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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 701

Senator VALLENTINE —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. One of the recommendations of the submission by Professor Jackson Davis to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence which investigated safety procedures relating to nuclear powered or nuclear armed vessels in Australian waters was that issues of liability and indemnity should be clarified carefully, and in writing, with the respective governments; in particular, full indemnity for the multi-billion cost of decontamination in the event of a worst-case accident should be negotiated and codified at high government levels. I ask the Minister whether such arrangements in respect of possible nuclear warship accidents in an Australian port have been negotiated and codified. What provisions are there for indemnity claims 20 to 30 years after an accident's occurrence, bearing in mind the cancers that have now started to appear among people affected by United States nuclear weapon accidents in the 1960s, involving two United States allies-Denmark and Spain?

Senator GARETH EVANS —In a changing and volatile universe there is always one rock of stability-Senator Vallentine's pre-occupation with nuclear warships in Australian ports. I did have a briefing note that dealt specifically with the subject matter of Senator Vallentine's question, but I seem to have mislaid it. Under the circumstances, I am not totally confident of the precise details of the answer I give, and anything I say is accordingly subject to correction. I believe that there is a United States public law-I cannot remember the actual number of it-which makes it absolutely and unequivocally clear that the United States Government accepts absolute liability for the demonstrable results of any damage that may flow from a nuclear explosion or from damage to a nuclear warship in a port, either at home or abroad, of the kind that Senator Vallentine keeps conjuring up for us. That is really a complete answer to the various aspects of her question, but I will certainly check to see that that is so.