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Wednesday, 10 October 1956


Mr BEALE (Parramatta) (Minister for Supply) . - I have only a few minutes tn which to address the committee. Before I deal specifically with what the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said, may I mention one or two matters which were raised earlier in the debate? The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) read a passage from the recent report of the Nuclear Research Foundation, uttering a criticism of the allocation for the Lucas Heights reactor. Since the honorable member has done that, perhaps I might be permitted to read a letter which I received from Mr. Parry-Okeden, the chairman of the foundation, in which he said -

The foregoing criticisms are not intended in any way to reflect on the Atomic Energy Commission itself or on you, sir, as the Minister responsible for the work of the Commission and for the provision of adequate finance for its proper requirements.

All of us want as much money as possible to be spent on the Lucas Heights project, but a lot of other projects in Australia also require money. If there is to be any suggestion that the Government has not done its duty in regard to this item on the Estimates, I point out that we have practically doubled the vote for the Lucas Heights project this year. An extra £1,000,000 has been provided.


Mr Chambers - The honorable member for Blaxland did not mention Lucas Heights.


Mr BEALE - If he did not mention Lucas Heights, heaven only knows what he was talking about! That is what he was supposed to be talking about. The proposed vote for this project for this financial year is £2,436,000, compared with a vole of £1,416,000 which was placed on the Estimates last year. That seems to me «i pretty handsome recognition of the fact that this Government realizes that the project is an important project and that in a time of financial stringency, the Government is prepared to allocate a big increase in funds to bring that project to completion.

The honorable member for Blaxland also took the trouble to make some slighting remark which was based on a report in the " Daily Telegraph ". If the honorable member gets any pleasure out of the fact that a newspaper reporter rings up a Minister's wife, is rude to her, and publishes a snarling report next morning that " a woman who answered the telephone said he was asleep ", the honorable member is not as decent a fellow as I thought. I take it very hard that a man like himself should bother to quote a newspaper on a paltry matter of that sort.

I should also like to answer something that was said by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), who very rightly expressed some anxiety about the natives in connexion with atomic tests. I have said, in the House, in general terms, that the most elaborate precautions have been taken to safeguard the safety of the natives entirely. I shall not attempt to deal with the matter in detail now, but perhaps the committee will permit me to refer to a letter whichI wrote on 20th September to the appropriate Minister in the Labour Government in Western Australia, Mr. Brady, M.L.A., who had made inquiries about this matter. It is a long letter which indicates with some precision the care that we take, and with the concurrence of honorable members I shall incorporate it in " Hansard ". The letter reads as follows: -

I have now had an opportunity of reading the speech made by Mr. W. Grayden, M.L.A., in the Legislative Assembly on15th August, and appreciate your courtesy in forwarding this with your letter of 21st August.

At the outset let me say that I share your anxiety that nothing should be done to jeopardize the welfare and precarious living of the native. This has always been in the forefront of our minds in planning operations both in respect of the rocket range at Woomera and of the atomic weapons proving ground at Maralinga.

We have tried not only to protect the natives from any hazard associated with the operation of these ranges, but also to disturb their normal mode of living as little as possible, and to impose no unnecessary restriction on their movements.

My Department has worked in close co-operation with the Department of Native Welfare both in South and Western Australia, and the helpful attitude of both States has been appreciated.

You might like to have a brief outline of the measures which have been put into operation for looking after native welfare in the area nearer to Maralinga, and this I have set out below -

1.   Two or three mobile ground patrols operate between Tarcoola and Ernabella to keep a check on the location and movement of all natives in this area.

2.   There are also scientific teams operating east towards Mabel Creek and up to 120 miles to the north-west of our base on the Emu claypan. These teams, while not specifically for native patrol, are briefed to report any indication that natives are in this area.

3.   These patrols are in daily contact with each other, with Natives Affairs Officer Macaulay at the Meteorological Station in the Rawlinsons, and with the Maralinga and Woomera Ranges.

4.   While there is not the slightest danger to the health of natives in and around the station properties in central South Australia arising from the tests at Maralinga, it is considered politic to keep regular checks on the radio-active " background " in these areas, and in addition to the large number of air sampling stations distributed throughout the Australian continent, there are sampling devices located at each of the station properties referred to above.

Not only do these supplement the data obtained from the main continental sampling system, but they provide specific confirmation that no significant radioactive material has fallen on the nearby inhabited areas.

5.   Bef ore any major test is conducted at Maralinga, extensive low level aerial reconnaissance over a wide sector centred on Maralinga and extending out about 200 miles from the. firing area is made with meticulous care. This will detect the presence of any natives not previously accounted for. In the event of any natives being discovered in locations which might give rise to public anxiety, the tests would be held up until the natives were clear of these areas.

