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Wednesday, 21 August 1985
Page: 85

Senator SANDERS —I have a question but first I inform you, Mr President, that I will accede to your request about my attire.

The PRESIDENT —I appreciate the honourable senator's remarks and ask him to ask his question.

Senator SANDERS —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence and I ask--

Senator Aulich —Is Marlon Brando still alive?

Senator SANDERS —That is a typical interjection from a Tasmanian parliamentarian. When the Minister agreed that the Australian Government was to assist with Geosat satellite tests was the Minister aware, firstly, that it would be helping in the Trident II missile program; secondly, that unclassified United States defence information states that the mission of the Geosat satellite is to collect gravitational data to increase the accuracy of submarine launched ballistic missiles and is funded by the Trident II project; and, thirdly, that United States congressional hearings were told that Geosat would improve the accuracy of Trident II missiles? If the Government was unaware of these facts why was it unaware? In the light of the Government's undertaking not to assist in the MX MIRV program-that is, the multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicle program-now that the true nature of the Trident II MIRV involvement is known will the Government terminate that involvement? Finally, are the Australian scientists, mentioned by the Minister as being involved in this project, defence scientists?

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I did not wish to take a point of order when Senator Sanders was asking his first question but there have been a number of extremely lengthy questions which have gone way beyond what is reasonable. They have given rise to what are effectively ministerial statements. I simply draw your attention to that and ask you to exercise some discretion in challenging the very lengthy questions which are being asked.

The PRESIDENT —I appreciate the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. I was going to draw attention at the end of Question Time to the length of questions and answers. I ask the Senate to bear in mind that after the last election the Senate was enlarged. There is a greater number of senators in the place who are anxious and keen to ask questions and I ask senators to restrict their questions to the minimum and Ministers, in responding, not to debate their answers.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I congratulate Senator Sanders on both his maiden question and his erudition. I fear that I shall be hearing a good deal more of both. Geosat is part of a long-standing United States program of geodetic mapping which, if I can interpolate some erudition of my own, is accurate mapping of the geoid, which is the earth.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the Minister answer the question? If he does not do so, I will have to ask him to resume his seat. Other senators want to ask questions.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government program has been funded by the United States Naval Research Laboratory and the United States Naval Electronic Systems Command. It is not connected to the Trident program funding. The Government has never denied that geodetic mapping has a wide range of both military and civil uses. Indeed, the June 1985 Press release from the Minister for Defence announcing the establishment of the temporary Geosat tracking station on Norfolk Island specifically referred to the value of the data from Geosat in mapping and gravitational field research as well as in other uses. We co-operate in the Geosat program because we believe that as a nation it serves our purposes to do so. Geodetic mapping and other data are of use in the preparation of both civil and military maps. The sort of precise position fixing it involves is valuable in mineral exploration and in the positioning of off-shore oil and gas rigs. In addition, the information is used in a wide range of scientific work, such as measuring glacial ice movements and even movements in the earth's tectonic plates.

As to the particular program to which Senator Sanders referred, the validation tests over the ocean to the south of Tasmania which concluded yesterday, the Australian Government was aware of all aspects of that program and decided to give it our co-operation after giving careful consideration to the range of factors involved and the assurances received from the United States Government as to the character of the activity there involved. The data obtained from those tests in relation to wave height, wind speed and so on will be of benefit to Australian scientists interested in weather forecasting for that region, as many are. The Royal Australian Navy will have a particular interest, as do the defence scientists who have been involved in the project, in data on an area in which it routinely operates. The United States Navy is making that Geosat data available to the RAN Research Laboratory.

I conclude by saying that the Geosat validation flight series that has just concluded is not directly related to any missile tests, whether they be Trident II, MX or anything else. The Government certainly does not deny that there is a wide range of uses, civil and military, for Geosat data but reiterates that our co-operation is provided on the understanding that that data will provide benefit for Australia.