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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 152

Senator TEAGUE(11.38) —The centrepiece of this debate on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill 1986 is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. No one has spoken against the Treaty to which Australia has been a signatory for more than 15 years. Indeed, Australia is a leading signatory and supporter of the Treaty. The debate also has as its centrepiece the safeguards which Australia has in an unparalleled way raised to the highest standard in the international area by ensuring that our own uranium that is exported is used for peaceful purposes.

Broadly, three groups of senators are participating in this debate. Senator Georges, who is now an independent, having left the Australian Labor Party, is opposed to Australia's involvement in the uranium industry. He is also seeking that Australia should act unilaterally with regard to disarmament.

Senator Georges —No, I didn't say that.

Senator TEAGUE —Well, I am happy to hear that Senator Georges, with his independence from the Labor Party, still subscribes to a rejection of unilateral disarmament. Certainly we in the Liberal Party do, as does the Government. But, broadly speaking, the honourable senator's views about Australia quitting altogether the uranium industry are shared by other independents in this place and the Australian Democrats. However, none of this group of some seven or eight senators is represented in the other place, the House of Representatives. The group is proposing that Australia should completely leave the whole area by quitting the uranium industry. It is not satisfied that Australia has a safeguards office or that we are a signatory to the NPT, bearing in mind all the best intentions and achievements of the Treaty. It goes erratically away from that. The Government has initiated this Bill and recommended to the Parliament that it be adopted. The Government sees the Bill as strengthening the long tradition that was begun by the Liberal-National Government of a total endorsement and strengthening of the NPT and of our safeguards position.

The first difference between the Government and the Opposition in this matter is that we do not want to be seen as reactive to those elements that gained fairly small minority support in the 1984 election, the last Federal election. By reacting to the left wing minority views expressed at that election, the Government is really placing this legislation before us to put about that it is taking new and brave steps towards meeting some of the views expressed by its left wing members and by those who ran on a nuclear ticket in the last election. In so doing, it is putting in jeopardy the defence of Australia and the alliances that we believe are essential to our defence and to the security of the world. This legislation will exclude or restrict the ability of allied vessels or aircraft to visit Australian ports. The Opposition seeks to redress that position by an amendment which would ensure that, in exactly the same way as happens now, the alliance and the defence of Australia are effective.

Broadly speaking, we have three positions in this debate. The eight or so independents and Australian Democrats want to rid Australia root and branch of the uranium industry. That view is opposed by all the rest of us in the Senate. The Government has reacted to that minority view with the rhetoric of professing that this is a brave new step. It hopes that this will give it some credentials for claiming that it is sensitive to the concerns in Australia about safeguarding our uranium resources and ensuring that they are used for peaceful uses only. The Opposition does not want to blind the public with rhetoric in this matter or make false professions. We just squarely say that for over 15 years we initiated Australia's total compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and we established the strongest safeguards to protect the peaceful use of Australia's uranium. We have taken every step to do this. We do not regard this Bill-this domestic measure; this enactment of a crime to offend against any of the matters I have been speaking of-as in any way substantially adding to the exemplary model that Australia presents to our people and to the world in these matters.

Essentially, I see this as a belt and braces Bill. We already have a very secure belt; we do not need to add the braces of this legislation. However, I and my Liberal colleagues will support the measure. We wish to make the political point that we take this opportunity to express our full support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, for the Australian Safeguards Office, for the relationship we have with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and for the importance of these areas being further extended and made more stable and secure in all parts of the world.

It is important to understand the origin of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the middle and late 1960s. In a crucially significant attempt to conclude the Second World War, the United States, among some other nations, developed the nuclear bomb. As is well known, its first use in Japan in 1945 demonstrated an awesome new weapon that led to a quicker finish to the Second World War than might otherwise have been the case. After the acquisition of those nuclear weapons by the United States, within a few years the Soviet Union also developed that technology and was also a nuclear power. Very soon thereafter, in the 1950s, the United Kingdom gained nuclear weapon capability, followed shortly by France. By 1965, some years afterwards, China also exploded a nuclear bomb. By this stage there was rightfully a concern that already there were too many with this nuclear weapons capability, and this proliferation of nuclear powers, a horizontal proliferation of nuclear powers, was very much resisted by Australia, and rightly so, and by the nations of the world generally. By the late 1960s, in a direct move to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, a treaty was developed and signed not only by those without nuclear weapons seeking to resist horizontal proliferation but also by the principal nuclear weapons states themselves. Now 140-odd countries-all members of the United Nations-subscribe to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Every five years after its first signing there has been a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which Australia has been a most active participant, to update and to strengthen the measures that will resist the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has been a moderate success.

