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Friday, 18 August 1989
Page: 421

Senator VALLENTINE —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. It relates to the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade entitled Visits to Australia by Nuclear Powered or Armed Vessels: Contingency Planning for the Accidental Release of Ionising Radiation. Will all visits of nuclear-armed warships cease until recommendation 38 of the report is implemented? That recommendation calls for the Department of Defence to continue work on the current unofficial draft document outlining possible procedures for responding to nuclear weapons accidents in Australian ports. In light of the fact that the Visiting Ships Panel (Nuclear) is given the task by the committee implementing and monitoring the Senate report's recommendations, will the Government disclose names and positions of members of that panel? Will the Government undertake an inquiry into the operation of that group, seeing that in a 12-year period it absolutely failed to ensure that government directives regarding port safety plans were carried out as specified in a 1976 document entitled Environmental Consideration of Visits to Australia by Nuclear-Powered Warships? Can the Minister confirm whether the Visiting Ships Panel (Nuclear) is the appropriate responsible body to undertake implementation of these recommendations and that its paramount task should be to ensure the safety of both the people and the environments of ports visited rather than the implementation of the Defence Department's agenda? Finally, what resources will be available and what powers will reside with the Visiting Ships Panel (Nuclear) or any other body given the task by the Government to carry out the recommendations?

Senator RICHARDSON —Senator Vallentine has asked quite a number of questions. I think the most important thing to say in response is that the panel to which she refers is responsible for providing advice to Government. It will be the Government that will be responsible for making the actual decision. Obviously, I am not in a position to respond today to the Senate Committee's report. The Government will respond in due course-and I would think fairly promptly, because it is a very important issue. Obviously, safety is of paramount importance in the deliberations of the panel and will be of paramount importance when it comes to the Government making its response. In relation to recommendation 38, the Government continues to work on the statement of procedures for responding to a nuclear weapons accident in an Australian port-notwithstanding the fact that the Committee referred to the risk of such an accident or incident being insufficient to warrant contingency planning. Irrespective of that, the Government will continue its work on that problem. I think, overall, the Government's policy has been pretty clear. Visits by nuclear-powered or nuclear-capable warships will continue. Those visits are essential to the defence relationships which Australia has with its allies. At this stage of the game the Government sees no reason to interrupt those relationships and arrangements.