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Wednesday, 11 September 1985
Page: 446

Senator CHIPP —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence whether he will confirm that the actual B52 bomber agreement-I am talking about the legally binding document-allowing B52 bombers to stage through Australia makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that the bombers were to be unarmed and carry no nuclear weapons. Will the Minister confirm that on 29 March 1981 the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Lionel Bowen, said that he believed that the likely consequence of the agreement was the transit of nuclear weapons through Australia? On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, he declared the agreement deficient by not allowing verification. I have a copy of the Press release for the Minister, if he wants to see it. Does the Minister for Resources and Energy remember his reply to my question of 27 March this year? He said that the agreement not allowing the planes to be armed or to carry nuclear weapons cannot be verified by Australia. He said:

It is enough that the United States is not in the habit of breaching agreements.

Government senators interjecting-

Senator CHIPP —The Minister said that. The Government's Minister said that.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the honourable senator ask his question?

Senator CHIPP —I was interjected upon, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT —The honourable senator will ignore the interjections. Many honourable senators want to ask questions at Question Time.

Senator CHIPP —The Minister will remember making that comment. Will Senator Evans tell us what the Government intends to do to enforce the intention of the agreement, at least from Australia's point of view, and to remedy the clear dissatisfaction which the Labor Party previously expressed with the agreement?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am indebted to Senator Chipp for giving me some short notice of this matter. It has given me some opportunity to check out the documentation. It may be possible to give a fuller answer at some later stage; I am not sure. The formal agreement of, I believe 1979 between Australia and the United States does not, as Senator Chipp said, provide for an express undertaking about the non-carriage of nuclear weapons over Australia. However, it was the subject apparently of an oral agreement between the United States and then Australian governments, as retailed by Mr Street in an answer he gave in the House of Representatives on 12 March 1981. On page 704 of the Hansard he said:

It has been agreed between the Australian Government and the United States Administration that the aircraft staging through Darwin for the quite specific purposes of surveillance and navigational training will be unarmed and carry no bombs. It was on this specific point that I sought and received an assurance from the Secretary of State, Mr Haig.

Mr Uren interjected:

In writing?

Mr Street replied:

That document is not a signed document. It was an agreed form of words exchanged between us which is in the keeping of the Australian Embassy in Washington. The form of the words was agreed and exchanged before witnesses.

So that is the basis on which the previous Government was satisfied as to the non-armed nature of these flights. That is the basis on which we in government have been prepared to accept that that is still the status of those flights. In a statement on 29 March 1981 Mr Bowen said, as he had also said in the House of Representatives on 11 March, before Mr Street made the statement to which I have just referred, that it would be preferable were the agreement formally amended to include language of the kind that Senator Chipp would prefer. As I read the statement, it is not the case that Mr Bowen said that he believed that the likely consequence of the agreement in its present form would be the transit of nuclear weapons through Australia. The fourth paragraph of Mr Bowen's statement said:

A majority of Australians (62 per cent in the Gallup poll published March 13) oppose the likely consequence of the agreement-the transit of nuclear weapons through Australia.

I make the point that Mr Bowen is reporting the results of the gallup poll rather than necessarily, as I read the statement, hanging his hat on that proposition.

It is the unequivocal position of the present Government that we simply will not contemplate the transit of nuclear weapons over Australian soil by way of B52 bombers, pursuant to this agreement. That matter has been made perfectly clear to the United States and we have no reason whatsoever to believe that the United States has even contemplated breaching the clear undertaking given to the previous government. In that respect, I have no qualification whatsoever to make to my answer to Senator Chipp in Parliament on 27 March this year. Finally, our position in this respect is quite different from that of the Liberal Opposition, which through Mr Peacock, the late and unlamented Leader of that Party but still its spokesman on foreign affairs matters, said on 7 August that it was not only prepared to contemplate but in fact actually supported the installation and storage of nuclear weapons on Australian soil.

Senator CHIPP —I ask a supplementary question. I am surprised and disappointed that the Minister did not quote the full text of Mr Bowen's statement because further down it says:

The Opposition--

that is the Labor Party-

reaffirms its belief that the B52 agreement is seriously deficient. As it stands, it reduces Australian sovereignty by not clearly and unambiguously stating that Australian consent and verification are necessary for transit of nuclear weapons over our territory.

I ask the Minister: Can he or can he not totally rule out the possibility that B52 bombers are now armed or are carrying bombs over Australian soil?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I repeat that there are no grounds whatsoever for any conceivable suspicion that B52 bombers are armed and carrying nuclear weapons over Australian soil. We have accepted absolutely the assurances of the United States Government in this respect and continue to propose to rely on those assurances. Further, Mr Bowen's statement, which was quoted back at me by Senator Chipp, does not, in the terms that he quoted, state the proposition that was put to me in Senator Chipp's original question that Mr Bowen believed that the likely consequence of the agreement in its present form was the transit of nuclear weapons through Australia. It is the case, as I acknowledged, that Mr Bowen said in 1981 that it would be desirable were the agreement formally amended. That was the position stated by him in Opposition. The present Government has not thought it appropriate to pursue the matter further because we accept the assurances we have been given by our allies.