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Thursday, 28 March 1968

Mr HUGHES (Parkes) - It is a somewhat daunting task to resume a debate on international affairs after the first day has passed. In some respects it is like trying to stir cold porridge or to rekindle a fire that has become rather dim. But I shall do my best to reinject some life into the debate. I will address myself to two of the three topics that were dealt with by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) in his speech with such skill and thoroughness. The topics I will deal with are our attitude to the draft non-proliferation treaty and our present commitment in South Vietnam.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) did the House less than justice in the way he treated the proposed nonproliferation treaty. He disposed of it at page 457 of Hansard in less than fifty words. He dogmatically asserted the view that Australia should sign the proposed treaty and said that, if it were impossible to get a better treaty, the treaty should be signed as it is. Let me hasten to say, before I endeavour to examine the subject, that a very respectable case can be made out in favour of Australia signing the treaty. I am not here today to assert finally or dogmatically, or at all, at this stage the proposition that Australia should not sign the treaty. My view, which accords with that of the Minister - I find myself in pretty good company - is that we should look at the matter very carefully and approach the subject with caution and with a great number of reservations. I rather regret that the Leader of the Opposition, although he had unlimited time to range at large over the subject of international affairs, dealt so superficially with this very important question.

I further regret that in the course of dealing with it he demonstrated once again his distressing tendency to be a little careless with the facts. He made the charge against the Government that the French atomic tests in the Pacific could not have been perpetrated if Australian ports and airfields on the mainland and in New Guinea had not been made available to French aircraft and ships. He was either forgetful of or careless with the facts, or worse, when he made that charge. It is not without relevance to deal with these assertions, although they are in a sense on the periphery of the main subject. In making the allegation the Leader of the Opposition was seeking to inject some colour into a subject that should be dealt with, if any subject should, dispassionately and objectively. He was trying to create a situation in which the Government could be accused of not being sincere in its attitude towards non-proliferation and in- its deploring of and protesting against atomic tests in the Pacific. He wanted to create this situation no doubt so that he could lay a charge of insincerity against the Government if it should ultimately decide not to sign the proposed non-proliferation treaty. So his charges, although they are peripheral, are not without their own importance.

The point that he sought to make when he alleged that we had helped the French to perpetrate atomic tests in the Pacific was quite without substance. On 11th May 1966 he asked the Minister for External Affairs a question about the flight of a French Neptune military aircraft in April 1966 from France to the Pacific. The aircraft had landed at Port Moresby enroute. He asked how the Minister could reconcile the official approval of that flight plan, and the hospitality given to the aircraft at a time when the French were preparing for their tests, with the Government's reported protests against continuing preparations by France for the tests. The fact was that the flight plan had to be approved. If it had not been approved, we would have put at jeopardy a number of delicate arrangements between the French and ourselves involving reciprocal landing rights in many parts of the world. The further fact that the Leader of the Opposition omitted to mention in his zealous search for the truth was that when the Government approved of that flight plan it extracted from the French authorities a firm undertaking that no fissile material would be carried aboard the aircraft in respect of which the landing approval was given.

Then the Leader of the Opposition, endeavouring once more to create a little false colour, asserted that we had neglected or refused to protest against French atomic tests in the Pacific. All this was done, I am quite certain, in an effort to put the Government that I support from this back bench in a false light. That is why it is important that these little sallies, in which the Leader of the Opposition indulges in his well known tendency to disregard the truth, should be met and should he dealt with. On 11th May 1966 the Minister for External Affairs, in his reply to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition, stated that we did protest again and again to the French Government against the holding of atomic tests above the surface in the Pacific during 1966. The House can draw its own conclusions as to why the Leader of the Opposition, in this thoroughly superficial treatment of the matter of nonproliferation, did as he did the other night. The only conclusion to be drawn is not very favourable to him.

As I have said, while a perfectly respectable case may be mounted for Australian adherence to the non-proliferation treaty, I am by no means satisfied that that case is correct. It is a subject about which we must do a lot of thinking. The first point which has to be borne in mind when we consider whether Australia should adhere to the treaty is: It is a treaty which, if we become party to it, will bind us for 25 years unless we avail ourselves of an escape clause which, if we are to act honourably, can be availed of only in pretty extreme circumstances. So it is a 25-year programme. I suppose I am stating no more than a truism when I remind the House that in 25 years of history there can be many shifts in the balance of world power and in the alignment of world powers, as well as in the balance and alignment of regional powers. So we have to look into the future and carry out a very searching examination of numerous imponderables.

