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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I wish to refer to the subject of nuclear experiments, but, before I do so, I must advert to the statements made by the Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison). Once again the right honorable gentleman seeks to blame Labour. 1 think that the best test to apply to him is the test invited by the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) who. the other night, said that Mr. Curtin was quite aware of the defence position prior to the assumption of office of the Curtin Government. In answer to the remarks of the Minister for Defence Production about Labour's alleged responsibility for deficiencies when the present Government took office, 1 shall quote from a speech made by Mr. Curtin on 26th July, 1943, and I should like the attention of the Minister for Defence Production, who is leaving us in the very near future.

Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not leaving the chamber. I am waiting to hear what the Leader of the Opposition has to say.

Dr EVATT - In the speech from which I am about to read Mr. Curtin was referring to the anti-Labour governments of which the present Minister for Defence Production was a member. This is how Mr. Curtin characterized those governments^-

Blind to the dangers in the Pacific, the Menzies and Fadden Governments had left Australia very much unprepared.

He was referring to the anti-Labour governments that had been in office up to the end of 1941, when anti-Labour governments had been in office for ten years, with majorities in both Houses of the Parliament, and had had complete responsibility for the defence of this country. Mr. Curtin continued - .

Australia's resources were spread over many far-flung battle fronts. The men of the threeservices fought with fine efficiency and made conspicuous contributions, but at home the then government had left the country almost undefended. Australia was a sector as menaced, and as helpless, as the Philippines.

Then he goes into the details. When I heard the statements made this afternoon by the Minister for Defence Production I was reminded of the facts. Mr. Curtin gave the figures regarding the actual defence equipment available when the Labour government came into office at the end of 1941. I am sure that the Minister for Defence Production will be interested inthis. The equipment to which Mr. Curtin was referring was the total initial equipment. He said that Army equipment related to initial requirements was available in Australia in the following percentages: - Rifles, 20 per cent.; sub-machine guns, 28 per cent.; light machine guns, 41 per cent.; anti-tank rifles, 15 per cent.; anti-tank guns, 21 per cent.; anti-aircraft guns, 9 per cent.; field guns, 56 per cent. He said also that there was then in Australia not one fighter aircraft. Australia had only trainer aircraft available at that time. He said thai Air Force strength in 1941 was only 44 per cent, of what it was at the time he was making his speech in July, 1943. He also said that, when Labour took office, Australia had only ten light tanks available for its defence, but that at the time he was speaking light and medium tanks were a four figure total.

I shall not go into the details of Mr. Curtin's devastating criticism of the preceding anti-Labour governments, but I am surprised that members of the government immediately preceding the Curtin Labour Government can hold their heads up and dare to criticize Labour. Do not forget that the period, to which the Minister for Defence Production has referred was the three-year period beginning in 1 946, the first post-war year. That was the period of rehabilitation of returned servicemen. Certainly, there was a reduction in the strength of the services in that year, because the war had been successfully concluded, but there were 8,000 people in employment in those government defence factories even then. What the Government proposes to do now is to go back to that employment level of 8,000, the level, I stress, in the first year after the successful conclusion of the war, despite the fact that the Minister himself said, in 1951, that we faced war within twelve months. The Prime Minister (Mr." Menzies) had been satisfied with predicting war in three years, but the Minister, who had been for some time in London, prophesied war in twelve months.


Dr EVATT - You did make such a statement.

I apologize to the committee for having taken up its time in making these statements, but I was forced to reply to the accusations made by the Minister. 1 desire now to turn, briefly, to the main subject that I wish to discuss, which is our position in relation to nuclear experiments. I shall conclude my remarks on that matter by moving that the first item in the group of departments before the committee, namely, the proposed vote for the Department of Supply, be reduced by. ?1. The Opposition's view of nuclear weapons has been expressed by the decisions reached at the Hobart conference of the party. That view aims at high-level political talks to achieve effective prevention of the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs by any nation, whether for purposes of war or experimental purposes. Nearly every proposal made at that conference has since been given effect, including those concerned with making membership of the United Nations practically universal, making arrangements for better relationships with Asian countries, and matters of that kind. Our proposals in relation to nuclear weapons also are coming to pass. We advocated their immediate suspension approximately two years ago, and it is now advocated by the British Labour movement.

Mr Beale - The British Labour party did not say that.

Dr EVATT - Yes, it did.

Mr Beale - It did not. 1 have before me the motion that was put to the conference.

Dr EVATT - The Minister will have the opportunity to speak later. The British Labour movement favours the suspension of atomic experiments.

Mr Beale - Not unilaterally.

Dr EVATT - I am not dealing with the matter from the unilateral stand-point. I am dealing with it from the stand-point of our proposal for immediate high-level talks for the purpose of suspending atomic experiments.

