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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr HAMILTON - The right honorable gentleman is trying to retrieve the situation, because he has seen that his followers have put the Australian Labour party in a rather awkward position. The theme of their expressions of opinion was that Great Britain and the United States should cease these nuclear tests, but not one word was said about what the Soviet Union should do. One can take it from that, and from the events at the Hobart conference, that Labour wants to see that Great Britain and the United States do these things, but is not worried about what other countries will do. No one who subscribes to those views can truthfully claim to be a responsible person, because so long as the Soviet Union continues these tests and refuses to come to the party to discuss the matter, as the Leader of the Opposition said it was prepared to do, we should be absolutely foolish to curtail our atomic experiments.

What methods are employed by Opposition members in criticizing this Government's activities in relation to atomic experiments? Last evening that benign gentleman, the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), attacked the Government over its attitude to the aborigines. I have great respect for the honorable member's humanitarian outlook, but I have very little respect for the manner in which he expressed his views last evening. It was as plain as daylight that he was trying to shoot down not only this Government - as a member of Her Majesty's Opposition he was entitled to do that - but also our own scientists, the men who had given of their all in order to ensure that these tests would be carried out in the safest possible manner, and to gather information that could be applied towards the protection of our civilian population. The honorable member, and, indeed, all other members of the Opposition, know very well that everybody concerned in these tests has done everything possible to protect both the white people and the natives. In addition to that, every precaution was taken to protect stock, buildings and various other assets. I should like to ask the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) whether, since the atomic tests have been carried out in Australia, he has received any complaints from missionaries, or other people who are associated with the native population, that any natives havesuffered as a result of the tests right from the time of the original test on the Monte Bello Islands. I feel certain that he ha.-, not received any such complaints.

The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), who is sitting at the table, told the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) that no instructions had been issued for the grounding of aircraft, but the honorable member persisted in the line that he had been following, which was in keeping with the story that was published by certain newspapers that the carcasses of cattle that had been slaughtered at Alice Springs for human consumption after the last test were found to be radio-active.

I think that all credit is due to the scientists and other responsible people who delayed exploding the first atomic bomb at Maralinga until weather conditions were suitable. Those of us who have had the privilege of observing the set-up at Maralinga to ensure the success of the experiment were greatly impressed by the meticulous care that was taken by all concerned to ensure that, while no harm would befall ihe Australian population - both white and coloured people - the desired results would be obtained. Yet the honorable member for Blaxland criticized our meteorologists. Those of us who went to Maralinga were very favorably impressed by the manne; in which the meteorological officers hai! prepared graphs and charts for the purpose of obviating any possibility that a change of wind direction would cause the fallout to blow over certain portions of this country and cause damage. Despite all of those precautions, we have heard very critical statements made by some honorable members opposite during the last few hours of this debate.

Last night, the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) also criticized the atomic tests, and referred to the fact that the Hobart conference of the Australian Labour party had opposed the holding of them. I could appreciate the Labour party adopting that attitude if the Russians had ceased testing atomic devices, but I do not like innuendoes being made, while our proceedings are being broadcast, that Great Britain and the United States of America are the culprits in this connexion. I agree with the statement by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) last night that, until Russia is prepared to come to the party, as it were, we would be very foolish to curtail our tests, which are designed to provide us with the knowledge we need. We do not want to be aggressors, but it is important for us to learn all we possibly can from the atomic tests, not only so that we may retaliate if we are attacked, but also so that we may apply atomic power to peace-time purposes.

It amazes me to hear members of the Opposition criticizing the atomic tests in Australia. As has been rightly pointed out by the Minister, and the scientists associated with him in this venture, the last test was held in order to obtain information on how best to protect the civilian population from the effects of an atomic bomb explosion. It is no secret whatever that, on the occasion of the particular test that the Opposition has criticized, in the area likely to be affected by the fall-out there were sheep, goats and other animals and herbage for them to eat. There was also more herbage farther away from the centre of the blast which could be fed subsequently to the animals in order to observe whether any degree of radio-activity was present which would render them unfit for human consumption. In addition, scientific experiments were carried out in relation to various kinds of clothing and other material, as well as buildings, for the purpose of obtaining information that would enable us to protect the civilian population from an atomic attack.

I was particularly interested in one aspect of the experiment. I produce citrus fruit at an orchard which is situated about 16 miles from Perth, and I wanted to learn the period of time that should elapse after an atomic explosion before fruit that was exposed to radiation would be fit for human consumption. If we had not taken all necessary precautions in connexion with the recent atomic tests, the Labour party would have every right to kick the Government from one end of the country to the other. But I think that it is an absolute disgrace -for honorable members opposite to criticize our scientists as they have done. I am ashamed of the tactics that the Opposition is employing.

The Opposition has submitted a motion to reduce the proposed vote by £1. Last night, during the debate on another group of the Estimates, 1 referred to the value of the experiments that are being conducted at the Woomera Rocket Range. It must be realized that these tests cannot be conducted without a considerable expenditure if we are to obtain the knowledge we need. As far as I am concerned, if an expenditure of £60,000,000 is needed in order to obtain information that might result in the saving of the lives of 1,000,000 people. I am satisfied. As those honorable members who had the privilege of visiting Maralinga and Woomera saw, many miles of electric wires and telephone cables have been installed, as well as airstrips and water-supply services. At Maralinga, it was necessary to provide a water-supply service, so that the men who were getting on with the job could enjoy some amenities, because the water from the bores was saltier than the sea. It is necessary to incur expenditure on such items. When we were at Woomera the other day, we saw firing contraptions similar to what one sees on a battleship. Underneath a flat piece of concrete on the ground were the innards of a battleship, which we had the privilege of inspecting. To instal such equipment under some feet of concrete involves a large expenditure; yet honorable members opposite continue to ask the Government to cut down the expenditure on defence. They are putting up a sham fight. Only a few minutes ago, the Minister .for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison) threw back in the teeth of honorable members opposite their assertions in relation to the employment situation in the various defence factories. I advise honorable members opposite to study the facts of this subject, by first-hand inspection and reading, before putting over the air stupid and nonsensical remarks about our defence preparations, and creating panic in the minds of the Australian people.

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