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Wednesday, 31 July 1946

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - It would be futile for one to indulge in flights of fancy relative to a bill of this description.. The Minister in introducing the bill was very restrained and dealt with only certain aspects of it. He stated that atomic energy was shrouded in such mystery that little had been heard of it outside the flights of imagination of certain novelists. This bill is" designed to vest the ownership of uranium and certain other substances that are known to exist or may subsequently be discovered in the Commonwealth and its territories. The bill vests in the Minister power to prohibit the possession of or dealing in any of these substances except under licence. Commonwealth officials may enter land or property and search or interrogate persons and insist that all past and future discoveries be immediately notified to the Government. This, of course, is necessary, because we are dealing with a force which the Lilienthal report on the international control of atomic energy described in the following language : -

The atomic bomb, which appeared at the very end of hostilities, made it clear that plans which had been laid at San Francisco for the United Nations organization would ha«e to bc supplemented by a specific control of an instrument of war so terrible that its uncontrolled development would not only intensify the ferocity of warfare but might directly contribute to the outbreak of war.

This bill is. designed to control the use of certain- substances' and to promote research into atomic energy. I have no doubt that these controls will have to be extended as investigation proceeds and new substances are found from- which atomic energy may be produced. This is only one of many legislative enactments that will have to be passed by Empire' countries and, indeed, by countries throughout the civilized world. Until international control- is agreed upon and exercised, as a matter, of sheer survival, nations will have to take control of all substances within their boundaries capable of developing atomic energy for defence, if for no other purposes, and encourage research into the development of atomic energy. Because of its peculiar geo- graphical position and the fact that it has extensive deposits of uranium, Australia should not be laggard in its own defence. It may be that greater developments will take place outside of international control because of the . great importance of this new weapon. No international agreements relative to the use of atomic energy have yet been made. Every nation in the world, in the interests of its own safety, however, is taking control of energy-producing -substances and developing research into this important subject within its own borders. This intense concentration will undoubtedly give a great impetus to the production of atomic energy. Legislation along similar lines to the bill now before us will have to be passed by the parliaments of New South Wales and Queensland, as recent investigations have revealed the existence of deposits of thorium in the coastal sands of both of those States. It is difficult to gauge the extent of the deposits of uranium, and thorium in Australia. Investigations that have already taken place, following the passage of legislation in South Australia, has revealed the- existence -of substantial deposits of uranium in that State. But the amount of thorium extracted from monosite found in sand on the north coast is minute. It would seem that legislation similar to this must be introduced in State parliaments other than the parliament of South Australia, because I tate it that this, legislation applies only to Commonwealth territories.

Mr Dedman - The honorable member i? under a misapprehension. This is a bill for an act to control all deposits whereever they occur in -Australia.'.

Mr HARRISON - I gained the impression from the Minister's secondreading speech in which the Minister used the term " Commonwealth Territories " that the legislation applied only to those territories, but I am glad to have his assurance that it is all-embracing. Legislation of a like kind has been passed in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand and in the United States of America, but, whereas the United Kingdom and Canada are- agreeable to Australian scientists working with their scientists on research into and development of atomic energy, the United States of America is jealous of its researches. Therefore plans envisaged by Australia must unfortunately be developed into close co-operation with the rest of the Empire., I say " unfortunately because, when the day of international control arrives,, obviously there will be the closest co-operation between all countries in the use of this new-found force for the betterment and benefit of mankind and not destruction. But while nations are concentrating on the development of atomic energy as a means of defence, the work they do on it must be a closely guarded secret, and development will be on destructive rather than constructive lines. The Commonwealth Government meanwhile should arrange for an exchange of scientists working on atomic energy between the different parts of the British Empire in order that we may keep abreast of developments. The jealous action of the United States of America' of course has been dictated by Russia's rejection of the. main proposals by the United States of America for the control of atomic energy. Although not necessarily closing the door to ultimate agreement on international control it indicates the difficulty! in reaching world agreement in this important connexion. In the long run, whether a formula can be arrived at will be dependent on the decisions of the Security Council of the United Nations and, of course, the Atomic Energy Commission. This bill deals with certain specific substances, but the day is not far distant when other substances must be taken into account as sources from which atomic energy is likely to be developed.

The report on the international control of atomic energy says-

The view has been expressed by one official that it may not be long before we may be able to extract atomic energy from common material such as clay.

So power taken under the bill to provide for the proclamation of other substances is well taken, because at the moment science does not know from what substances atomic energy may be developed. But uranium is the greatest source of energy known to scientists, and it is necessary to control it. The bill is designed not to affect the mining of minerals that may befound in close association with uranium, and I know that the Minister would not seek, in controlling uranium, to interfere with the development of other minerals necessary for Australian industry. They may be mined under licence.

Although the bill seems' to have all the necessary safeguards regarding control of uranium and other substances, one point seems to have been overlooked. The legislation passed in the United Kingdom provides that no person may apply outside the United Kingdom for the patent of an invention which relates to the production or the use of atomic energy without the approval of the Minister, unless such application has been approved in the United Kingdom. In other words, Great Britain has provided against leakage. So should we, by inserting a similar provision in this legislation. "We can do nothing but help the Minister in his desire in the national interest to control substances from which atomic energy may be developed.We therefore support the bill.

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