6.   The only area in which the radio-active contamination following a test might reach a level prejudicial to health, is in the near vicinity of the firing sites, and this area will be constantly supervised by the Range authorities.

Although radio-active material will fall outside this area, it will be of such low intensity as not to be a health hazard. Further, it will decay rapidly with time and could not possibly be a danger to any natives who might subsequently move into the area.

7.   As part of the scientific plan to assess the effectiveness of the nuclear devices tested at Maralinga, extensive aerial and ground survey of the radio-active " failout " are made with highly sensitive measuring instruments to distances of more than 100 miles from the firing sites. These measurements provide additional confirmation that the scientific predictions were realized and that no harmful radioactive material was deposited on areas used by human beings or live-stock.

The initiation and direction of the above measures is the direct responsibility of the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee, which consists of eminent Australian scientists and which is present in person at each of the major trials at Maralinga.

I trust the foregoing information will not only inform you of the extreme care with which we are planning all these operations, but will enable you to reply to any uninformed criticism that these highly important and essential British Commonwealth defence operations are prejudicing native life and welfare in Australia.


Mr Chambers - What about the contaminated cattle?


Mr BEALE - The story about the contaminated cattle is simply that there were no contaminated cattle. The day after this report appeared, the " Adelaide Advertiser " published a complete and flat denial by the gentleman who was supposed to have given the report to it.

The honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) made, if I may say so, an earnest and well-intentioned speech on what I acknowledge is a serious subject. I regret to say that, in trying to make his case, he misquoted the effect of the Medical Research Council's report in Great Britain and the effect of the report of the United States Academy of Science. He certainly misquoted the intent and effect of the British Labour party's resolution which was passed at Blackpool a few weeks ago. I have the resolution here, and it is quite clear that the British Labour party did not intend to pass a resolution advocating a unilateral discontinuance of atomic tests. Yet that is precisely what the honorable gentleman suggested.

Obviously, the honorable member, along with everybody else, including the members of this Government, is anxious to see these tests brought under control and, in due course, discontinued. But to suggest that the Labour party of Great Britain, like the very foolish Labour party in this chamber, passed a resolution advocating a unilateral discontinuance of tests is to insult the intelligence of the British Labour party. A resolution was passed by the Australian Labour party caucus, by a narrow majority, advocating the unilateral abolition of atomic bomb tests. I suggest that if the proposal were put up to the caucus again, it would not go through; but it is on record. Therefore, it is interesting to find the honorable member for Darebin so misguided as to advocate in this committee that line of approach.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Does the Minister oppose the churches?


Mr BEALE - I do not oppose the churches. The churches, in common .with most thinking people, are anxious to see an end to this atomic armaments race. This Government, as I shall show, is doing its utmost, along with the governments of the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, to get some sort of workable and enforceable agreement on the subject. But until we can get something which will protect us, we will not expose this country and our allies to being overwhelmed, as by an avalanche, by the forces of Russia, a country which is completely superior in other forms of armaments.

The honorable member misquoted the statement of Mr. Adlai Stevenson. Mr. Adlai Stevenson did not advocate the unilateral banning of the hydrogen bomb. The words that he used were - the United States should take the lead in working out a ban on hydrogen bomb tests.

That does not mean that the United States should abandon its testing of the bomb Unless Russia gave some sort of promise or undertaking, or America had some sort of working arrangement with Russia, to do the same thing.

I now turn to the real nub of this matter, and that is the statement by the Leader of the Opposition. The honorable member for Darebin and some of his misguided friends are prepared to say, " Let Australia discontinue these tests. Let Great Britain discontinue these tests. Let America discontinue these tests. But let Russia go on and on and on "-


Mr Chambers - He did not say that.


Mr BEALE - That is the effect of the resolution that the Labour party caucus adopted the other day.


Mr Chambers - The Leader of the Opposition advocated bringing the leaders of nations together.


Mr BEALE - That is what the Leader of the Opposition said in the chamber, but it is not what he said in caucus.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! Members of the Opposition must keep quiet.


Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I rise to order. I ask for an unqualified withdrawal of the statement that we are in favour of letting Russia go ahead with the development of the atom bomb.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member is out of order. If he considers that he has been misrepresented, he may make a personal explanation.


Mr BEALE - These boys do not like the truth. They run away from it every day of the week. To-night, the Leader of the Opposition did not go as far as he went in caucus. He has submitted an amendment, the purpose of which is to reduce the proposed vote for the Department of Supply by £1 - a sort of motion of censure, I suppose - as a direction to the Government to get the powers together to ensure the banning of tests by agreement. That is a somewhat different thing.


Mr Chambers - It is different from what the Minister said.







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