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, 5 December 1985
Page: 2983

Senator DURACK —by leave-I am glad that we are taking note of this report and statement in this way because it is clearly a matter which will need to be given very great consideration. It deserves very great debate in the Senate, no doubt at a more appropriate time when we will all be better informed about the nature of the report, the attitude that is exhibited by the report, and its conclusions. No doubt the Government, which has not yet had the opportunity to give the report very close consideration, will want to do so because it will create major problems for the Government.

The report is a massive two-volume document. The very short time in which the report has been available for the Opposition to consider has been quite inadequate for us to be able to make any worthwhile comments on it at all. Indeed, we have barely had time to read the short document headed `Conclusions and Recommendations'. There are 200 conclusions. It is a bit easier to read the recommendations, which amount to only seven. The pages of that summary, mainly dealing with the report's conclusions, may be designed to lead to a good deal of disquiet in the Australian population, which may or may not be justified on a deeper consideration of the report and the way in which the evidence has been dealt with. I am in no position to make any comment about it. I instance, as the reason for my concern, the very first of the 200 conclusions, which reads:

The Royal Commission received no evidence that disturbed the overwhelming impression that the original decision to lend Australia-

to lend Australia-

to the United Kingdom for the purpose of the latter's nuclear test program was taken by Australian Prime Minister Menzies without reference to his Cabinet.

However, subsequent conclusions indicate that clearly the Australian Cabinet took a considerable interest in the matter from any early stage and made decisions. Whether those decisions now are being criticised, challenged or whatever is beside the point. As a piece of legal reasoning, this first conclusion that I have just quoted must receive the booby price because here is an assumption based upon what is described as an overwhelming impression-that is the assumption-and then a conclusion that there is no evidence to dispel that assumption. Mr Justice McClelland allegedly has a legal reputation. If that is the level of his reasoning, it does not bode well for any assessment we may make of his other conclusions.

Senator Withers —That is typical of judicial royal commissions.

Senator DURACK —Senator Withers may well have some fair comment about that. There are also some very heavy criticisms indeed of Professor Titterton, who was the Chairman of the Committee that was set up in the fairly early stages, known as the Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee. Again one is not in a position to assess whether these conclusions about Professor Titterton's approach to the matter, alleged conflicts of interest and other issues are justified. I think it is a matter which will need to be given very close consideration indeed.

The main concern, no doubt, of the Australian people at this time is what residual effect these tests have had on the Australian population and on the sites. There are some conclusions about these matters which will require, as I said, very earnest consideration and decisions by the Government. Although the Commission has found that by reason of the major detonation at the major trials and fall-out across Australia it is probable that cancers which would not otherwise have occurred have occurred in the Australian population and that the exposure to radiation as participants in the trial program has increased the risk of cancer among what are called nuclear veterans, the Commission then makes a very important conclusion. I think this conclusion is very important for both the Government and Australians who may be otherwise disturbed by these findings. I quote finding 75:

The Royal Commission has been unable to quantify the probable increase in the risk of cancer among the participants in the trial program or among the Australian population in general.

That finding tends to confirm the results of work that was done on this matter by the Fraser Government, and particularly the work of Senator Sir John Carrick, who was the Minister responsible at the time of this survey of those who had been involved in the trial program. No doubt he may have something to say, either today or on another occasion; nevertheless, there is there an inability by the Commission to find evidence under which it could in fact find what the degree of risk was for anyone who was associated with the program.

The recommendation that there should be a reversal of the onus of proof as far as claimants are concerned-not only members of the armed forces but also those who were present at the relevant times-is a recommendation which will have to be considered very seriously from the point of view of costs that would be involved. It has been recommended that the costs be borne by the Australian Government. It has been recommended that the cost of the clean-up of the sites which is still required be borne by the UK Government. I can well understand Senator Evans's statement that there will have to be some no doubt very tense negotiations with the British Government about that recommendation.

In conclusion, I would like to say this: It is all very well to make these findings and recommendations in the light of hindsight. Whether they are justified or not-I am certainly not in a position to say whether they are without further study-the fact of the matter is that these tests were conducted in Australia in the Cold War period and with the very intense security consciousness of that day and age. With the benefit of hindsight and with the prejudices which seem to be evident from a brief reading of some of these findings and conclusions, I think that one has to face the study of this report with a certain amount of scepticism. For my part, I express the concern that I have to do that.

Senator Sir John Carrick —Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to make a statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Grimes —We have an arrangement on this, Senator.

Senator Watson —This is not an executive; it is a parliament.

Senator Grimes —If the Opposition is going to carry on like that, leave is not granted.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Grimes —No.

Senator Chipp —I take a point of order. In view of Senator Sir John Carrick's massive involvement in this matter, would it not be reasonable to give him five minutes?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! It is in the hands of the Senate. Is leave granted?

Senator Grimes —No. We came to agreements. I am sorry.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact that a motion has been moved to debate this report later. Anything done now must be done by leave.