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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr MAKIN (Bonython) . - I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to express to the committee some views that, possibly, some honorable members have overlooked in their consideration of this matter. I associate myself with the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt). He delivered a very thoughtful speech, which, I feel, will receive considerable public support. Whatever one may challenge in that speech, one cannot doubt the sincerity of the man. The great sentiment that he expressed carries conviction, and will receive strong support from the Australian community.

Some honorable gentlemen opposite indicated that it was Labour which sanctioned the initial work for the conduct of these experiments. I should like to say. in reply, that those honorable gentlemen should try to be more accurate. The sanction was given in connexion with directed missiles but not in regard to atomic blasts. There is a very great difference between the use of these particular areas for the testing of guided missiles, and their use for the purposes that are under consideration by the committee at the moment. That being so, I hope that no mistake will be made in future as to the nature of the sanction given originally by the Labour party in that matter.

My principal reason for taking part in this discussion is to ask for an assurance more definite than that which has been received up to the moment regarding the safety of the native people. We have been concerned about the radio-active clouds, which have been caused by these nuclear explosions. There has been an earnest desire to explode the atomic bombs under climatic conditions which would result in the dispersal of the radio-active clouds to places far removed from centres of population. The objective has been that the cloud should spread itself over uninhabited areas. As we are most concerned about the possible effects of atomic blasts on our civil community, I want to know, on humanitarian grounds, what provision is being made to ensure the safety of the aborigines. It seems that there has not been the proper understanding of the situation, or the desire to safeguard the native population from the effects of the explosions that there should have been.

Mr Beale - That is not true.

Mr MAKIN - The aborigines may have been removed from the immediate area of the blast, but they have not been removed from those areas over which the cloud will pass. The unfortunate effects of that cloud are likely to be felt by our native population. Therefore, we have a definite responsibility to see that the aborigines shall not be exposed to any of the perils resulting from the experiments.

I voice the sentiments of many people who are eager to see that these natives, who are unable to speak for themselves or protest in any way, should be given protection. The Government should make certain that they receive that humane consideration which the circumstances justify. Consequently, no danger should be allowed to come to the areas that they inhabit. Their lives are just as valuable as those of any white person, and they should not be exposed to risk any more than should people in the settled areas of civilization. I ask the Minister to intimate that full provision will be made to protect them, although I cannot see how the drift of the atomic cloud over the areas they inhabit can be prevented.

Mr Beale - It does not drift over their territory.

Mr MAKIN - The Minister is not able to direct the drift of the cloud; that is determined by weather conditions, and I am asking that care should be taken, as far as is humanly possible, to keep it away from native areas. 1 have been informed that about 2,000,000 acres have been taken out of native reserves and used as an atomic experimental area. What has been done to compensate the native people for some of the best hunting country and some of the best watered areas of which they have been deprived? Surely the Government should acknowledge some responsibility to them, although this may be a matter of no consequence to some honorable members who have little regard for broad humanities. The only consideration that weighs with them is what suits the high purpose of their particular outlook, but that is not the view held by a large number of Australians, who are desirous that some consideration should be given to these helpless aborigines.

I endorse the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) concerning the workers in defence factories in various parts of Australia that are likely to be affected by any new defence schemes evolved by the Government. When I was Minister for Munitions I was responsible for the establishment of a ball bearing factory at Echuca, and other factories which were set up for the purpose of implementing the decentralization policy of the Labour government. It would be a tragedy to the workers engaged in the Echuca factory if production there should cease. It is playing as important a part in peace-time as it did during the war, when it produced materials which could not be imported. The honorable member for Bendigo feels similarly about the factory to which he referred. It would be a great loss not only to the local population, but also to the engineering industry throughout Australia, if employment at these establishments of men with technical skill and knowledge should be curtailed or terminated to implement the Government's mistaken policy of economy. Such action would be detrimental also to Australia's defence preparations.

The aim of any government should be to have workers everywhere profitably employed, and factories such as these are able to produce materials valuable in peace-time as well as for defence needs.

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