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Friday, 16 December 1983
Page: 3969

Senator DURACK —My question is directed to Senator Button, both in his capacity as Leader of the Government in the Senate and as Minister representing the Prime Minister and also in his capacity today as Minister representing the Attorney- General. I remind him of a statement made by the Attorney-General yesterday in the matter of public importance. The Attorney said that the difficulty is that there is simply no established policy in place at the moment with regard to the dry docking of warships which may be armed with non-conventional weapons; that discussions were set in place between the United States and our British allies in regard to this matter; and that the discussions he was contemplating would take months rather than days or weeks. I also refer Senator Button to statements reportedly made by the Prime Minister on a radio program last night. He said:

I would think in respect of the United States the matter is resolved-they understand, and there'll be no problem there. There's a bit more discussion going on with the UK.

How can these statements be reconciled? What is the true position? Are the talks continuing with the United States as well as the British Government, as indicated by Senator Evans yesterday?

Senator BUTTON —As I understand the matter, there have been discussions with both governments. According to the latest information I have, they have been expedited and probably will not take as long as Senator Evans foreshadowed in his speech yesterday. I am unable to provide precise details of the discussions with the United States, but I think it is probably true to say that they are resolved or reaching a point of finality. I know that further discussions have taken place with the British Government. I am instructed that the Minister for Defence, as at yesterday, was having talks with the British Minister for Defence about this matter. But on the basis that those discussions are not finally completed, I am not in a position to add any more by way of enlightenment in respect of this matter.