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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1389

Senator VALLENTINE —My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence relates to possible nuclear accidents on board visiting warships in Australian ports. Is it true that the United States defence representative would assume command in an emergency? If this is so, would it not constitute an abrogation of Australian sovereignty? What would be the working relationship between the United States defence representative and the person in charge of Australian emergency services? Whether it is true or not, will the Minister detail exactly the chain of command and emergency procedures to allay the concerns of an increasingly nervous public? Finally, are there any warships heading for rest and recreation in Fremantle within the next two weeks?

Senator GARETH EVANS —No, it is not true that the United States defence representative would assume command in an emergency. The responsibility for the initial response to a nuclear accident in an Australian port rests with the State or Territory port authority concerned. Precise command arrangements would vary according to the procedures for each port. It may be that if Senator Vallentine wants further details the Minister for Defence would be able to supply them if she puts the question on notice. I do not know, but I will refer that to him. Australia has not received a request for a United States warship visit to Fremantle in the next two weeks.

While I am answering this question, it might be a useful opportunity to follow up a question that Senator Vallentine asked on 26 February, inevitably on the same topic, relating to liability in the case of a possible United States nuclear warship accident in an Australian port. I can now confirm that under United States Public Law 93-513 it is the policy of the United States that any nuclear damage claim involving the reactor of a nuclear-powered warship be settled by the United States on an absolute liability basis. With respect to nuclear weapons accidents, compensation would be sought under the well-established legal principles which govern the liability of states for acts which cause damage or loss of life. Furthermore, in the case of the United States, the 1983 agreement between Australia and the United States concerning the status of United States forces in Australia contains provisions regarding claims arising from the activities of United States forces in Australia.