There has not been any declaration by any other country, nor any demonstration of direct nuclear weapons capability, beyond the five who had acquired nuclear weapons prior to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, it is my view that Israel has a nuclear capability and that it would be only a matter of a few days before it technically could finish the acquisition of such a nuclear weapons capability. I would regard that addition to the nuclear weapons club as most unfortunate, as I would the addition of any of the Arab states. Similarly, a nuclear device was exploded by India, apparently for `peaceful purposes'. Happily, there has not been any repetition of that in the more than 10 years since that device was exploded.

Pakistan has options to ensure that it is not outwitted or left behind should India, its neighbour and potential enemy, gain a nuclear weapons capability. There is speculation as well as to whether Brazil, Argentina and some other countries have before them lively options for the development of nuclear weapons. It is important that, along the lines of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, there is enormous international pressure on India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina and any other country that appears to have before it an active option to acquire nuclear weapons. I want to see those pressures strengthened so that they are totally successful and so that we do not see any other country acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities.

But an important aspect of the original international agreement for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was that those countries that already had nuclear weapons would need to take active steps to reduce their nuclear weapons capability. Instead, in the period since the first signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we have seen an increase in the nuclear capability, certainly of the Soviet Union; a comparable strength being maintained by the United States-no effective disarmament; an increase by France; an increase by China, although at still low levels; and perhaps a steady position in the United Kingdom. But whatever that steady or increasing position of those five nuclear weapons states may be, these countries have not lived up to the terms of the Treaty to actively pursue disarmament so that they are less threatening to all the other signatories, and to the rest of the world besides, which are threatened by their having nuclear weapons. I regard it as an urgent matter that the United States and the Soviet Union, in particular, mutually and multilaterally disarm and see real reductions in their nuclear weapons capability to live up to and give greater confidence to the viability of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

No one has argued in this chamber that the passing of this law will see any consequent breakthrough in the international situation that I have described. This belt and braces legislation for consumption in Australia is putting into domestic legislative form safeguards and prohibitions that already exist and that no one has ever doubted have ever been anywhere near compromised. In fact, the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), in his second reading speech on this Bill, had this to say with regard to Australia's international obligations:

This approach has been successful and there has never been the slightest suggestion from our bilateral partners nor from the IAEA that Australia has not complied with its nuclear safeguards obligations.

That is an accurate statement. The Minister is saying that, effectively, no one has made even the slightest suggestion that we have departed from our treaty obligations, our obligations to the international monitors of atomic energy matters, or any of our safeguards obligations. Similarly, the Minister referred in his second reading speech to the Australian Safeguards Office. That already exists. It is just to be given a new name by this legislation and its head is to be made a statutory officer. It is a strengthening, in bureaucratic terms, of an important office. It is not surmised by anybody that the activities of that Office would be any different. The same personnel, the same responsibilities and the same monitoring will continue when this Bill is passed by the Parliament. The Minister said:

These functions have been carried out to date by the Australian Safeguards Office without legislative backing and a highly efficient and effective accounting system has been established.

There is not the slightest suggestion that we have departed from, or that there is any possibility of our departing from, upholding in the strongest way our own obligations, whether they are in regard to our internal arrangements, to which we are committed, or our international obligations. It goes without saying that the basis of Australia's commitments in this area was established under a Liberal government. I, as a Liberal, and all of my colleagues continue to endorse totally the arrangements with regard to the Treaty, the International Atomic Energy Agency, our bilateral safeguards and the importance of the Safeguards Office. We differ in that we are not reactive, as is this Government, to urgings from its own minority left wing or from those members it has lost to the ranks of the few independents in this chamber. We do not believe that passing legislation such as this for rhetoric reasons enables us to say out on the hustings that brave new steps have been taken to safeguard the sensitivities that the Government is concerned about. I understand that Senator Vallentine will speak after me in this debate. I will not presume as to what she will say; but I do not think she sees any brave new world, any new era of activity, coming from this legislation beyond that which has been well established for 15 years.

I refer now to the defence implications of this Bill. This is where there is a risk of endangering Australia's defence and Australia's alliance relationships. This is of no concern to Senator Vallentine or to other independents in the chamber. They want to see unilateral steps taken by Australia towards disarmament; they want to see us completely ending the Australian uranium industry; and they want to see an end to the Australian alliance with the United States of America. It is of no concern to them. They want to stop ship visits and they want to stop our allies landing planes in Australia. They want to see a neutral Australia free of anything to do with our uranium resources. We have heard that said over and over again, and that very minority view no doubt will be put again by Senator Vallentine.

The Opposition does not wish to see an end to the alliance with the United States or the general alliance with our Western allies. We believe that those alliances are fundamental to Australia's defence. We believe that it is important to maintain stability against those who could disturb the peace of the world, and that is why it is important that we deter aggressors and potential aggressors. We need to have in place an alliance in which we are an active participant to ensure that deterrence works. I believe that it would be a great offence for this Parliament not to ensure the defence of Australia.

Let me refer to one clause of the Bill that I believe leaves open such a risk, such an endangering of Australia's defence. It is provided in the Bill that, when a person or a group has been granted a permit or authority by the Minister to handle any nuclear material, equipment or technology, that permit or decision can be appealed against. Clause 22 (2) of the Bill provides the ability to appeal against that decision of the Minister. It reads:

A notice referred to in sub-section (1) shall include a statement to the effect that, subject to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 and to sub-section (8) of this section, application may be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for review of the decision to which the notice relates by or on behalf of a person whose interests are affected by the decision.

That is a very broad and general provision. It would allow any citizen in Australia who felt that his interests were affected by, say, the visit of an allied ship to appeal against the Minister's decision by taking the matter to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The litigation, the delays and the hesitancy that would then be involved would compromise the effective, practical workings of the alliance. I predict that, even though the government of the day is now professing that it also would want to minimise this risk by administrative means, it may be taken to task by that small group of Australians who are committed to do anything, even mischievous things and even to take up unintended aspects of this legislation, to embarrass the government, whether it is the present Government or, as will soon be the case, a Liberal-National Party government. They may use the ability provided in this Act to disrupt Australia's relationship with its allies and the necessary basis for defending Australia.

I therefore support the amendment that the Opposition will move to place very clearly in the legislation an exemption for visiting allied forces so that this legislation does not apply to visiting allied ships and visiting allied aircraft that are specifically declared to be such by the Government-that is, by the Minister giving notice in writing in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette-and so that there is no doubt about which ships and aircraft would come under this clause. It would mean that no citizen could take even a mischievous step in litigation to use the unamended form of this Bill to achieve his minority goal of disrupting Australia's alliance relationships and, in the view of the great majority of us in this Parliament, so endangering and putting at risk Australia's defence.

It is with this view that the Opposition is drawing attention to the need for this amendment. It is for political and rhetoric reasons that this legislation is before the Senate. It is the Labor Party's reaction to its departed members who went off to join minority independent movements. The Opposition supports very strongly Australia's long term commitment in the past and in the future to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the important work of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the unparalleled strengths in Australia's bilateral safeguards to ensure that all nuclear materials in Australia are used for peaceful purposes, including the production of electricity to meet the energy needs of the world, research in nuclear reactors such as we have at Lucas Heights near Sydney and such other important matters as isotopes for use in various health applications and the various types of radioactive monitoring that is required in many engineering situations. We wish to ensure that we are not myopic, not pushed by a small group that would have us disband the whole apparatus that has been developed so responsibly in Australia for many years. Judging from these views, no doubt this legislation will be passed and I urge honourable senators to support the Opposition's amendment.