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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 951

(Question No. 1595)

Senator Margetts asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1994:

  (1) Is the Minister aware of reports that the French are considering renewing nuclear testing in the South Pacific; if so, please provide details of the possible French tests.

  (2) What is the Australian Government's position on future tests by the French in the South Pacific.

  (3) Will the Government voice its opposition to French nuclear tests as New Zealand has already.

  (4) Does the Government see the actions of the French as being in opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

  (5) What is Australia's position on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

  (6) Are French nuclear tests legal in the South Pacific given the existence of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.

Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) I am aware of press reports that there are elements within the French Government which have expressed themselves in favour of resumption of nuclear weapons testing by France despite the firm position taken by President Mitterrand in opposition to the resumption of testing.

  (2) Australia has been unflagging in its opposition to nuclear testing. The Government strongly opposes testing by France, or indeed any other nuclear weapon state. We have urged France on every available occasion to maintain its current testing moratorium. In doing so we have emphasised the adverse implications of resumed testing for France's relationship with the South Pacific. The Communique issued at the recent South Pacific Forum in Brisbane reiterated the same message.

  (3) Australia's opposition to nuclear tests has been made clear to the French authorities, and publicly, on numerous occasions. President Mitterrand assured Prime Minister Keating at their meeting in June that France's moratorium on testing would remain in place for the remainder of his Presidency.

  (4) Negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are proceeding in the Conference on Disarmament. Australia would be particularly disturbed by a resumption of testing by France at a time when these negotiations are making encouraging progress. Australia has expressed clearly its opposition to continued tests by China.

  (5) Australia is a firm advocate of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. For many years Australia and New Zealand, together with Mexico, have sponsored an annual UN General Assembly resolution calling for the negotiation of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In 1993, this resolution was co-sponsored by 156 countries—the highest in the Assembly's history—and passed for the first time by consensus. The prospects for concluding a Treaty are now very positive. Negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva continue to make encouraging progress, with the support of all nuclear weapon states. Australia has played an active role in advancing these negotiations, including through the tabling of a complete draft Treaty as a reference point for the Conference in developing agreed Treaty language. Early conclusion of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will directly help prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. It will also, as a step towards nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapon states, improve the prospects for the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the NPT Review and Extension Conference in April—May 1995.

  (6) Under present circumstances, French nuclear tests conducted in its Pacific territories do not formally contravene the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) Treaty. France has not signed the Protocols to the Treaty, as Australia and other South Pacific Forum countries have urged it to do. Protocol One would give effect to Treaty provisions within French territories in the nuclear free zone and in particular to Article 6 of the Treaty, which obliges parties to prevent and discourage nuclear testing within their territories by any State. Protocol

Three of the Treaty further obliges Nuclear Weapons States not to test any nuclear explosive device anywhere within the zone. Until France does sign the Protocols, the SPNFZ Treaty has no legal jurisdiction over French nuclear testing within French territories in the South Pacific. That said, resumed French testing would clearly run contrary to the whole thrust of the SPNFZ Treaty and to South Pacific opposition to testing in the region. It was for this reason that at the South Pacific Forum meeting in Brisbane this year, Australia and other Forum countries again called on France, the UK and the US to accede to the Protocols of the Treaty as a demonstration of their commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and a ban on testing.