Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 May 1957


Mr SPEAKER (Hon John McLeay (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA)

Order! The honorable member for Hindmarsh must refrain from interjecting, particularly from where he is sitting now.


Mr BEALE - Some members of the Opposition make the most emotional and extravagant statements about this matter, yet when one tries to put before them, not one's own facts, but facts presented by responsible scientists, they are not anxious to listen. I believe that the Australian people want to hear a cool, sober presentation of this problem as a national problem, free from emotion and free from party political considerations.

As to Australian tests, in this country we have only tested the nuclear fission bomb - the first type of weapon - which is of low yield and with only a local fall-out. We have no intention of ever testing any other kind of bomb. We have no intention of testing the hydrogen bomb. We have never been asked to do so. Our agreement with the British Government stipulates that we shall not do so. So arguments about the dangers from the so-called atomic bomb - using the term in a general sense to cover all these weapons - are invalid so far as Australian tests are concerned, because the tests here are tests of bombs of low yield and only local fall-out.

Our first test in Australia was at Monte Bello in 1952. lt was a small-yield weapon, placed in the hold of a ship to simulate conditions which may happen in war, when a weapon is planted in a ship steaming into an enemy harbour, lt was, from the scientific and military point of view, a most valuable test. It was conducted in complete safety. It was followed by several tests at Emu Field, in Central Australia, in 1954, again conducted with complete safety. These were followed by two more tests at the Monte Bello Islands in 1956. again conducted in complete safety. Following that, there were four more tests at Maralinga in October last year. Honorable members of this House saw one or more of those tests, which were again conducted with complete safety, as the scientists said they would be conducted.

That is the Australian experience, and our arrangements with Great Britain, which were entered into at her request as a contribution by us to her defence and Commonwealth defence as well as our own, in exactly the same way as the Woomera project was agreed to by the Labour Government in its day as a contribution to British and Commonwealth defence.


Mr Calwell - We started it.


Mr BEALE - I have just said that, and I think it was an honorable and proper thing to do. I do not suppose anybody at that time thought it would develop to the extent it has done, but it has developed and has been an enormous contribution to Commonwealth defence. In the same way we have given the undertaking that we are prepared also to test certain atomic weapons of low yield under conditions of complete safety laid down by us, advised as we are by scientific advisers of the highest repute. We have gone ahead with these tests and they have been conducted without untoward incidents and with complete safety to the Australian people.

May I refer, thirdly, to the Pacific tests? These will be conducted later this year in the Pacific area. They are hydrogen bomb tests - using that phrase in the sense of describing the types of bomb numbers 2 and 3 which I mentioned before. They are to be conducted 4,000 miles from Australian territory. They are British tests, not Australian. The Australian Government has played no part in the decision to conduct those tests, and it is not entitled to play any part in them, but we have received from the British Government complete assurances that the tests will be conducted in safety. In this House and outside it there has been a good deal of agitation by certain people. I refer not only to the Communists, although they have had a Roman holiday over it, but to a lot of other people who have nothing to do with Communists but who nevertheless have idealistic and trustful ideas about what should be done. People of this sort have been proposing that Great Britain should stop now, on the threshhold, and not conduct her tests, and should wait, say, six or twelve months as a gesture to Russia, hoping that Russia will not test any more of her bombs. They say that if Russia does not fall into line, Britain can then continue to make tests. That proposition has been put up in certain quarters. It does not lie with the Australian Government to decide this matter, but I suggest that the British Government would be very foolish indeed to accede to a proposition of that sort, just when she is on the threshold, about to prove to the world, including Russia, that she too has the great deterrent weapon; that she too, plus the United States, possesses the power to make the hydrogen bomb. I believe that that deterrent weapon is the real thing likely to keep the peace and prevent global war in this world. And just at this stage Britain is being asked to discontinue! I venture to suggest that a moment's consideration will satisfy honorable members that the best thing to do is to have this test, to give the proof to the world, and after that to go to the conference table, so that those negotiating on the other side will know that not only the United States but also the third great power in the world, Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, has the power and the ability to manufacture and deliver this deterrent weapon.

I pass now to the fourth matter, and that is the question of agreement to discontinue these atomic tests - using the word " atomic " in its widest sense. I agree with members on both sides of the House that it is eminently a desirable thing to do. There has been much exaggeration, and much emotional talk in some scientific quarters, about the danger of these tests, but there is no doubt that if these high-yield tests go on indefinitely, they will mean danger to the human race. Facing that fact, it is obvious that the time must come sooner or later when we will have to get some sort of an agreement to discontinue tests or to control them in some effective way. All honorable members of this House agree on that. There is still, I believe, on the best scientific evidence and advice we have, a wide margin of safety, but the longer highyield tests go on, then the narrower that margin becomes. So. it behoves us all throughout the world to bend our best efforts to see that an agreement of some son is brought about. But I am entirely opposed, and the Australian Government is entirely opposed, to the proposition that there should be unilateral discontinuance of these tests, because, as has been said, that would be suicide. An Opposition member asks " Why not? " That is the first time 1 have heard it genuinely suggested from the Opposition that there should be unilateral discontinuance. I have heard a lot of equivocal talk, but I have never heard any member of the Labour party come out into the light and advocate unilateral discontinuance of tests. Well, we now know that some of these hydrogen bomb tests can be carried on without detection. What sort of position are we to be in if we discontinue unilaterally - Russia has already had about a dozen tests since I spoke last year on this matter - and if Russia is to continue, ignoring our protests, or carrying on tests without our knowing that they take place? We must have agreement in this matter and it must be an effective, enforceable agreement, with provision for inspection and all sorts of checks. And we must keep on trying to get that agreement.

T.n this House some months ago, in an answer, I think, to the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt), I catalogued all the things the free world had tried to do over the years to get agreement on tests. We have failed, but we must keep on trying. Australia will continue to use its utmost influence on all occasions. We are a small nation and it is simply ludicrous for us to pretend that we can, by getting up and making a noise, bring this agreement about; but our influence will always be used, and there are encouraging signs that the climate is changing, and that there is much greater likelihood of getting agreement than there has been hitherto.

I see that to-night's Melbourne " Herald " contains a report from London indicating that Britain has now brought forward to the United Nations Disarmament SubCommittee proposals concerning nuclear tests. The report reads -

The proposals carried the British position a stage further by suggesting the establishment of an expert committee on the possibility of limiting nuclear tests and of supervising an agreement on limitation.

They embodied the Anglo-American proposal for an agreement with Russia on registration of test explosions made last March after the Bermuda conference.

Britain reiterated its view that cessation of test explosions could take place only as part of a general disarmament agreement.

Honorable members on both sides of this House hope that this will come about. I believe it to be equally true that all members of this House will do their utmost to see that it is brought about.







Suggest corrections