Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1779

Senator VALLENTINE(8.25) —First of all, I congratulate the Australian Democrats for introducing the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Bill 1985. I think it is very important to enshrine the hope that many Australians share that Australia will never become a nuclear weapons nation. I believe that this Bill has the broad support of the Australian population. All honourable senators would find that most of their constituents are in agreement with the provisions of this Bill, which states simply that Australia should not harbour nuclear weapons on its soil. Many other commendable Democrats' Bills on other aspects of Australia's involvement in the nuclear argument will be coming up for debate. This Bill, stating simply that Australia should not have any nuclear weapons on her soil, is one that most Australians would agree to, and that would cut right across the political spectrum.

I would like to echo the suggestion of a question that Senator Sanders referred to-that there may already be nuclear weapons stationed on Australian soil. We do not actually know for sure that there are not nuclear weapons already on our soil. Although I am not a frequent reader of Playboy, it has come to my notice that earlier this year an article in that magazine indicated that at Pine Gap nuclear weapons were indeed stationed on our soil. Obviously, we have to improve our sources before we can state that with any clarity.

This issue is one that needs to be beyond party politics. It should be dealt with in this chamber according to a conscience vote. It is fundamentally important that Australia should move away from the insanity of the nuclear arms race in which we are heavily involved at the moment. Sadly, as has been indicated to us very clearly by Senator Gareth Evans and Senator Durack, the Bill will be voted on along party lines. That is very disappointing indeed.

Senator Gareth Evans said that there was no need for the Government to prove its good intentions on this issue, that its credentials cannot be questioned, that its resolve was unshakable and that the Government was totally committed to a nuclear weapons-free Australia. All of that sounds very grand, but why on earth are Labor senators in this place not prepared to support this Bill? All the grandiose statements that Senator Evans made really do not stand up in view of the fact that ships bearing nuclear weapons are so frequently in our ports. There is very little difference between having nuclear weapons tied up in our ports and having them stationed in silos on our soil. They create exactly the same dangers. Yet this Government, which says that it is for a nuclear-free Australia, is quite prepared to allow the frequent visits of nuclear-armed vessels to our ports.

Senator Gareth Evans also talked about international recognition for the Australian Labor Party's efforts towards peace and disarmament. To a certain extent, some credibility must be given to that point of view. I think that it also highlights the Labor Government's hypocrisy on this issue, especially if we look at the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty promoted by the Australian Labor Government to which Senator Sanders has already referred. It is very important that the Australian people realise that this so-called nuclear free zone treaty actually allows more nuclear activities in the region than it bans. Out of the 20 separate categories of nuclear activities or potential nuclear activities, it allows 13. One of the few things that it does not allow is the permanent stationing of nuclear weapons on our soil. Again it is very hypocritical of the Government to talk in very glowing terms about the fact that its credentials on this issue cannot be questioned while one of the few worthwhile proposals in the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty will not be enshrined in this legislation if the Labor Party has its way in this chamber.

All Labor senators ought to support this Bill because it is exactly in accord with their policy, and that was done with very good intention. If they do not vote for this Bill they will be seen to be voting against it merely because it is a Democrats' Bill. They will be seen to be putting party political point-scoring above an issue of fundamental importance to all Australians. That would be a great shame. However, I must admit that there are rumours of similar legislation coming forth from the Labor Party, because a group of Labor politicians for a nuclear-free Australia have talked about putting up similar legislation of their own.

Senator Chipp —If that comes up, we will support it, and you will too.

Senator VALLENTINE —I hope it comes up and that it comes up very soon. It should be in exactly the same terms as this Bill. Again that begs the whole question as to why Labor senators in this chamber cannot support right now this initiative of the Australian Democrats. I suspect that it is merely because it has come from them.

Senator Durack needs to be challenged on many of the things that he said in his speech. He said that the Bill was based on a unilateralist approach. I believe that Senator Durack has never heard of independent initiatives. By criticising this sort of initiative, he is saying that Australia's role in the arms race should proceed unchecked. Is he saying that we should go on with more and more of the same? If everyone thought the same way there would be no hope of a breakthrough anywhere in the world. There would be no hope of a beginning to real nuclear disarmament. Individual nations must take independent initiatives. It cannot be called unilateralist by removing the threat of Australia ever becoming a nuclear nation. We are not saying that we support the Soviet Union going ahead full bore with its nuclear weapons program. We are saying that we are opposed to nuclear weapons of any nation. No matter from which nation they emanate, they are a threat to the survival of life on this planet.

Senator Durack said also that the Bill represents an end to ANZUS. I do not know how on earth he came to that conclusion. The ANZUS Treaty says nothing about stationing nuclear weapons on Australian soil. In fact, the ANZUS Treaty says nothing about anything nuclear. I think that Senator Durack has introduced a red herring into his argument. Under the ANZUS Treaty we are not obliged to host the bases of foreign powers on our soil, to host the visits of warships or to have nuclear weapons placed on our soil. That is the provision of the Bill. It is merely against the stationing of nuclear weapons on Australian soil. So it is totally ludicrous to say that the Bill represents an end to ANZUS.

I think that Senator Durack's speech was more important for what it did not say than for what it did say. There was no indication whatsoever in his speech that the Liberal Party opposes nuclear weapons on Australian soil. It is leaving the door wide open for that to happen. If one looks at the Liberal Party policy, I am afraid that one has to draw that conclusion. Liberal Party policy goes something like this:

If requested, we will give appropriate assistance to the US in the development of (new) deterrent missile systems.

It continues:

We will . . . co-operate in the monitoring of the testing of MX and other missiles designed to strengthen the international deterrent . . .

We will oppose any proposal for a nuclear free zone which restricts missile testing.

The Liberal Party also supports the idea of home porting for US vessels bearing nuclear weapons. However, one good thing about the Liberal Party policy is that it does support an end to the testing of all nuclear explosive devices in the region. I suppose that is its one saving grace. The fact that the Liberal Party makes no bones about the fact that it is quite prepared to leave the door open for the stationing of nuclear weapons on our soil is indeed a very strong and convincing argument for the need to enshrine a ban on nuclear weapons in national legislation. We will not always have a Labor government. At some time in the future it is likely that we will have a Liberal government. This introduces the possibility of having nuclear weapons on Australian soil permanently, if they are not here already.

I think that Australia needs to state very clearly a moral position in favour of survival rather than allowing itself to be implicated further in the insanity of the nuclear arms race. Even if we felt that we could trust the Labor Government implicitly on its stand, as Senator Evans seems to think that we should, its clearly stated intention, when the Labor Party can reject a Bill such as this, makes people uneasy. So all of the glowing terms are really worth nothing if the Labor senators in this place cannot support a Bill which is totally in line with their own policy. I strongly recommend this Bill to all honourable senators.