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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 213


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(7.18) — Certainly, to the extent that permits are arguably necessary, there will be no hesitation whatsoever in giving them. This is a very difficult area and it is one with which the Government grappled long and hard in the drafting of the legislation. The problem is obvious. In talking about proliferation one is concerned not only with nuclear hardware, plant and machinery, or with the material from which weaponry can be produced-enriched uranium and so on. One is talking also about the information, the technology in the abstract sense, which is relevant to it. Unless we control the proliferation of that information and technology, consistent with our non-proliferation obligations, we will not have gone very far towards honouring the terms of the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. We have somehow to direct attention to that matter.

This is very much the matter which was raised with the Government in the letter from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties and it was addressed in the reply that I have now had incorporated in Hansard. The important thing to appreciate is that it is not just information that is somehow related to nuclear technology; it is information that could be applied to the testing, design, production and use of a nuclear weapon and thus assist a country to test, design, produce or use the weapon in question. It is action oriented material rather than mere information. That is the first point and is a important consideration and follows, I think, clearly enough from the language of the definition.

The second point to make is that there is an exemption from any requirement for a permit or from any application of this Act to the extent that the information in question is lawfully available either in Australia or some other country. It is not necessary that it be formally published to be lawfully available; it is enough that it be the kind of information the circulation of which is not proscribed. We have done the best we can to wrestle with this problem. It will be administered-Senator Durack asked me to assure the country and the scientific community-with sensitivity and discretion. We believe that we have gone as far as we possibly can to meeting our obligations while, at the same time, recognising the reality of the need for complete academic freedom and freedom of discourse.