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Friday, 4 May 1984
Page: 1598


Senator WALSH (Minister for Resources and Energy) —by leave- Yesterday at a joint Press conference with the Premier of South Australia, John Bannon, I indicated that we had agreed I would ask the British Government for its agreement to release the full text of what is known as the Pearce report. That report produced by the British Government in January 1968, deals with the question of residual radioactive contamination at Maralinga in South Australia. An edited version of that report was published in May 1979 and tabled in the House of Representatives by the then Minister for National Development on 7 June 1979. In its original form the Pearce report was a classified document as it contains information on the nature of some of the tests and materials used. In addition the report specifically records the location of various waste burials and their contents. The edited version deletes certain references to aspects of the tests and to the burial sites.

In the light of claims that have been made by the late Mr Burke and others that there are unmarked and unknown burial sites, I felt it would be in the public interest to have the full report released. I am pleased to be able to inform the Senate that the British Government has responded positively and promptly to this request. I seek leave to table a copy of the unedited version of the report.

Leave granted.


Senator WALSH —I thank the Senate. Unfortunately very few copies of the original document are in Australia. Arrangements are being made to have the report reprinted as quickly as possible but in the meantime I have arranged for a few copies to be placed in the Parliamentary Library. I note for the record that the copy which is being tabled say on its cover sheet: 'This is the only copy held by DNDE'. That, of course, is no longer relevant.

I also sought an assurance from the British Government that it had no knowledge of any waste burial sites arising from the tests other than those set out in the Pearce report. I table a letter dated 4 May from the British High Commission in Canberra advising that to the best of the British Government's knowledge and belief there are no burial sites in existence resulting from the Maralinga tests other than those described in the full Pearce report.

Yesterday in response to a question from Senator Cook, in confirming that a small quantity of plutonium had been returned to the United Kingdom in 1979, I said that as part of an agreement between the United Kingdom and Australian governments, Australia had agreed to accept entirely the responsibility for the rest of the contaminated waste material at Maralinga and that the United Kingdom had no further responsibility to have any other contaminated material repatriated to the United Kingdom. Again with the concurrence of the British Government, I have arranged for the exchange of documents relating to this matter to be made public and table a copy of a note dated 29 November 1978 to the British Government and its response of 4 January 1979, as well as the bout de papier referred to in the High Commissioner's letter.

While there is understandable concern on the part of the public about the various claims and allegations regarding Maralinga in the last few days this has not been helped by overreaction and misreporting by some sections of the media and by continuing suggestions of secrecy on the part of the Australian and British governments. Typical of this is a claim in the Canberra Times today stating that details were revealed yesterday of another previously unpublicised Federal Government report on the 1979 program to remove a plutonium mass from Maralinga. The plain fact is that the report, entitled, 'Management of Former United Kingdom Atomic Test Sites in Australia-Report of 1979 Work Program', was presented in both Houses of the Parliament on 7 June 1979, and a Press release was also issued.

Finally, let me assure the Senate and the Australian people that this Government has no interest or intention of keeping facts relating to the nuclear tests in Australia secret. We are dealing with events that date back some thirty years. There are voluminous records scattered throughout various Commonwealth departments and archives in Australia and the same situation exists in the United Kingdom. My Department is continuing efforts to bring together all relevant documents and information, and I am advised that a similar process is proceeding in the United Kingdom. As I have already announced, later this year the Government will receive a report covering the history of the Maralinga and Emu test series and that will be published. In the meantime, I invite any person who has information believed to be of relevance to come forward and to contact me or my Department. I present the following paper:

Maralinga Weapons Tests-Ministerial Statement, 4 May 1984.