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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 203


Senator COOK(5.40) —The Government welcomes the opportunity to debate the motion moved by Senator Hill this afternoon. I join with all of the previous speakers who have indicated seriously that there is no more important issue than the survival of the globe and, what touches most on the survival of this planet, the threat of nuclear extinction. However, we need to say that this presents for us yet another opportunity to debate our role and our run-up to preparations for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. We do not shrink from this debate. We welcome it. However, it is not the only occasion on which we as a government have declared our position, our interest and what we propose to do at the conference. However, the debate presents us with the further opportunity to explain our attitude.

We support the four points in Senator Hill's motion, although they do not constitute the complete, total points we will be raising at the conference. Nevertheless, in our view, those four points are sound. It should be observed, however, that the Senate is a political forum. As a political forum one needs to be careful to delineate one's precise political position. We do not believe we identify at all with the Liberal Party of Australia on this issue. We identify with the words in the motion moved by Senator Hill. However, our performance in regard to the subject of nuclear proliferation, disarmament and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a performance vastly different from that of the Liberal Party when it was in government.


Senator Chipp —How is it different?


Senator COOK —We welcome the Liberal Party's support for the stand the Government now takes. Senator Chipp has interjected asking how our role has been different. I will give one example. The very Treaty which we have heard praised to the rafters here-and rightly so- was first ratified by the major powers in 1970. In this country there was then a Liberal Government. We had to wait until 1973, when the Whitlam Government came to office, before Australia adopted that Treaty. The distinct difference is that a previous administration-a Liberal administration-had the opportunity in 1970 to put Australia's name in support of the Treaty. We had to wait for a Labor government to do that.

The other distinct difference is that the Liberal Party now has a burst of enthusiasm on the subject. We welcome that enthusiasm which is a constructive change. However, the Liberal Opposition has based its argument in this forum on a new policy brought down in May. We congratulate the Liberals for moving, as they have, to new ground on this subject. Perhaps it is because they have read the election results correctly and interpreted them as meaning that in the community there is a strong move for governments and for political parties to do more in this field. In order to try to capture some of that support the Liberal Party has moved to try to delineate a more progressive policy on nuclear disarmament.

Of course, to answer further the question posed by Senator Chipp as to where we are different I say that we have just heard a statement by Senator Sir John Carrick describing the Liberal Party's view of the nuclear-free zone. Of course, that is a statement that stands for what it says. However, it is also true, as Senator Gareth Evans said, that both Mr Sinclair and Mr Peacock have described the proposal for a nuclear free zone as a Mickey Mouse proposal. We do not retreat from the need for a nuclear free zone. We do not regard it as a Mickey Mouse proposal; we regard it as a serious, constructive and important new change in the world in terms of limiting the areas where nuclear proliferation can occur.


Senator Chipp —It is a Clayton's treaty.


Senator COOK —While Senator Chipp may interject that it is not a perfectly pure and pristine example of all the things he would want to embody in such a treaty, I make it quite clear that it is a decisive break from the past and a positive move to the future. Everyone in international fora has to work along those guidelines and not live in a land of idealism which is not achievable in the real world. Let me say that we distance ourselves from the Liberal Party, while identifying with the words in the motion moved by Senator Hill. We distance our position quite decisively from the position occupied by the Liberal Party in the past, although we welcome its new-found enthusiasm for this subject.

However, the Australian Democrats have seized on this opportunity, not to initiate a debate themselves-which is an option they had-but to amend the motion. Senator Gareth Evans, in putting the definite case for the Government, described our attitude to the Democrats' proposal. Perhaps a couple of aspects need to be enlarged on. Generally, we do not take exception to the terms of paragraph (a) of the amendment moved by the Australian Democrats. However, we say that the best way of dealing with any proposal for a timetable is to attend the Geneva Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to expedite the negotiations on a comprehensive program of disarmament and to present that to the forty-first session of the United Nations General Assembly for adoption in 1986. That is a strategy that Australia has been internationally active in promoting. That seems to us to be the logical and proper course of action to take in respect of that proposal.

In reply to some of the assertions made by Senator Chipp, I am advised that no country has put forward a positive timetable for the NPT Review in terms of disarmament, although some countries did flirt with such a proposition. However, that has now been overtaken by other issues at the Review Conference such as the comprehensive test ban treaty issue, the question of chemical weapons and the question of radiological warfare. Broadly, we favour and are not too separate from the Australian Democrats in regard to paragraph (a). We support paragraph (b) of the motion.

However, in regard to paragraph (c) concerning the establishment of an energy for development fund, we have a number of points which I believe are important here. Of course, Article IV is a central core article of the Treaty. The Australian Government recognises and supports that. Also we recognise that Third World countries and the Group of 77 which have articulated their concern at previous review conferences about particular expressions by countries in regard to Article IV are concerned to generate and meet the energy needs to develop their economies to lift the standard of living of their peoples. That is a legitimate concern on their behalf. However, we recognise that conventional energy sources will be the main area in which those emerging countries will find their energy needs in the future. That does not mean to say we do not support funding and efforts to find alternative energy sources. We do support that. In fact, this Government, through Minister Evans's Department, is committed to such a program. However, we believe that there is no point in establishing yet another international body when a lot of work in this area has been done. Therefore, in the positive sense we do not support the commitment that the Australian Democrats would have us make in regard to paragraph (c).

