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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1802

(Question No. 44)

Senator Childs asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 28 February 1985:

(1) Was the Department of Defence responsible for the publication of the booklet `Nuclear weapons-their effects and your protection' which bears the Australian insignia and the words `Department of Defence Natural Disasters Organisation' on its front cover; if so, what was the cost of producing this publication and who were the authors.

(2) Is the Minister for Defence aware that statements in this publication are directly opposed to the Australian Labor Party (ALP) platform, in particular, the view expressed on page 28, section 5.1, of `Nuclear weapons-their effects and your protection', which states that: `Australia is fortunate. In the event of global nuclear war, we would not have the risk that northern-hemisphere countries have of being at the centre of conflict or being blanketted with fallout,' and contradicts Section 6 of the ALP platform.

(3) Does the Minister agree with the statement in the above booklet on page 28, section 5.3, that in any nuclear attack `. . . most Australians would not be directly affected'.

(4) Does the Government, and in particular the Minister for Defence, support the statement on page 1, section 7, of `Nuclear weapons-their effects and your protection' that Australians who are concerned about the hazards of nuclear weapons explosions are `being hysterical and holding to exaggerated notions.'

(5) Has the Minister seen or is he aware of work by such defence experts as P. J. Crutzen, R. P. Turco, Carl Sagan and A. B. Pittock, all of whom have concluded that, far from the effects of nuclear war being contained, they may well be catastrophic globally.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes. The cost was $9,370 for 42,000 copies. As acknowledged on the last page of the booklet, the contents are based on publications printed by Her Majesty's Stationery Office (UK) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (USA). Contributions were also received from the Commonwealth Department of Health and State and Territory Emergency Services.

(2) As the ALP Platform recognises, it would be unrealistic to suppose that Australia would not be affected by a global nuclear conflict, and that is not being suggested in the extract quoted by Senator Childs. The Statement referred to sought to point out that the scale of direct damage which Australia might suffer in a nuclear war should be less than in northern hemisphere countries, because of our geographical remoteness from the areas in which such a conflict would most likely be focussed. That is realistic and compatible with the ALP position. The publication referred to was intended to provide the best technical information available at the time of printing.

(3) The publication states `Any nuclear attack on a populated industrial area would result in many casualties, the number depending on precautions taken, the time of day or night and many other factors. In all probability, however, most Australians would not be directly affected', this accords with past and present strategic assessments of nuclear threat to Australia.

(4) The sentence referred to by the honourable senator in fact states: `knowledge of the potential hazards of nuclear weapons explosions will also help dispel the more hysterical or exaggerated notions held by many people.' This does not imply that anyone who is concerned about the hazards of nuclear weapons explosions is either hysterical or holding to exaggerated notions. The Government treats these matters very seriously indeed. That is why it is important that the public should have access to information on this subject.

(5) Yes. I am also aware that there remain many uncertainties in this area. For example, the US National Academy of Sciences has recently observed that `the pervasive uncertainties in the data and the limited validity of the atmospheric models used to date imply that some future study, conducted at a time when the data and models have been improved, could produce quite different analyses and conclusions'. The Academy also observed that `it is particularly difficult to assess the potential effects of the baseline war on the atmosphere of the northern tropics and southern hemisphere. Although southern hemisphere effects would be much less extensive, significant amounts of dust and smoke could drift to and across the equator as early as a few weeks after a nuclear exchange.' There are of course real grounds for concern, and as in all these matters, we would like to see more informed discussion. To this end, we are reviewing the publication referred to by the honourable senator to see how it can be improved.