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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The Minister will have an opportunity to speak later.

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I have said that, on this side of the House, this is not a party political matter, but apparently the Minister objects to my complimenting him upon adopting a certain view. The United Kingdom Labour party, through Mr. Brown, took a similar step in the recent defence debate in the House of Commons, on 16th April. It called upon Her Majesty's Government to take an immediate initiative in putting forward effective proposals for the abolition of hydrogen-bomb tests through international agreement, meanwhile postponing the United Kingdom tests for a limited period so that the response of the other governments to this proposal might first be considered. That is the attitude of the majority of the British people - that the Christmas Island hydrogenbomb tests should be deferred as evidence of good faith, pending the setting up of international controls. The whole of the British Labour party considers this matter of such great importance to Mr. Everyman - the man in the street - that it even advocates postponing further British tests as a first step towards international control.

The recent and important statements which have been made on this subject by eminent nuclear scientists further emphasize the absolute urgency of the Australian Government taking a lead in banning further hydrogen bomb or atomic tests. I should like, first, to refer to a letter from Dr. A. H. Sturtevant, of the California Institute of Technology, which was published in the " Washington Post and Times Herald ", challenging the conclusion, drawn from a report of the National Academy of Sciences, that a ten-fold increase in fall-out from nuclear bomb tests would not be serious. Honorable members may recall that, in 1956, the National Academy of Science brought down a report on the subject and that, allegedly upon an interpretation of that report, President Eisenhower decided that hydrogen bomb tests could continue without detriment to the human race. That information was no doubt available also to the Soviet, which, according to the Minister's oft-repeated claim, has itself carried out fifteen such tests. That makes it even more imperative that action should now be taken by the three nuclear powers to end the tests. If they will not do so, it is up to small nations such as Australia and India to set an example.

I can find no record of any such initiative being taken in the last twelve or eighteen months by Dr. Walker, our representative at the United Nations. I have mentioned that other statements on the subject have been made by eminent scientists. We can, if the Minister likes, begin with the eighteen Nobel prize winners, who made their statement in July, 1955. One can mention, next, the statement signed by the late Albert Einstein and eight other scientists and men of world renown. One can refer, also, to the 1956 report of the National Academy of Science. The report stressed the necessity for the utmost care being taken, and upon that recommendation President Eisenhower is said to have made a decision that the tests should continue. Dr. Sturtevant's remarks were quoted in the " Christian Science Monitor " of 26th October, 1956. This noted geneticist challenges the conclusion drawn from the report of the National Academy of Science that a ten-fold increase in fall-out from nuclear bomb tests would not be serious. This interpretation was attributed to a staff member of the National Academy of Science who worked on the report. Dr. Sturtevant asserted -

The report of the committee reaches no such conclusion ... I, for one, would have been unwilling to sign a report that could reasonably have been so interpreted.

He was referring to the interpretation upon which President Eisenhower is alleged to have based his decision to continue hydrogen bomb testing. The " Christian Science Monitor " commented -

In the meantime, more recent information disclosed by Atomic Energy Commissioner Willard F. Libby on radio-strontium, or radio-active fallout hazards, indicates the urgency of an immediate revision of the N.A.S. report, Dr. Sturtevant believes . . .

Although Dr. Sturtevant does not say that the radioactivity generated by past tests constitutes a present danger, the radiation hazards committee of the Federation of American Scientists has put it almost that strongly in suggesting the possibility that " in certain areas of the country " such fall-out has " already passed the danger point ".

In the " New York Times " of 25th October last the following appears: -


Nineteen University of Rochester scientists, including the chief medical researcher for the Atomic Energy Commission, took issue to-day with President Eisenhower's assertion that H-bomb tests could be continued without peril to the human race.

In the face of those statements and the knowledge that by January of this year the stratosphere was saturated to the extent of 15 per cent., by strontium from hydrogen bombs which had already been exploded, how can we - whatever party we belong to - approach this subject with anything but the gravest alarm and a sincere desire to place it above party politics and on an international, moral level?

The only reference made by Dr. Walker on the subject is found in the discussion on the report of the Disarmament Commission earlier this year. When speaking on the Soviet Union's draft proposals he said that he believed that in view of the present condition of the world, some tests must be continued for a time if the security of the Free World were to be safeguarded. At the same time, the top nuclear scientists of the world were saying that what we were doing could, without a war, lead to the cessation and destruction of human life. To every woman who has children, and to every woman who hopes to have them, this is a very live and real issue.

The Labour party believes that, in view of the stage which the disarmament negotiations have reached, now is the time, above all others, for a summit conference between the leaders of the Soviet, America and Britain, the three atomic powers, before a fourth or fifth power comes into the picture. Now is the psychological time for such a summit approach. Agreement should be reached while this matter is before the disarmament sub-committee. The right atmosphere should be created so that a favorable recommendation can be made. When a favorable recommendation has been made, the Australian Government, through its representatives, should immediately take steps, for the first time in history' to my knowledge, to call a special conference of the United Nations Assembly to cement an agreement on this matter. Now is the psychological time to prevent further tests, pending the setting up of international control. There should be a summit conference of the three powers that possess atomic weapons and they should immediately put their recommendation to the sub-committee, which I believe would favour it. If the recommendation is favorably received it could then be put before a specially convened meeting of the United Nations.

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