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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 571

Mr Uren (REID, NEW SOUTH WALES) asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development and Energy, upon notice, on 1 5 May 1980:

(   1 ) Has the Minister's attention been drawn to a statement made on Sydney radio station 2GB on Thursday 1 May 1980 by the former Chairman of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, Sir Phillip Baxter, to the effect that we know how to produce nuclear bombs, we worked this out for ourselves; it took us about 2½ years and we did that back in the 1960s.

(2)   If the situation is as stated, was the work referred to by Sir Phillip Baxter carried out with the knowledge and authorisation of the Government of the day.

(3)   If so, when and in what form was this authorisation given.

(4)   How many officers of the Commission were involved in this work and how many were and have since been made aware of details of the findings.

(5)   Have any documents been produced which contain the findings on significant parts of this work; if so, what safeguards have been applied to these documents.

Mr Anthony - The Minister for National Development and Energy has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   to (5) Australia, as well as a number of other industrialised countries in the 1 960s, had the theoretical know-how necessary to undertake the development of nuclear weapons. With the authorisation of the Government of the day an assessment was made in the late 1960's of Australia's capability in this regard; no weapons development work took place. This assessment contributed to the Government's consideration of the then draft Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Relevant documents are classified and are therefore subject to the standing security arrangements to protect classified material.

The Australian Government has never sought to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons. Action of this kind was definitively precluded when Australia ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973. Under that Treaty non-nuclear weapon States undertake not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Additionally, they agree to accept international safeguards on all their peaceful nuclear activities which provide assurance that they are abiding by that undertaking.

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