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Wednesday, 16 February 1977


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Kingsford) (Smith) -The Crimes (Biological Weapons) Bill 1976 was introduced into the Parliament in the closing days of the last parliamentary session. The Bill seeks for this Parliament the power to ratify a Convention which has been in existence for some time. That Convention relates to the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of biological agents and weapons of that nature. The Opposition does not oppose the Bill; in fact, it applauds the Bill. The Bill contains a number of provisions which clearly show the intent of thelegislatioa It refers to the Convention itself. That Convention was signed on behalf of Australia on 10 April 1972. We have now reached the ratification stage. Clause 7 of the Bill approves the ratification by Australia of that Convention.

The Bill contains some interesting provisions. It deals with acts that are to be done or which are omitted to be done by Australian citizens whether they are in Australia or outside Australia, and it applies to external territories. The penalties are severe, as they must be. Clause 8 provides for fines of $200,000 in the case of a corporation and $10,000 or imprisonment for life in the case of a person. Naturally the penalties would have to be of that magnitude because we are dealing with the horror of weaponry of a type which would be uncontrollable. The most interesting aspect of the Convention seems to be that mankind is beginning to realise that it can certainly bring about its own extermination unless something is done by means of consultation amongst the leading powers of the world.

As honourable members can see, the preamble to the Convention states that the parties to the Convention are determined to act with a view to achieving effective progress towards general and complete disarmament. Everybody in every country of the world which is worthy of the name civilisation would applaud that objective. Unfortunately, because of the limitations of legal definition we are going to prevent only the development, production and stockpiling of certain types of weapons of war. There are certain other types of weapons of war which are equally horrific and in the environment of which it would be equally as difficult for mankind to survive. But the leading nations of the world have not yet developed enough consensus to agree to their removal.

In the Articles which are attached to the Bill and which provide the basis of the Convention one sees that the Convention is very wide. It means that there is to be no development of these types of bacteriological weapons. Further, there is to be a reduction in those that already exist. I think that is the major emphasis of this legislation. Article II provides an undertaking for the destruction of certain equivalent agents as soon as possible but not later than 9 months after the entry into force of the Convention. Other

Articles provide that there is to be no doubt about the constitutional aspects involved in the application of the Convention. They provide that the Convention should be applied in every sense to cover all people within the control of the party to the Convention, virtually whether those people are under or outside its jurisdiction, provided they are under its control. So it is a wide ranging Convention and we applaud the fact that the Government has seen fit to ratify it.

The history of this issue is somewhat tedious in the sense that this matter has been going on for very many years. Apparently the real emphasis upon getting some regulation- if we can put it that way- into preventing the development of horrific weapons of war came with the Geneva Protocol of 1925, when something was done particularly in respect of asphyxiating gases and the like of which unfortunate victims of the First World War would be well aware. But that 1925 Protocol seemed to remain rather dormant. Research undertaken in the Library indicates that very little was done until about 1946, when very shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War an effort was made to do something about obtaining a resolution to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, including lethal chemical and biological weapons. But very little progress seemed to be made. Apparently one of the stumbling blocks to this attempt to control weaponry was that the United States was not even a party to the Geneva Protocol of 1925. It had some resistance to these new proposals. It does not agree even now that the use of napalm, defoliants and dangerous irritant gases ought to be put into this prohibited category. We hope and trust that in the near future this sort of prohibition can apply also to those chemicals.

Honourable members will notice that the real prohibition is against the spread of the bacteriological warfare gases rather than against chemical warfare, which obviously can be limited. That is one of the sad realities of the big powers of the world not trusting each other and being prepared to say: 'We certainly are going to have weapons of major significance, but we had better not get into the bacteriological area because it will be beyond our control'. It will be noted that in the 1960s an Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament commenced agitation for the United Nations to set up a committee of investigation. Obviously that Committee enabled this Convention to make as much progress as it did. It is significant that when it produced the United Nations report in 1969 its authors were 14 world authorities, including Bennett, Director of the New York Medical Centre, Reutov, Professor of

Chemistry at the Moscow State University, and Zuckerman, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of the United Kingdom. So a wide representation of the nations of the world was involved in deciding what should be done. It became pretty clear that by getting agreement amongst the nations of the world at the dme of the preparation of the report the 14 people involved virtually led the nations of the world to adopt this Convention.

I am advised that a very substantial number of world powers have already signed the Convention. I think the second reading speech of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) indicates that it has been signed by over 1 12 countries, of which 48 countries have ratified it. Accordingly, we applaud the legislation. We would love to see it extended to cover all weapons of war. We applaud the fact that there has been some breakthrough with the world powers in getting general disarmament. A lot of speeches are made in parliaments in this country and outside this country concerning fear of aggression and what it means. It is pretty clear to all mankind that if there is to be a major outbreak of warfare in the future it will be of horrific proportions. There will be no limitations to it and it will not matter very much about the limitations of this Convention. A great deal of mankind will be destroyed by chemical warfare or by other means. That is a sad prospect. Nevertheless, it is pointed out in regard to this legislation that the fact that the major powers of the world have been able to make this slight breakthrough gives us some ray of hope for the future. Accordingly, the Opposition supports the legislation.







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