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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I desire to thank and congratulate the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) who has brought this proposal forward. He has been consistent in his attitude to this problem and, indeed, so has the party that I represent. The terms of the proposal represent the decision, not of a few people, but of the Labour movement of Australia, originally reached more than two years ago and consistently supported ever since. There has been a gradual change of public opinion concerning not only these tests but also the use of nuclear weapons in war. With regard to the tests, of course, the evidence that has been forthcoming has increased enormously during the last two years. It is perfectly useless for the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) to try to underrate the danger of the tests. Some of the authorities on the subject have been summarized this afternoon in the course of the speeches that have been made. For instance, the honorable member for Darebin dealt with the opinions of scientists, headed by Einstein, perhaps the greatest living scientist at the time his opinion was given, and he also referred to Nobel prize winners, German scientists, and the great Schweitzer. An enormous body of evidence is pouring in from scientific quarters all over the world concerning the detrimental and deleterious effects of the nuclear experiments that have been completed already.

I referred recently - and I have since been waiting for an answer from the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) - to a statement of Professor Powell, a distinguished English professor, in which he estimated that, as a result of the nuclear tests that have been conducted already by the three great nuclear powers, many thousands of people are likely to perish.

Mr Beale - He did not say that. I have his article here.

Dr EVATT - He did say that. I have not referred to an article at all. When I spoke about this matter recently, I referred to newspaper comments, and I read them for the benefit of the Minister. I do not know what he is referring to now, but I am speaking of what Professor Powell has said.

Mr Beale - I am referring to the article in " Nature ", to which the right honorable gentleman referred recently.

Dr EVATT - I am speaking of a different matter altogether. Apparently, the Minister does not know the difference between the statement of Professor Powell and that of Sir John Cockcroft in reply to a person who bad said there was no danger. I am referring to a statement of Professor Powell concerning experiments conducted in Wales. Of course, Professor Powell may be wrong. All the scientists may be wrong, or they may be exaggerating, but cannot ordinary people, without scientific knowledge, base their argument upon the possibility - and we need say no more - of these men being correct? What remedy will there be for the tens of thousands of people already condemned to death as the result of nuclear experiments if the scientists turn out to be right?

In the early stages of the development of the science of nuclear physics it was never dreamt that the atom could be split with such devastating consequences. The atom bomb has been used in war, but for the moment I am not speaking of that. On that point, the honorable member for Mackellar is right, and it is about the only point on which he is right. I suppose that everybody knows that the full-scale use of nuclear bombs in time of war would cause danger to the fabric of the earth and to its population. But the experiments themselves are now of serious moment. We on this side of the House have referred to the authorities on the subject, one after the other, for what purpose? Not for the purpose of stopping the tests in a preferential way, as the Minister for Supply has argued. He said that we were trying to stop the British from conducting these experiments.

Mr Beale - And that is what you are doing!

Dr EVATT - That is completely false.

Mr Beale - That is what the honorable member for Hindmarsh said this afternoon.

Dr EVATT - Let me read the proposal that is before the House. It refers to -

The urgent necessity of the Australian Government initiating action-

Mr Beale - Yes.

Dr EVATT - The Minister can read, I take it. He should not be dumb all the time.


Order! The Minister for Supply will remain quiet.

Dr EVATT - It continues- on an international basis for the purpose of suspending immediately, with a view to termination, all nuclear bomb tests, wheresoever and by whomsoever carried out.

Mr Beale - Quite right!

Dr EVATT - I suppose that the Minister therefore agrees with that objective, does he?

Mr Beale - I have no objection to it at all.

Dr EVATT - The proposal includes the Christmas Island test, which will be the next big test. It also includes the Russian tests that have been going on, and the American tests so far as they come within the description. We put the proposal in that form deliberately. As a matter of fact, some one came to me with a draft, proposal and I said, " Well, you had better make it perfectly clear. The Minister for Supply may misrepresent this, or he and the Minister for External Affairs may not understand it ". Is it not plain when it says " wheresoever and by whomsoever carried out"? Of course, the next test, and the closest to us, will be that at Christmas Island. The Japanese people want that test stopped, and so do the majority of the Australian people, not because it is a British test, but because they want all such tests stopped. Cannot Australia initiate, action?' Surely it can! Instead of acting, the Australian Government just follows the British line, never displaying an independent mind; wondering what the United States wants; finding out what the British want. Surely the Government's duty is to the people of Australia who, in a public opinion poll, have said that these tests should be stopped. We do not say for certain that all the scientific views that we quote are necessarily correct; but they may be correct, and you have got to take care by stopping the tests, otherwise you are condemning, by inaction, the people of this country, especially the children of the nextgeneration, to the results of a continuance of the tests - namely, leukaemia and cancer of the limbs. That has been said over and over again.

What right has the Minister to quote the Tittertons and the Martins who say that everything is safe? They have never even given any attention to this aspect of theproblem, so far as I know. They have pronounced in connexion with strontium-90. These official people always come out and say that surely what the Government is doing is right. They may be wrong. I do not say that they are necessarily wrong, but 1 say that they are possibly wrong, and we must guard against that possibility. That is the way we apply the rules of negligence in civil law - in respect of not what is certain, but what may happen - and, in this case, what may happen to suffering humanity.

One other point: In my opinion the use of weapons for experimental purposes in the open seas which do not belong to the nation conducting the tests, and on lands which are not within the sovereignty of that nation, is, in itself, an illegal exercise of sovereignty which is contrary, I believe, to the duties that these nations must observe with respect to the territories of each other.

Mr Beale - So you want to stop the British test?

Dr EVATT - I want to stop them all.

Mr Beale - Straightaway?

Dr EVATT - Yes, now if I can, and the British Labour party has so held.

Mr Beale - And you agree with the British?

Dr EVATT - You think that I want to stop only the British. Surely you are not so despicable as to suggest that. I believe that you do not mean it. You said the other night, for the first time, that you were not dogmatic about the opinions of the scientists in Australia. But when we say that we want to stop them all, you say that we want to stop the British only. I say, yes, of course I want to stop them all. You want to keep the British test going, whatever the consequences.

Mr Beale - Yes.

Dr EVATT - That is the Government's point of view - whatever the consequences! After all, the experiment is being conducted with danger, possibly to Australia and to Japan. I want to stop this, I want to stop the Russians, and I want to stop the Americans too. I want to raise a case in the cause of humanity everywhere, and I am disgusted that the Minister has retreated from what he said, for the first time, the other night in debate. We were surprised to hear him say it, and somebody said that after all the Minister would like to come to an international agreement. I again refer this to the Minister for External Affairs who, after all, has an international responsibility. The proposal is that these tests be stopped everywhere; that they be stopped by international action; that they be stopped immediately and that this cessation be made applicable everywhere. Of course, if that were done, it would be unthinkable that such weapons would be used in time of war. Disarmament would really begin.

That is the view of this party and of the British Labour party, the New Zealand Labour party and of every man and woman of goodwill in every country in the world. We are proud to hold it.

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