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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1768

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.25) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

Before I comment on the two papers before the Senate, I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the Government has in this, the second last week of sittings, commenced the practice of tabling very large numbers of documents at a time when there is really no opportunity for us to debate them. I see Senator Coleman here and I imagine she would like to debate a number of things, whether they relate to Aboriginals and uranium, to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or whatever. The point is that under sessional orders, given there is no General Business and given the truncation of the parliamentary session because of the unnecessary early election called by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), we will not get an opportunity to address ourselves to some very significant matters. I have moved that the Senate take note of the report on the exposure of Australians to radiation at Maralinga and a report on the British nuclear tests in Australia by the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council, but the list also contains the annual reports of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Department of Finance and the Department of Housing and Construction, as well a whole series of reports on matters of importance to the housing industry. There is also the annual report of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation and we find also the Penington report, from that very important Committee of Inquiry into the Rights of Private Practice in Public Hospitals. There is a report on the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission and-

Senator Harradine —And a minor thing like Australia's population trends and prospects.

Senator CHANEY —That is right. Senator Harradine reminds me that we have the report on Australian population trends, which is important not merely from the point of view of immigration but also for the planning of our social security services and indeed for the planning of basic services for the Australian community generally. So, Mr Deputy President, I simply ask the Government to take note of the very unsatisfactory situation in which it has placed us. It is totally unsatisfactory from the point of view of the Opposition that we should have so little opportunity to deal with matters of such importance. By the time the Parliament resumes next year-happily in the hands of a better government, we expect-many of these reports will have lost the immediacy that makes debate now so important. I think the only answer for the Senate, and indeed for the Parliament in this sort of situation, is to remain sitting until it has dealt with all matters that it believes need to be dealt with. I say that having been in government myself and having heard the complaints of oppositions. I do think that in this place, where the Government does not control business, there is an opportunity for the Parliament to assert itself and I simply give notice that I hope that in future the Senate will be prepared to exert its own authority to ensure that these matters get adequate debate.

I know Senator Sir John Carrick wishes to speak on these reports of which I have moved the Senate take note, so I return briefly to them. The first is simply a letter from the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council to the Minister to whom it is responsible, the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment, Mr Barry Cohen. That letter is important because it acknowledges that some additional material has been made available relating to the exposure of Australian servicemen to radiation during the Buffalo series of nuclear tests at the Maralinga test range in 1956 and the stationing of men at closer range than that normally allowed. The important thing to which I want to draw attention is that the finding of AIRAC is that the amendments do not affect the conclusion that the men were not over-exposed to radiation. I am sure that will be of relief to people who are concerned in this matter. Perhaps more importantly, there is a letter and a report attached, dated 13 August 1984, in which AIRAC comments on what has become known as the report of the Kerr Committee, the Expert Committee on the Review of Data on Atmospheric Fallout Arising from British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which was established by Senator Peter Walsh to review an earlier AIRAC report on data on atmospheric fallout arising from British nuclear tests in Australia. The Kerr Committee was extremely critical, and we now find that AIRAC advises the Minister that it has grave reservations on the quality and value of that report. I do not have time to go into the detail of that. The Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council said that the Kerr Committee had produced no evidence to show that the AIRAC report was misleading or that it gave rise to erroneous conclusions on the major issue of risks to the Australian population. The Council said in conclusion:

We regret that the Kerr Committee appears to have set out to discredit the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council and AIRAC 9-

I interpolate by saying that is the particular report-

by raising doubts about the competence and integrity of the Council and misrepresenting information in the report, without providing any objective evidence to validate its criticisms.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.