strategic interests and this, of course, is what we have seen in so many other places, to the detriment of those smaller nations and the security of the whole region.

In this regard Australia should maintain a very close interest in what is happening in the Philippines where the Government of President Corazon Aquino, in spite of getting great support for her new constitution, is still facing the threat of rebel insurgency from the New People's Army. Perhaps to some degree I am going off at a tangent here, but this matter is part of the problem in the Pacific which concerns us. Australia needs to pay more heed to what is happening in the Philippines and should make efforts to increase friendship and trade links with that country. I was in the Philippines only a couple of weeks ago during the coup attempt by so-called Marcos loyalists and I gained the impression that the Government of the Philippines is looking to friendly nations such as Australia for assistance and increasing aid. Corazon Aquino is facing an implacable enemy in the New People's Army, which is strong and well equipped. It would certainly suit the Soviets' purpose to see the NPA destabilise the Aquino Government, and the United States Government is well aware of the risk to the stability of the region which would be posed if the future of Subic Bay and Clark air base were in question. The future security of the Western Pacific would be jeopardised by the loss of United States access to these bases and United States sources are concerned that the NPA may increasingly look to assistance from sympathetic communist states for arms and equipment. It may well be that Vietnam and Cuba are already sources supplying arms to the NPA in the Philippines.

Australia has a vested interest in seeing that President Aquino quells the insurgence and restores her country to democracy. She not only faces the NPA and, on the Right, the so-called Marcos loyalists in the military, but also has the difficulty of rebuilding a country that was left bankrupt by former President Marcos and his cronies who hijacked billions of dollars from the country's coffers. Australia should not limit its support for President Aquino and her Government to cheering from the sidelines, but should be increasing our level of aid to the Philippines. Having been out in the countryside in the Philippines a couple of weeks ago, I saw some indication of this. I would hope that the Government would continue to increase aid. Unless Mrs Aquino is able to put down the NPA and the threat of civil war in the Philippines, there is a risk of her country following the same path as Vietnam.

Vietnam has already paid dearly for the millions of dollars worth of Soviet support-about $4.8 billion since 1979-required to keep the Vietnamese armed forces operational. At Cam Ranh Bay the Soviets have at least 26 ships as well as a squadron of MiG-23s and a considerable number of the latest large, continent spanning reconnaissance bomber aircraft, such as the Bear and Badger bombers which I mentioned previously. The Soviet Union maintains about six to eight sophisticated warships at the base and as many support ships, as well as about five or six submarines, amongst which are the Victor-class nuclear powered attack submarines, some of the latest craft in the world. Only last year the huge Soviet battle cruiser Frunze entered the Pacific Ocean. This vessel is a 35,000-tonne nuclear armed and nuclear powered cruiser, and its entry into the Pacific represents a major escalation of Soviet forces in the region.

The Vietnamese have been systematically excluded from the area of Cam Ranh Bay, and the naval, communications and intelligence facilities established there are operated exclusively by the Soviets. It is not my wish to go further into that field of Indo-China, but I have had the opportunity of seeing the Soviets in action there, too. Those who believe that, in supporting the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, the Soviets are acting without selfish motives are very naive. This Treaty was a gift to the USSR public relations machine. It allows the Soviet Union to present itself as embracing nuclear non-proliferation while, at the same time, maintaining its heavily nuclear armed arsenal in Vietnam.

At this point I might add that I found it very interesting to see that the peace loving and trustworthy Soviets, whose Minister-Counsellor in Canberra, Mr Valery Zemskov, wrote to the Australian newspaper a few weeks ago claiming that there is no Soviet naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, have since been exposed as having been less than truthful about the installation there. It was a rather incredible statement by a person in Australia-a guest of Australia, one would have to say-to make. It was quite ludicrous for a Soviet representative in Australia to claim that there is no base at Cam Ranh Bay. He has now been totally discredited by conclusive evidence of the existence of the naval base. Photographic evidence of the permanent deployment of Soviet ships and war planes at the base was made public only last week by the United States Military Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Lyons. Of course, Australia has ready access to Soviet naval power operating in the Pacific through its surveillance measures. We have known about that for quite a long time-well prior to the statement by Admiral Lyons last week.

The United States Government has not been taken in by Moscow's willingness to sign the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. It is a great pity that our Federal Government has been so ready to jump on the nuclear free zone bandwagon without considering the regional and global implications of its actions. This Federal Government may be intent on placating and handing a sop to the left wing elements within its ranks, but it should not be doing so at the risk of endangering our regional security and the future of our alliance relationships. It should therefore take this opportunity to ensure that the legislation before the Senate today is amended to exclude specifically the vessels or aircraft of our allies from any requirement to comply with it.