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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2790

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(6.05) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

This is one of a long series of statements and documents that have been made or produced in this place which relate to Maralinga and the atomic tests which were conducted there many years ago. A number of those documents are reports of the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council which touch on some of the issues that are covered in the document before us now. I have only just received the chronology of events. It is a very substantial document and I have not yet had time to read it. No doubt additional, new and interesting information may be contained in it. It is consistent with the stance that has been adopted by the Opposition, both in opposition and when it was in government, that we believe that the Government should make public all relevant details of these matters and that it should conduct such inquiries as are necessary to look after or follow up any areas of concern. I will not bother to go over the ground that has been covered often in this place on the various steps that have been taken to follow up matters of concern, whether it be the tests that have been taken with respect to the many personnel who were involved in the atomic tests, or the many actions that have been taken in respect of the range itself.

I point to the one possible danger in all this-that each time information is reproduced it appears that there is some new and startling revelation. For those of us who have come to this field relatively recently and to elements of the media which have come to such statements fresh on each occasion, it appears that information which has previously been published, in whole or part, is something new or startling. I refer to the relatively brief statement the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh) has just put down. In what he described as his second comment relating to certain trials involving the use of plutonium, Senator Walsh described these as producing the major source of radiological contamination which remains of concern at Maralinga today. I have no reason to disagree with that remark. Indeed, it appears to be very sensible of Senator Walsh to say that when a further report on that contamination is received the Government will consider the management regime of the areas affected to ensure that members of the public are not exposed to any radiological hazard. Of course the Opposition would fully support any steps that the Government might take in that regard.

I remind the Senate that the same problem was considered by AIRAC prior to 1979 . I referred in the Senate yesterday to Parliamentary Paper No. 120 of 1979 which is the report of AIRAC dated January 1979. In that report one finds reference to the very danger that is referred to in this report. I quote one paragraph from the summary and conclusions of that report. AIRAC said:

The presence of small low-level fields of external gamma radiation presents little hazard because it is reasonable to suppose people would not wish to spend long periods at such unattractive spots as the former ground zeros, and only minor restrictions are necessary for safety. The same can be said for the risks associated with the plutonium-contaminated areas, but in the case of those areas it would be advisable to ensure that any prolonged dust-raising activity was prevented in occupied areas.

I remind the Senate of that merely to underline the point that I have made- namely, that these matters have been the subject of investigations. The Opposition does not in any sense quibble with the Government's intentions to subject them to further and more detailed investigation. But they are not matters which have been ignored in the past and indeed, an independent body has been enabled to examine them. I also remind the Senate that AIRAC at that time included Professor Kerr, who is the professor who was in charge of the recent short inquiry, the results of which the Minister announced in the Senate in the last few days.

I note one other element in the report which suggests that there are areas where there is a shortage of information and where it is thought perhaps that Ministers from previous governments may be in a position to assist. Of course we are going back very many years and I would have to consult the record to find out who the relevant Ministers were and whether they are still alive. They are certainly not people who are still in this Parliament. It may be that Senator Walsh is suggesting that there is some obligation on the Opposition to pursue some elements of inquiry, perhaps with former members of Liberal governments, and I would be happy if he would clarify with me at some stage whether he sees some line of inquiry which we could usefully follow on his behalf. I cannot quite imagine what it could be, but I offer him the co-operation of the Opposition if he is hinting at anything in that area. I am aware that Senator Walsh is a very reticent fellow and that he does not like to speak too bluntly and directly on these matters but I assure him that he can drop his habitual shyness and reticence and let me know if there is anything he expects of us in this regard.