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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3568


Senator SHEIL(9.27) —I will be as brief as I can tonight because I realise the problems. Mankind has made three great discoveries. The first was fire, the second was the wheel, and the third was plutonium. They are each as dangerous as the others. In fact they make wonderful servants but fearful masters. Actually we do not discover anything. All that we really do is unlock the processes by which nature has been working for millions of years. This has now culminated in the production of plutonium. Nuclear power represents the cleanest, safest and cheapest form of generating heat to gain electric power that we have ever known in the world, and we are disappearing into an electric world. The sun itself works on nuclear power by nuclear fusion. This is the way we should go. As soon as we can develop a containment field for it, the better off we will be for clean, safe power. Of course, these Bills are going to preclude all that.

So, I return to the Bills-the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 1985, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill 1985, and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Transitional Provisions) Bill 1985. The purpose of the legislation, of course, is threefold. It is to set up the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, ANSTO, which will replace our very successful Australian Atomic Energy Commission. Secondly, it will transfer property, liability, obligations, financial assets and staff from the AAEC to the new ANSTO. Thirdly, it repeals the Atomic Energy Act of 1953, which was the principal Act, and thus abolishes the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. The Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 1985 will leave a few of the powers that existed in the previous legislation. The provisions it leaves in force are the ones that require the reporting of proscribed-that is, nuclear-substances that are discovered and prohibit their production or possession and the powers that allow the Ranger uranium mine to operate.

The Bill also repeals the so-called outdated security provisions of the principal Act. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill updates, so it says, the role of the Australian nuclear authority from paving the way for nuclear energy exploitation to concentrating exclusively on the medical, scientific and industrial use of nuclear products and advising on nuclear matters. I wonder where the Government is going to get the uranium from for those purposes. Uranium is going to have to be mined somewhere in the world so that the authority can get uranium on which to perform these medical, scientific and industrial experiments. Apparently the Government does not mind unionists in other countries mining and processing uranium and getting it to the stage where we can import it, and then we will carry out the uses that are described here. I do not know whether we are allowed to use our Ranger uranium, but of course it would have to go overseas to be processed and then be brought back before it could be used here. I see that as an enormous inconsistency in the policy of the Government. The Bill also reorients the operation of the Atomic Energy Commission's successor towards a more commercial operation, empowering ANSTO to hold property, borrow money, form companies and partnerships and buy shares and securities so long as it has ministerial approval. In addition, an independent Nuclear Safety Bureau is also to be established to monitor the safety of ANSTO's operations, replacing the regulatory bureau of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.

I congratulate the Government on recognising the important and irreplaceable role of nuclear technology in medicine, science and industry. Insofar as the legislation recognises that, it is commendable. It is a gratifying departure from the radiophobic hysteria of the greenies, the self-styled environmentalists and the left wing of the Australian Labor Party. Clearly, the Government has decided that its responsibilities to the Australian people outweigh the need to solicit the votes of the enemies of the wheel and, along with the decision to sell uranium to France, that represents a refreshing breath of reason. Unfortunately, this legislation does have an undesirable side-a socialist side, of course-in the area of ANSTO's commercial orientation. We are seeing more and more of these types of Bills going through the Federal Parliament. Maybe there is an ulterior motive. The principle of placing a qango on a quasi-commercial footing to save government funds or even to make money sounds great, even capitalistic, but it is a surprising act for a socialist government. The repetition of this commercialisation of qangos is proving an increasingly common and interesting act for the Federal Government. The latest one we created, or expanded, was the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission.

I suppose the question must be asked as to whether the Government is trying to increase its financial efficiency or whether the commercialisation of these government organisations represents a devious means of expanding the financial control of the Government into the private sector. As the new commercial powers of organisations such as CSL and ANSTO allow them to expand, borrow money, buy shares and form partnerships it is entirely possible that they could extend octopus-like into a wide range of private industry activities, swallowing up private firms and growing like Topsy. The question must be asked whether the real purpose of the commercial orientation of ANSTO is to make it yet another surrogate of big government and an insidious form of de facto nationalisation of the industry. I have grave doubts about this aspect of the new authority.

My second concern is with the abolition of the so-called outdated security provisions of the Atomic Energy Act 1953. It is, indeed, ironic that while socialists are the most vehement opponents of abuse of nuclear science, they inevitably undermine the security provisions designed precisely to prevent it. The amendments to the principal Act in this regard, including abolishing the prohibition on leaking restricted information and the oath of secrecy, represents another example of limp wristed socialist double think.

My third concern with this legislation relates to the fact that it precludes our involvement in any aspect of nuclear power research and development. While Australia may not require nuclear power yet, there are many commercial aspects of the fuel cycle of other countries' reactors in which we could participate. But this Government is allowing potentially large export markets to go totally untapped by precluding any involvement in the fuel enrichment or the waste disposal industry. All our commercially viable uranium deposits should be exploited-that goes without saying. In addition to missed commercial opportunities, these Bills will preclude research into future nuclear power sources. Tremendous advances are being made already by the Soviets and the Americans towards harnessing fusion power but, as usual, Australia is to be left on the sidelines. Fusion power represents the ultimate power source for the future. As I mentioned before, the same process occurs in the sun. The nuclear fusion of hydrogen to form helium could give the world limitless cheap, safe power once the present work to construct a containment field is completed. I hope that when this Government is defeated at the next election the coalition government which replaces it not only will permit mining and exploitation of all the economic yellowcake deposits in the country but also will amend this legislation to permit both Australian commercial participation in the nuclear fuel cycle and research into fusion power.

Finally and inevitably, this legislation demonstrates conclusively that members of the Government have buried their collective heads three feet below the ground on the issue of nuclear armaments. This legislation removes even our potential to develop nuclear weapons, should circumstances warrant it. Not only are we failing to help our American allies on the bold and visionary strategic defence initiative, but we are not even to have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons if threatened. If we have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, potential enemies can never be sure that we do not already have those weapons. This legislation will simply announce to all and sundry that we are unarmed. Unlike this Government, which appears to have graduated from the Neville Chamberlain school of appeasement, summa cum laude, our northern neighbours do not subscribe to the fallacy that weakness leads to peace. A few hundred kilometres from our shores, communist Vietnam occupies its neighbours and has one of the largest armed forces in the world, bristling with Soviet nuclear missiles. It represents a staging point for ongoing Soviet expansionism in the South Pacific. This Russian satellite represents a potential threat to us.

Closer to home, the Philippines is gradually teetering towards civil war and the vacillation and confusion over the last year have only served the growing communist insurgency in that country. If the Philippines should fall to the NPA, which may well occur over the next five years, a hostile pro-Soviet nation would be even closer to us. Indonesia, which even now is building its third nuclear power plant of three times the capacity of our own Lucas Heights establishment, is not a threat to Australia at present. Despite the best efforts of the left wing of the Australian Labor Party and its media allies to antagonise Indonesia, Jakarta has shown much restraint. If however, these people should succeed in provoking the Indonesians in the future, or the Vietnamese empire should spread southwards, or if any one of a vast array of military possibilities conveniently ignored by the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities should threaten us, thanks to this Bill we will be helpless. While we may not need nuclear weapons now the prohibition on developing even the capacity to produce such weapons in the future leaves us only the hope that the Americans would be able to come to our aid in time of crisis. This only serves to recall memories of when we relied totally on Fortress Singapore. Next time we may not be so lucky.