Finally, in regard to paragraph (d) of Senator Chipp's amendment, we say that this Government has a lot to say and lot to be proud of in respect of how it has dealt with non-government organisations on the disarmament issue. After all it was this Government that created the post of Ambassador for Disarmament. It was, after all, this Government which instituted a division within the Department of Foreign Affairs to deal expressly with the question of disarmament and to provide regular and continual dialogue and contact with non-government organisations in Australia. That division of the Department of Foreign Affairs has been fostering that dialogue. I say on behalf of the non-government organisations themselves that one does not need to be pro-active as a government to encourage them to come forward. They are not shrinking violets. I do say that to condemn them; I say that to praise them. They are organisations with a keen idealism and a zealousness to put forward their point of view. They seek out governments; so that dialogue is a rich and widely flowing stream.


Senator Chipp —You will not talk to them.


Senator COOK —Yes, we do. That is not true. We talk to them constantly. We talk to them constantly through the Department. In fact, this week at the Australian National University there is a seminar on this subject. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) himself has addressed it. The Department has an officer at the conference to present a paper and to engage in a continuing dialogue.


Senator Chipp —He talks to them but he will not let them talk to him.


Senator COOK —Senator Chipp has said that we do not talk to non-government organisations.


Senator Chipp —I am saying you will not let them talk to you.


Senator COOK —Yes, we do. We hear what they are saying. If the Democrats are saying that we have to adopt all the things that the organisations put to us to show that we have listened to them, that is preposterous. As two examples of the dialogue we have had in the recent past we have had direct contact with scientists against nuclear arms and lawyers for disarmament in New South Wales and Victoria. This Government will be conducting a debriefing round of discussions after the NPT review conference, as appropriate. The Government stands on its previous record of availability for discussions.

The last item of the Democrats' proposal is redundant. The words I now utter will never be gainsaid at any stage by proof of reluctance. I believe that there is no doubt that the Government will move directly and rapidly to overcome any blockage in the system of dialogue that is so necessary for this country to unite its voice in international fora on this issue.

I want to say a number of things about our concern as a party for nuclear disarmament because as the oldest political party in Australia the Australian Labor Party is the peace party by tradition. We have not discovered the issue recently. We have constantly been the party that has supplied people for most of the marches and demonstrations for peace over the years. It has been a major preoccupation of all our party conferences. It remains the most vibrant debate we ever have. To say that we are committed to the subject of peace is to be trite because the Labor Party by definition is known to stand four square in that field.

In fact ever since the Minister for Foreign Affairs became Minister in 1983 he has traipsed the world to promote the NPT, to encourage by personal diplomatic contact countries to sign the treaty to deal with those countries reluctant or difficult to convince to sign the treaty to do so and to pursue an orderly, rational strategy to make the treaty strong by making it more comprehensive with more countries becoming signatories. That is the first leg of our commitment.

As far as we are concerned, the Treaty is the vital cornerstone in the field of nuclear disarmament. Our strategy to make it an even stronger Treaty can best be described as having four prongs. The first is to hold the Treaty together. That is the vital precondition. The Treaty is under threat and it cannot be assumed automatically, simply because it is being reviewed, that it will continue. Some countries have raised serious criticisms of it, in our view justly, under section (6), Article VI. We too are not satisfied with the way in which the major super-powers have addressed the question of vertical proliferation. We also see the Treaty as a major opening for Australia, as a small to medium power in the world, to use its influence to bring about a tighter control over horizontal proliferation. So the first leg of our four-point strategy is to hold the Treaty together.

The second leg is to pursue a more comprehensive coverage of the Treaty, as I described it a moment ago, by bringing more nations within its ambit. It troubles us greatly that a number of nuclear weapons states remain uncommitted to the Treaty. A number of countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, South Africa, Libya, and a number of other countries, which retain programs to develop nuclear weapons or have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons decline to sign the Treaty. One of our main efforts has been to encourage them to sign and to use all diplomatic methods to do so. With Spain especially we have mounted a major effort. It is pleasing to report that in the Pacific and the Association of South East Asian Nations area every country except Kiribati is a member of the Treaty. Many of them have joined recently.

Thirdly, our strategy is to hold all signatories to their Treaty commitments. Here, in particular, we will be joining those voices raised at the review conference to express concern and to bring pressure to bear for better results and a more fertile flowering of needs under Article VI. Fourthly, our key strategy is to strengthen the Treaty. So our strategy is to hold the Treaty together, push for complete coverage, hold signatories to their commitments and to strengthen and bolster the Treaty to make it a more effective device for nuclear disarmament.

I said that the key question for Australia is: How do we best use our influence in the world? There are various arguments. Some would say it should be done by symbolic gestures and others by supporting the arms race in the mutually assured destruction type of approach. We say that the best way of expressing our concern about disarmament is to work strenuously in all the fora available to bring pressure to bear to build block upon block for disarmament in the world.


Senator Chipp —I take a point of order. Senator Cook unwittingly misrepresented the Australian Democrats' point of view in saying that we had not taken the initiative on this question. I seek leave to make a statement, no longer than 30 seconds, to correct that.

Leave granted.