Mr. Wilkie,a very wellknown writer on this subject for one of the Melbourne newspapers, takes very much the same view as Dr. Russo. He points out that we are near the point " at which the peoples of the world will insist on putting an end to further nuclear test explosions - A-bomb and H-bomb ". He points out also that to say that two years ago would have been regarded as equivalent to heresy. But thai has now been taken up by the British Labour movement. It is also the policy of the Democratic party in the United States of America. Mr. Wilkie points out that last November Russia indicated its readiness to ban all further atomic tests by agreement between the Big Three, and on 17th July last the Russian Foreign Minister repeated that offer. The United Kingdom Prime Minister said very much the same thing after the summit talks. That is the policy of Mr. Adlai Stevenson, the leader of the Democratic party in the United States, and also of the President of the United States, provided that security against breaches of an arrangement can be obtained. I think it is obvious - and this, too, is pointed out by

Mr. Wilkie; that no nation can set off a nuclear explosion in any part of the world which cannot be detected elsewhere by appropriate instruments. So whatever happens in Russia is immediately known in the United States, and, I suppose, vice versa.

We feel that the time has come for Australia to act. Russia says it is willing to enter into a firm agreement. The United Kingdom Government apparently takes the same view, and, subject to the same safeguards, so does the United States of America. But nothing is happening. The experiments are continuing. When will they end? Will they end of their own accord, or will they end, as they should, by agreement? I think the duty of the Australian Government is to take the initiative in these matters. Australian territory is being used as the experiment ground for other countries. Therefore it is in our interests to expedite an arrangement to end atomic tests, and we should take the initiative. All the countries I have mentioned say they are willing to sign an agreement. I should have thought it would be quite easy to make an agreement with respect to experimental explosions secure in the sense that it could not be broken by any of the countries concerned, and I think that Australia, being in a key position, should take the initiative in this matter as we have suggested. 1 shall not po into 'the pros and cons of the alleged effects of atomic experiments upon the weather, and of the alleged effects of radiation. I do not accept the dogmatic statements made either way. I think it is an unscientific approach (o have people always criticizing or defending the governments concerned in these matters. That is pointed out in Mr. Wilkie's article, which mentions that there are always some professors who say that there is no danger at all. There will be no danger until it eventuates. As we know, there is danger to Japan from the Russian experiments, and I think similar dangers may appear in Australia. 1 hope to have an opportunity to address the committee again later, but, so that a test vote may be taken on this matter, I now move -

That the amount of the vote - "Department of Supply, ?15.132.000"- be reduced by ?1. as an instruction to the Government -

That it should take the initiative in bringing together the nations mentioned for the purpose of making an agreement immediately to suspend atomic tests with a view to obtaining a firmer agreement under which they can be banned altogether.

That is a perfectly feasible proposition. Australia is in a position in which it is entitled to take that action, because Australian territory and the Australian people are to some extent, admittedly, being subjected to danger. We are admittedly subjected to danger, because if an experiment must be postponed sixteen times owing to weather conditions grave risk would eventuate if a mistake were made and an explosion were set off at the wrong moment. That is the sense in which I use the word " risk ". That is what it means in this context.

Mr Beale - The right honorable gentleman misunderstands what happened.

Dr EVATT - I am not concerned with what happened. I rely on the fact that tests must be postponed repeatedly because weather conditions present an element of danger. Had the first Maralinga explosion been set off when weather conditions were unfavorable some Australians would have been exposed to danger. That immediately follows. The Government's case is that there was no risk, because great care was taken to ensure that weather conditions were favorable. 1 am putting the same thing from the obverse viewpoint, and that is the viewpoint I am asking the committee to consider. We are talking about the same coin. What is wrong with attempting to bring nations together when each is waiting on the other to ban atomic experiments? Australia should not always wait for other countries to act. It should now take the initiative in these matters. That is the view of the Australian Labour party, and I submit that it is the view of the great majority of the people of Australia, as public opinion polls have demonstrated.

Mr. HAMILTON(Canning) 15.21.- It i< very obvious that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has taken part in the consideration of this group of Estimates at this juncture in an endeavour to give to Labours ideas on atomic tests a slant different from that expressed in the words of his colleagues who have participated in the debate so far. You. Mr. Temporary Chairman, will recall that the right honorable gentleman moved the amendment as an- instruction to the Government that it should initiate top level talks with a view to having nuclear tests abolished. But if we cast our minds back to what was said last week by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), and by other Opposition members yesterday and to-day, we shall realize that the amendment is not in keeping with the expressed views of the Opposition.

Mr Aston - They all are out of step except the Leader of the Opposition.

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