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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1190


Senator MASON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence and follows Senator McIntosh's question yesterday. I ask the Minister whether he saw a report on page 3 of yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald in which it was stated that officials believe the chance of Soviet missile strikes on Australian cities is remote `because US nuclear armed warships which regularly berth in Australian ports would leave Australian waters in the buildup to a nuclear war'. Does this mean that the safety of Australian cities is contingent on the United States ships leaving them and, indeed, on their having sufficient warning of a nuclear war to make that move? Does the Government seriously believe that such a scenario presents any degree of reassurance whatsoever to Australian city dwellers? Will the Government now take immediate steps to ensure that no nuclear powered or armed ships visit Australian cities?


Senator GARETH EVANS —As to the first part of the question, I did see the report. The remaining matters raised by Senator Mason seemed to be based on a misunderstanding of the Government's position on this issue. I think they can best be answered by briefly clarifying the nature of our judgments. Allied warships make short visits to Australian ports in peacetime primarily for rest and recreation purposes. No foreign warship is permanently based in Australia. There is no blanket approval by the Government for visits by foreign warships, and each visit is approved separately on a case by case basis. The Government does not accept that agreeing to such visits in peactime makes Australian ports nuclear targets. In the unlikely event of a nuclear conflict, major fleet units of allied navies may become nuclear targets. However, it is not credible that a nuclear conflict would occur unless there has been a dramatic deterioration over a period in relations between the super-powers. In such a period of tension United States warships would be deployed to areas of primary global strategic importance. It is unlikely that any of them would remain operating in Australian waters.


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the Government have mechanisms to ensure that in that contingency the warships would not remain in Australian waters?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I have nothing to add to my previous answers.