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Thursday, 14 September 1972
Page: 1503

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) (Minister for Supply) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) for finding that formula to enable me to speak now. During question time today the Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked me a question which implied that radioactive wastes from the United Kingdom had been flown to Australia and buried at Maralinga in South Australia. Because of the nature of the allegation implicit in his question, I had urgent inquiries made of the Department of Supply. As a result, I have been informed as follows: There is no known foundation for the allegation. All radioactive waste buried at 3 places in Australia - Monte Bello Islands, Emu and Maralinga - resulted from experiments conducted at those places. Relatively small areas at those places were used exclusively for the disposal of waste from experiments in Australia. The places were never intended for the burial of radioactive waste from Britain. No request by the British to bury in Australia waste from their nuclear establishments has been made and certainly no such permission has ever been given. We have monitored the areas, we know what is there and we have discovered nothing unexpected in our monitoring either in nature or quantity. Of course we have never produced nuclear weapons or bombs in Australia. So it is clear that the original radioactive material required for the range of experiments had to be brought from Britain. It is possible that in some cases it arrived by air in lead lined boxes. But what is buried at Maralinga and the other places is purely the radioactive waste from the experiments conducted with this original material.

As I indicated this morning, all the radioactive material buried in the Maralinga area is covered by thick layers of concrete and is well below the surface where the risk from casual entry is insignificant. Two of these sites remain in the new Woomera prohibited areas, as gazetted today, and the third, close to the Maralinga airstrip, is adequately fenced so that it can be properly controlled should Maralinga itself ever be used as a centre of population or as a tourist attraction. These sites are not considered dangerous for short term visits.

I gave a copy of these remarks to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition after dinner. 1 take this opportunity to advise the House as the information I have just given was not available by the end of the question time today. It might be of interest to honourable members to know - this information was sought of me quite recently by another honourable member - that there were 2 explosions at Emu Field in 1953, and 7 at Maralinga in 1956 and 1957. I think I indicated at question time today, or implied, that it was earlier than that. One of those explosions occurred on 4th October 1956 and, according to the file, no fewer than 23 members of the Parliament were present, including the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and 7 members of his Party. I do not by these remarks wish to provoke the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, though I seem to have been able to do so on more than one occasion quite recently. However, he is at the table now and I would be most interested to hear the basis of the allegations and the circumstances which he sees.

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