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Friday, 12 July 1946

Mr DEDMAN (Corio) (Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Whether we in this House like it or. not we have been thrust into the atomic age. Our first experience of applied atomic science does not suggest that it will necessarily be a comfortable age, though the scientists assure us that their discoveries and achievements will serve constructive as well as destructive ends. We approached the atomic age by way of a great deal of unspectacular experiment and thought, in the field of pure science. Practically the only hints which honorable members had prior to 1945 caine in the fictional prophecies of H. G. Wells and an occasional popular science article in the press. For, as the tempo of atomic experiments and of international unrest advanced step for step during the 1930's an intense secrecy began to envelop the practical results which scientists were deriving from their labours.

With the outbreak of war this condition of secrecy became much more complete as between the belligerent groups, but the final allied achievement of the atomic bomb was directly attributable to a magnificent instance of scientific cooperation between Britain, Canada and America more immediately, though Australian scientists had a hand in the work and Australian raw materials were amongst those upon which experimental work was performed. With the bursting of atomic bombs on Japan a stage of wild popular speculation, recently stimulated by the much publicized Bikini tests, has followed, though for the time being secrecy continues to be the rule regarding the processes of harnessing the new power. At the same time, however - and this is the central point before the House to-day - there is a general realization that the problem of control of atomic developments and raw materials is one of immediate and inescapable urgency. It is indicative of the gravity of the problem, and of its world-wide character, that the attempt at control has occurred simultaneously at the national and international levels. Usually, in the past, men have sought first the local and national solutions to their problems, while neglecting their impact on international affairs.

For that reason the establishment of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission simultaneously with the presentation of atomic energy control legislation to the Parliaments of Britain, America, Australia and other countries emphasizes the vital urgency and importance the issue has assumed in all minds. .It is, I think, a matter for justifiable pride on the part of this Parliament that Australia has one of the places on the Atomic Energy Commission and that it should have fallen to an honorable member of this House, the Minister for External Affairs . (Dr. Evatt), to lead the commission at the very outset of its work. His is .the task of guiding the commission and its committees in their first steps in attempting to evolve the practical scheme of international control which the Commonwealth Government favours and for which the peoples of the world devoutly hope. It is, at the same- time, a matter for most favorable notice that the expert consultants of the American Secretary of State, under the leadership of David .Lilienthal, of the Tennessee Valley Authority, have produced an enlightened and far-sighted report on the relation between national and international controls in this field. I commend the Lilienthal report to honorable members.

I have stressed that there is general realization that the problem of control must be tackled immediately and internationally. It appears to be equally agreed in all responsible quarters that, within each country, there should be public control of the basic raw materials and their treatment. That is, there must be governmental control of the holdings, development, manufacture, export or import of these substances. For any system of control of atomic energy must be based on knowledge of where these metals are, what is being done with them, and upon the certainty that their use is in public hands responsive to public direction -and policy. It may be that, in time, there will be more or less full international control in this afield, but in the meantime considerations of defence at least dictate active governmental control.

The South Australian Government and Parliament, appreciating that the principal known Australian sources of radioactive substances are within that State, have already taken legislative steps to ensure their control by the .State. For that prompt action they are to be commended. This Parliament has, however, responsibility to the whole Australian people for its defence and security.. That the national development of atomic energy is inextricably bound up with defence no longer requires to be laboriously demonstrated to anyone. The Commonwealth is also charged with the conduct of Australia's external relations and control of atomic energy has now become the very stuff of international relations generally. The Commonwealth Parliament would, therefore, be recreant to its trust if it did not assume a genera] control or supervision over all Australian sources and development of this new power. How complete that supervision or control will require to he must be determined from time to time and according to circumstances. The present bill is an enabling measure which sets up the framework of control.

The provisions of this bill are simple and general. Uranium and other similar substances throughout the Commonwealth Territories, known or subsequently discovered, become the property of the Commonwealth. The Minister is empowered to prohibit holding or dealing in these substances anywhere in the Commonwealth except by licence; all holdings must be turned over upon demand in return for agreed or determined compensation.' All past and future discoveries of these substances anywhere in the Commonwealth must be notified within one month. Persons may be interrogated on the subject and Commonwealth officials may enter on land or property to search or test. The Minister may have an advisory committee of "five to assist him in administering the act. A regulationmaking power under the act and" penalties for breaches of the terms of the act are provided.

The bill has been drawn with due regard to the relevant clauses of the parallel British measure. In all matters related to atomic energy we are maintaining the closest contact with the British Government and their experts. During the war Professor Oliphant, the brilliant Australian leader- in this field in Great Britain, visited Australia and discussed certain aspects of atomic energy development with the Commonwealth's scientific advisers. In London recently, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) discussed the subject with British Ministers, with Professor 'Oliphant' and others. Professor Oliphant consented to -witness the Bikini tests as an official Australian observer. Some honorable members, comparing this measure with British and American legislation, may feel that this bill is less farreaching. That is, in some respects, true. It is due primarily to the relative backwardness pf Australian work in this field to date - we have had other preoccupations in the war years at least. The bill is draw, however, in fairly general terms and it is the Government's belief that it affords the necessary broad basis for rapid expansion of our work 011 atomic energy.

It has been my responsibility in this short sessional period to introduce two bills - the measure now before the House and the Australian National University Bill. There is something strangely significant) in their coincidence in point of time. This bill: on the one hand, represents a broad attempt to ensure public control and development in Australia of potent forces which overshadow our whole future for good or ill. The Australian National University, on the other hand, is to include a physical sciences research school which we hope to see turning developments in the use of atomic energy to men's service rather than their annihilation. It is to have a medical research school where further knowledge of radio-active substances may help our- scientists to make new medical advances. There is to- be a social sciences research school fitted, we hope, to meet the human challenge which atomic energy presents. Finally, the Australian National University is to have a research school of Pacific studies which will, we hope, point the way to improved international relations in this part of the world where to-day the atomic bomb is tested in peace but where we hope it will never again be used in war.

In commending the bill to the House. I express the hope that we and the world- may use wisely, humanely and constructively the new power for whoso local control we are providing.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison V adjourned.

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