I would have thought that one of the first matters we should turn our minds to is the fact that there are in the Indo-Pacific region certain powers with whom we enjoy, and hope to continue to enjoy into the future and forever, cordial and close relations, but powers which have already developed a nuclear capacity - I do not say a capacity to launch weapons - far in excess of our own. I for my part would thin*, that before we as a nation could commit ourselves to signing this treaty we would want to know clearly what is to be the attitude of those powers. I refer to India, Japan and Indonesia. India and Japan certainly have developed a nuclear capacity - I hasten to add, for peaceful purposes - which is far in advance of our own. 1 stress what must be obvious and what will be shared by everyone: I hope fervently for a continuation of the most cordial relations and a development of closer relations with each of those three powers. We must ask ourselves How might our interests be affected, looking forwards into a 25-year term, if those three powers or any one ot them does not sign the treaty? My feeling, as at present advised, without having formed any firm conclusion, is that we would need to be pretty certain that each of those three powers proposed to sign the treaty before we could commit ourselves to signing it, because a lot can change in 25 years. One hopes that it will change for the better but one must fear the possibility that it may change for the worse. We do not want, without a great deal of consideration, to put it out of our power to have a real nuclear capacity if there is a real risk that other powers in the area could have one or would not be inhibited in obtaining one because of their omission to sign this treaty.

The next matter which I think should be mentioned in this context when one is adumbrating - I emphasise that I am adumbrating these considerations in the most tentative way - the reasons for and against signing the draft non-proliferation treaty is: The public of this country should not delude itself that by signing this treaty we are obtaining some additional guarantee which goes further or does more than any existing guarantee of our security. We are well protected - as well protected as we can be - by the ANZUS pact against a maverick nuclear attack. The point that has to be made if this subject is to be surveyed with objectivity and sanity is that the three nuclear powers who are proposing this treaty do not undertake in the draft declaration accompanying the draft of the proposed treaty to do anything more than they are bound, insofar as they are bound, to do under the Charter of the United Nations. We all know that the Charter of the United Nations is a fairly indefinite sort of document insofar as it purports to bind members of the United Nations, in particular members of the Security Council, to resist aggression by armed attack. I emphasise that the nuclear powers which are proposing this treaty do not - indeed they cannot - propose an obligation any wider in scope than the width of their present obligation under the United Nations Charter in relation to the defence against nuclear aggression of nonnuclear signatories to this proposed treaty.

Of course, the House will scarcely need reminding that the indefiniteness of the obligation under the Charter stems from the variable interpretation which nations bound by the Charter tend to put on the word aggression', lt is a word which means what people wish it to mean on particular occasions and in particular contexts. One is reminded of Humpty-dumpty's statement ta Alice that words meant to him exactly what he wanted them to mean. Circumstances alter cases. I think the history of the United Nations indicates that seldom - I can think of only one occasion - have members of the United Nations, in particular members of the Security Council, been of one mind as to whether aggression of such a character had been committed as to require armed resistance by those members. So we are not getting anything in the way of additional protection. We would not get anything more under this treaty, if we signed it, than we get under the ANZUS pact.

This is a matter about which one could talk for a long time, but I have only a little time left, so I will advert to one other important factor only. We should not think into the future without considering the position of mainland China and the influence which it will exert on the world and on regional affairs. We must plan for contingencies, even though at the time of planning or thinking they might seem to be quite remote or unlikely. One contingency which I feel that we must keep in mind is that within the next 25 years - indeed, perhaps quite soon; who knows; events can change so quickly - mainland China might emerge not only as a member of the United Nations but also as a member of the Security Council with a power of veto. Unless there is a two-Chinas solution to the present involved question of Chinese representation at the United Nations, mainland China might come in as a permanent member with a power of veto. Then we would face the situation that whatever value could be extracted - if value could be extracted - from the proposed guarantee of the signing powers who were also nuclear powers, we would have a permanent member who, one may venture to suggest, would not be a signatory to this proposed treaty but who would have a power of veto over any action that the guaranteeing or signing powers may wish to take. So it may well prove, when all the factors are weighed up, to be a very risky undertaking for Australia to be quick to sign this treaty. It may be a very risky undertaking for Australia to sign at all in the foreseeable future. What I urge therefore is caution, not haste. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition one day will give a reasoned argument for his view to the contrary.

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