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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4263

Senator BOURNE —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to the release of documents by US energy secretary Hazel O'Leary, which reveal that the US conducted more than 250 secret nuclear tests over the past 50 years, including 48 in the Pacific region. I ask: was the Australian government made aware of any of these secret tests by the United States, or did it detect any of them using its own monitoring systems? Where were the secret Pacific tests conducted and what was the size range of the tests? Will the government acquire all the documents released by secretary O'Leary and table them in the Senate along with any Australian documents on these tests?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Until the announcement about the undisclosed tests was made, as Senator Bourne said, by US energy secretary O'Leary yesterday, the Australian government was not aware that such a significant undisclosed testing program had been conducted. It now appears that almost one in five tests was not publicly disclosed. Our understanding was that it was general practice for the US to announce its tests. We regarded that, at the time, as a welcome practice which was not followed by other nuclear weapon states with independent testing programs. While, to say the least, we are more than a little disappointed and disconcerted that such a large number of tests apparently were conducted, and conducted unnoticed, we now welcome the US disclosure of this information. This at least now heralds a new era of openness about nuclear testing and about nuclear weapons programs in the US generally, which is, in our view, obviously a very positive development.

  Analysis of details of the earlier tests could contribute to refining verification techniques for a comprehensive test ban treaty. That is a high priority currently for the government. We have long supported measures to promote transparency in nuclear testing programs. Such transparency facilitates monitoring and lays the foundation for effective verification of a comprehensive test ban treaty. At the UN General Assembly in 1986, we took the lead in establishing a UN register for the notification of nuclear tests.

  As to further details about the location of tests in the Pacific, the Australian seismic array, which monitors such underground tests, has detected no tests other than those conducted by France in French Polynesia. It is highly unlikely that any tests would have been conducted recently in the South Pacific. The Treaty of Rarotonga, which entered into force in 1986, banned such testing and successive US administrations have said on many occasions that none of their activities in the region are inconsistent with the provisions of that treaty. I think it is reasonable to take them on face value—at least to that extent.

  As to the question of documentation, I have now instructed the embassy in Washington to raise these various questions with relevant officials and to provide the Australian government with further details. I understand that the official report by the US department of energy is going to be released in Washington tomorrow, Friday 10 December. I will table this and other relevant US documents when they become available. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will also provide for the tabling of other relevant documentation that we prove able to obtain on this issue.