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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 155

Senator VALLENTINE(12.06) —Before I deal with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill 1986 I would like to comment on some of the points which Senator Teague has just raised. He tried to paint the proponents of nuclear disarmament as unilateralists. I am very glad that Senator Georges was in the chamber to deny that assertion which was made early in Senator Teague's speech. People who are proponents of nuclear disarmament are not saying that the Western alliance only should disband its nuclear weapons. We are talking about multilateral nuclear disarmament. It is indeed mischievous for the Opposition continually to try to misrepresent the position of people in the peace movement. People in the peace movement are taking an even-handed approach towards the Soviet Union in dismantling its nuclear weapons and its base at Cam Ranh Bay. I called for that approach this morning in this very place and I think it is most mischievous of the Opposition continually to try to paint people who are working for peace as unilateralists. We no more want to see the Soviet Union in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean than we want to see the United States nuclear navies in the Indian and Pacific oceans. We are even handed in our approach. We believe that the world should be rid of the menace of nuclear weapons and that applies to both sides of the super-power stranglehold that the world is entwined in at the moment.

I think that Senator Teague needs to understand that it is not such a small minority of Australians who are calling for multilateral nuclear disarmament. One should count the people who put nuclear disarmament at the top of their ballot papers in the 1984 general election-there were 600,000 of them in Australia-add the number of people who voted for the Australian Democrats, which amounted to almost 20 per cent of the electorate, and add the number of people who still loyally supported the Australian Labor Party but who felt very trapped by it when it reneged on many of its own policies in this regard. Many people remain loyal to the Labor Party but they also want to see Australia move out of the debilitating alliance in which we are engaged with the United States. Add the 20 per cent who voted in that respect in the 1984 election to all of those who remained loyal to the Labor Party and who would like to see its policies firmed up in this regard and the figure would be something like 30 to 40 per cent of the Australian electorate, not such a small percentage. At least 45 per cent of Australians want to see a stop put to the visits to this country of nuclear armed and nuclear powered warships. That is hardly the small minority to which Senator Teague kept referring in his speech.

It is important for Senator Teague to know-this may come as a surprise to him-that in a `no nuclear warships' write-on campaign in the State election in the Western Australian seat of Fremantle last year, 10 per cent of Liberal voters wrote `no nuclear warships' on their ballot papers. I repeat: Ten per cent of Liberal voters in the seat of Fremantle do not want to see nuclear warships visiting their port. To try to paint the proponents of nuclear disarmament as, firstly, unilateralists and, secondly, a very small minority is totally mischievous and misleading to the people who are listening to this broadcast. It is not such a small minority; it is an increasingly growing minority and it will soon be a majority of the Australian people.

Ridding Australia of the nuclear industry is shared by not only nine or so people in the Senate but also many more honourable senators and by members of the House of Representatives who, unfortunately, are constrained by their Party's policies. Of course there is a great need for more independents who will speak out and who can stick to their principles on this matter. I am very glad that Senator Georges has joined the ranks of the independents. I must comment on the interjection of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Button, when Senator Georges was speaking. He called it an indulgence that Senator Georges now has the opportunity to say what he thinks. I think that that is a gross unfairness to Senator Georges. He is now free to be true to his principles and I wish that more people were able to take the stand that he has taken.

I cannot support the Liberal Party's amendments which would ensure that our allies' ships and planes should forever be free to bring their nuclear weapons and reactors into our ports. There are environmental dangers and that fact has been brought out very clearly and it will be brought out more clearly by the Senate inquiry into the visits of nuclear armed and nuclear powered warships to Australian ports when it goes around the country this year. There are many environmental dangers but the chief objection which 45 per cent of Australians share is that the warships coming into our ports represent Australia's involvement in the nuclear war fighting strategies of one of the super-powers. We would equally object-we would probably object more vociferously-if the warships represented the Soviet Union, France, China or Britain. They happen to be American warships. We do not like them here because they represent Australia's involvement, Australia's complicity, Australia's being a proponent of the nuclear war fighting strategies, and that is morally abhorrent to 45 per cent of Australians.

Senator Teague —You are opposed to the alliance.

Senator VALLENTINE —Of course I am opposed to the alliance. In that respect I have to agree with Senator Teague. I am opposed to the morally debilitating nuclear alliance with which Australia is involved. So Senator Teague was right on that score. It is time for Australia to be an independent and nuclear free nation. The Bicentenary which is coming up next year should be a great opportunity for Australia to begin to move away from this morally debilitating nuclear alliance.

Australia needs to develop self reliance defence capabilities which, of course, cannot happen overnight. People who are proponents of nuclear disarmament are not saying that Australia should immediately be left undefended. Of course we need to be defended but we must ask the question: Against whom and against what? We must reassess what security really means. I think that security in our region of the world means having close, peaceful, interdependent relationships with our South East Asian and South West Pacific neighbours whose major concern is economic independence. They do not want to be slaves to either of the two super-powers in the Pacific or the South East Asian region. We should be moving gradually to a transition from the colonial client state mentality towards being a responsible independent nation with interdependent peaceful alliances with our neighbours in this region. Australia has a great opportunity to think beyond the blocs, that is, beyond the nuclear super-power blocs which, at the moment, have a stranglehold on the world's people. That is an enormous responsibility for Australians. I totally refute the position which Senator Teague has tried to paint us into of being such a small minority. That is not true. An increasing number of Australians share that point of view.

