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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2751

Senator CHANEY —I refer the Minister for Resources and Energy to his attack on the actions of Sir Robert Menzies in agreeing to allow the British Government to conduct atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. I ask Senator Walsh whether he recalls his lurid description of the then Prime Minister as:

The lickspittle Empire loyalist . . .


. . . invited the British to pollute Australia with nuclear fallout . . .


. . . who cravenly surrendered Australian sovereignty to a declining imperial power.

Will he now direct the same abuse to the then Leader of the Australian Labor Party and Leader of the Federal Opposition, Dr Evatt, who said in the House of Representatives on 5 June 1952 in debate on the Bill to allow the Monte Bello tests:

. . . the Opposition believes that the bill should be passed and that there should be no opposition to it.

Senator Button —I suppose you will say he went mad.

Senator CHANEY —In deference to the Leader of the Government who pointed out to me that Dr Evatt went mad, I would say that other members of the parliamentary Labor Party spoke in similar vein in the Parliament at that time. A second speaker, Senator Armstrong, in the Senate put exactly the same views. In each place the Bill was passed without any dissent from the Labor Party. I again quote Dr Evatt who said:

. . . the Opposition believes that the bill should be passed and that there should be no opposition to it.

Does he direct the same comments to Labor members of the Opposition in the 1950s ?

Senator WALSH —Senator Chaney has invited me to condemn Dr Evatt. I am certainly not going to do so because Dr Evatt, unlike the then Prime Minister, was not in a position to receive relevant information about the tests. That applies not only to the Monte Bello tests, of course. The more enduring damage which was done to Australia was done by the tests conducted in the early 1960s at Maralinga and not the tests at Monte Bello. The dangers from the weapons explosions were short term dangers. The dangers from the subsequent tests were dangers which apply over geological time, virtually, and not just over human lifetimes.

Of course, one could add that one of the other things that Dr Evatt did not do was mislead the Parliament when taking Australian forces into the Vietnam war or conscripting Australians to fight in that Vietnam war. If Senator Chaney wants a more exhaustive list of the things that Sir Robert Menzies was responsible for and Dr Evatt was not responsible for, I will be happy to supply it to him later.