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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2546

Question No. 382

Dr Everingham asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 24 August 1983:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to the report in the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners of June 1982, on the Second Congress of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, by the editor of that Journal who attended as an observer.

(2) Is he able to say whether half the West Germans aged 18 to 24 expect the world to be destroyed by a nuclear war.

(3) Is he also able to say whether three out of four West Germans believe politicians do not know what ordinary people are thinking.

(4) Is he further able to say whether psychiatrists believe that (a) protests of young people at this threat allows some older people to transfer some of their own fears of the situation to a fear of the protesters, (b) most people (i ) fail to face the approach of probably world destruction with the present international political order because they feel it is unhealthy to think about doom which is true only in the short term, (ii) falsely find mass destruction (A ) so difficult to imagine that it does not deserve rational consideration, (B) unlikely because the threat is so longstanding or inhumane, and (C) only the sort of increase in destruction that has happened in the past between wars, or ( iii) suppress their fear, (c) such suppression as in (b) (iii) unconsciously then promotes other less rational fears or incapacities to avoid facing the more intolerable fear, as evidenced by (i) the prevalence of diet fads, (ii) loss of confidence in the economy and (iii) scapegoating and stereotyping the citizens of a supposed enemy country as wholly evil and so seeking to increase the threat from one's own side in the quest for unilateral supremacy by force as a just and rational defence, whereas rational suggestions for a co-operative search for acceptable arbitration in a new international political order are seen as prompted by machinations of the enemy, (d) this collective paranoia is aggravated by increasing unilateral non-arbitrated government statements on international and foreign affairs whenever the probability of apocalypse increases, (e) healing this collective insanity and avoiding doomsday for posterity requires vivid publicity of nuclear war horrors, informed descriptions of probable effects of a bomb on the nearest posible target and the more widespread cumulative effects of nuclear war and (f) factors increasing the likelihood of mad resort to nuclear war are increasing in those whose job involves control of nuclear weapons.

Dr Blewett —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes, my attention has been drawn to the conference report contained in the Journal.

(2) to (4) No. I am unable to confirm or otherwise the propositions suggested. It would be, in fact, very difficult for me to know what West Germans either expect or believe or to know what psychiatrists believe. The only information readily available to me is the precis of the paper on this field of work, contained in the Journal report.

While many have sought to envisage the impact of a nuclear explosion on a community, such an impact is probably beyond the limits of our imagination. I would like to assure Dr Everingham that I share, as will all thinking Australians, his concern about the danger of a nuclear war and I thank him for drawing attention to these particular medical facets of such a calamity.