My opposition to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill is quite simple: It is that the nuclear industry system of safeguards is a farce. The international nuclear industry survives only because of the pall of secrecy that hangs over it and this secrecy exists simply because of the massive corporate and government investment in both the civil and military nuclear industries. Nuclear safeguards under the International Atomic Energy Agency's auspices are little more than a sanitised package to keep the public ignorant and silent about the inherent risks at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle and its immense costs in human, financial and natural resources.

The safeguards under which Australia exports its uranium is nothing more than a bookkeeping arrangement. Our Government has said on numerous occasions that Australia's nuclear safeguards are the toughest in the world. Yet can the Government guarantee that our uranium is kept separate for that uranium originating in countries which have less stringent safeguards or, indeed, no safeguards at all? The answer is obviously no. Most uranium exporting countries do not want their uranium to be used for military purposes but as there has been a terrifying escalation of nuclear weapons during the last decade, somebody's uranium is being defrayed to the military nuclear industry. Those safeguard arrangements proposed by this Bill will not offer a cast iron guarantee that Australian uranium-I am being very specific about this matter on a molecule to molecule basis-will not find itself in a very explosive form.

Right now we have the ridiculous situation in which this Government has resumed uranium sales to France. France will very probably start testing its nuclear weapons in the Indian Ocean on the Kerguelen Islands, a couple of thousand kilometres west of Western Australia. So we will very likely receive some of that uranium back in a very explosive form if there are leaks from that testing program. No nuclear activity has been free of accidents to date. We cannot expect that, if the French move their testing program to the Kerguelens, it will be safe and that Australia will be free of fallout from, perhaps, our own uranium. How stupid can one get! Even if we were to take the moral high ground and say that our safeguards could offer us a guarantee that our uranium would not be used for explosive purposes, we would be allowing uranium from countries where no safeguards existed to be used for the purpose of making nuclear weapons, which is a somewhat blighted morality. If we take this stand, Australia is still contributing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We should have no part of it.

This Government sets much store by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has clung on by the merest threads at the past two Treaty review conferences, the last one being held in August 1985. Even its proponents are questioning its validity, given the aggressive behaviour of the major nuclear super-powers which directly undermines the Treaty. It cannot be viewed as a Treaty which adds significant weight to Australia's safeguards argument. For instance, if Korea, a uranium client of Australia, were to withdraw from the NPT-which, of course, it could do by giving only 90 days notice-Australia would be in a great bind. Could we get our now unsafeguarded uranium back? That is not likely.

I support Australia being part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but am only too aware of its severe limitations. We should be strengthening the NPT and pressuring both super-powers to keep to their part of the bargain-that is, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. They are obviously violating their obligations under section XVI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nor do I support the Government's interpretation of section IV of the NPT, which it sees as justifying Australia's position as a uranium supplier. Australia has no control over its nuclear material once it leaves our shores. Firstly, we cannot dictate to our clients, with whom we have agreements, what they do with our uranium once the consignment has been delivered. They can use our uranium for their own civil nuclear plants, but there is then the fraught question of the reprocessing of spent fuel rods, or they can resell the uranium to other nations for any purpose that those nations desire. France, which is not a signatory to the NPT, but one with which we have specifically negotiated safeguards, is one such nation that provides many of its west European neighbours with both uranium, which is no doubt supplied by Australia and other less safeguarded uranium exporters, and electricity generated by its many nuclear generators.

Secondly, there is no stated contingency for our uranium in the event of it being hijacked by nuclear terrorists of both the state and individual kind. We have seen at least one documented case of a nuclear hijacking. I refer to the cargo ship Plumbat in 1968, which was carrying uranium ore. The operation was widely believed to have been undertaken by Israel-ironically, a nation whose nuclear industry has been under considerable international scrutiny in the past few months. The world has got on its high horse about terrorism, but a scenario related to a hijacking of nuclear materials in transit has not even been addressed by the organisations which this Government is asking us to trust, namely, the understaffed and underfinanced International Atomic Energy Agency and its equivalent in Australia, the Australian Safeguards Office. For the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor the nuclear industry is like putting a fox in charge of a henhouse. It has never yet prosecuted any nuclear power operator for a breach of safeguards, which is hardly surprising given that it is paid to promote nuclear energy and there is no mechanism for such prosecution.

This safeguards Bill is a weak attempt to control the movement of nuclear materials in this country. It is a series of permissions to use and transport nuclear material. Overseas experience has shown that safeguards are hardly worth the paper they are written on. The Bill amounts to a promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle in this country, against the better judgment of people who know so clearly that this nuclear fuel cycle is inherently dangerous at every stage. If the Australian Government is really concerned about this safeguards issue, it would be forced to conclude that the only sure safeguard is to leave our uranium in the ground and for Australia to extricate itself from every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle.