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Wednesday, 2 April 1980
Page: 1385


Senator MASON (New South Wales) -Mr President-( Quorum formed). Like other speakers today, I wish to talk about defence, but with something of a difference. There is a matter on my mind, and it is civil defence, especially civil defence against nuclear attack. I am deeply concerned, and indeed the Australian Democrats are deeply concerned, that Australia does not seem to have any plans at all to protect its citizens in this event, which I must say is an event which nobody would want to see happen but which I believe we should legislate for. This complete shambles, which our civil defence policy amounts to, exists in conditions described by the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) in a recent major policy statement. He said:

In the event of hostilities, risks of nuclear attack arise for Australia, as an ally of the United States, whether or not it may be hosting particular United States facilities.

This is a rather novel statement- and I believe a highly significant one from the Defence Minister- and something of which I believe all Australians should take full note. The Minister went on:

Recognising this, successive Australian governments have taken the view that our primary concern should be to support the effectiveness of the United States deterrent to war itself.

I cannot really agree with that statement. This statement is presented in the light of a heightened challenge to us which the Government believes is presented by the Afghanistan situation. The Australian Democrats have realised for some time that the world of the future must present heightened challenges for Australia and, probably, a less secure international situation than has been obtained in the past, and that we should do all we can to prepare for this. As I have said, the last thing that the Australian Democrats want to do is to promote war which has been aptly described as the final obscenity. That, of course, applies now even more than before in circumstances where nuclear weapons could be used. But this does not mean that we should be hiding our heads in the sand and ignoring the possibilities which might occur in this country.

It is a fact that constantly roaming the oceans of the world are the nuclear submarine fleets of the two zonal competitors- the United States and Russia. These submarines now have an appalling potential for destruction. It is indeed a fact that a single Russian submarine mounts enough independently targetable nuclear warheads to attack every major Australian city. I have raised this matter several times in the Senate recently. In the first case I was prompted to do so because the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on the Afghanistan situation earlier this year had a lot to say about defence, war and the possibility of hostilities in future and the dangers to this country. But the statement did not contain a single word about civil defence and how the Government proposes to protect the people of this country in the event of nuclear attack. At that stage I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) a question on the matter. His reply was that in the awesome event of nuclear war little could be done; Australia is best to rely on deterrent measures and hope that nuclear war never comes. I think I am construing what he said quite fairly. However, I sympathise with him in that regard.

I hope that nuclear war never comes. We can hope that we will have a continued world of peace. But where the Australian Democrats differ fundamentally from government policy is that the Government seems to feel that no provision should be made against the contingency of attack. In other words, as matters stand now, the Government has completely washed its hands of any responsibility for the Australian population in the event of a nuclear attack. The Australian Democrats and I cannot believe that to be justified- quite the reverse. I described that last week as criminal irresponsibility, and I describe it again in those terms now. It is a fact that a nuclear attack would not necessarily be the end of the world, with universal destruction. Heaven knows, it would be bad enough. A lot of things are bad in this world, but surely it is up to us to be resilient and try to get the best we can out of an evil situation.

Recently, the Bulletin magazine, in the issue of 26 February, published one of a series of articles in reasonable depth on just what would happen if there were an attack on our cities. I understand that those articles were informed substantially by the book The Third World War by General Hackett. The first point made in that Bulletin article is:

Nuclear war is generally assumed to mean complete annihilation for mankind. This is not so. Even some people fairly close to a nuclear blast have a chance of surviving.

I suggest that this is the sort of view which we have to take, even in a bad situation, if we are going to be a resilient society. That article goes on to discuss fairly extensively the modern weaponry that is used by these submarines. It states:

Bursts at optimum height for the destruction of cities, then, have the oddly conventional property of causing deaths and destruction almost exclusively as a result of blast and fire. The radioactive debris is carried more or less safely into the upper atmosphere and the pulse of initial nuclear radiation of neutrons and gamma rays is of such short range . . as to add very little to the deaths already caused by the physical effects of the burst.

The article goes on:

The hazard to life from short-term fallout is largely from long-range gamma radiation emitted by fallout settling on the ground and other flat surfaces such as roofs. Fallout actually settling on the skin and not washed off is additionally harmful to the skin, through the very weakly penetrating phenomenon of beta radiation, but this is generally a trifling matter in comparison to gamma radiation.

I remind honourable senators that gamma radiation is the major damaging characteristic from nuclear weapons. I refer to a point from that article which states:

Civil defence of urban areas does not seem to have much of a future -

This is referring to an international view, I think-

Civil defence of rural areas, on the other hand, makes a great deal of sense . . .

That is the point I want to take up at this stage. Australian cities, which are widely dispersed and very large in area for their population size compared with European cities, would in the event of attack have very large fringe areas in which the effects of the initial blast and firestorm would be minimal. Fallout would become the major problem. There would be a need for urgent decontamination, actual body decontamination, clothing replacement, the provision of efficient shuttle transport systems capable of moving large numbers of people, blood transfusion facilities and, finally, accommodation at a safe distance and availability there of decontaminated food and water. None of these measures would require vast expense or a great deal more than efficient and dedicated organisation. Countries overseas provide portable shower blocks as body contamination really simply involves thorough washing with soap and water and some kind of rudimentary clothing replacement.

Most of our cities have suburban railway systems leading out considerable distances from the suburbs. At most times a useful number of electric trains are in service. In some cases these trains are powered by electricity sources outside the city. The Blue Mountains-Lithgow service in New South Wales is a typical example. I think if we made a study in other States we would see similar potentialities. The Australian Democrats propose investigation of the idea of an adequate professional civil defence secretariat in each city, staffed 24 hours a day and seven days a week, holding continuous information on public transport movements and powers being provided to it for immediate commandeering of such services so that they could be used at very short notice as a rapid shuttle service for evacuation. This is not an entirely new idea. It is what is being done in some overseas countries. It is being achieved there without a great deal of difficulty or expense.

We believe that if Australians were encouraged to understand fully that such measures would involve possible insurance of their own lives and the lives of their families they would probably be glad enough to give blood voluntarily to emergency plasma banks which could be located in such evacuation areas outside cities. I know that I would be only too glad to do so in such a case. I think most Australians would be glad to do so if they understood the absolute necessity to life of blood transfusions in the case of moderate and light radiation sickness cases. Large stocks of blood plasma are essential. Granted that blood transfusion capability, large numbers of people who would otherwise quite certainly die would be able to recover from the effects of being exposed to radiation. This is established scientific fact. It has been proved.

I would like briefly now to give a little background material. Certainly, little enough material pertaining to Australia exists. However, one rather interesting study was made recently by Colonel D. K. Baker. Colonel Baker submitted a monograph last year when he was a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University under the Defence Fellowship Scheme. It was published quite recently- in 1980- by Phoenix Defence Publications under the title 'Problems of mobilisation in defence of Australia'. In this monograph Colonel Baker made the following point:

In effect the chain of responsibility for civil defence parallels the organisation for coping with national disasters, which, in the first instance, is the sole responsibility of the States and Territories;

We know that the Natural Disasters Organisation is already an efficient organisation in many States. It served us well during the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin. Colonel Baker continued:

Commonwealth assistance, via the NDO, is only provided when the situation is demonstrably beyond the capacity of the State concerned.

This is where I think the case for more effective Commonwealth action comes in. Colonel Baker went on to say:

A civil defence capacity, or the lack of it, contributes directly to the credibility of a nation's defence posture. Without it, the task of an enemy in bringing a nation to its knees is made much easier. The civil defence capability, however, is in direct competition with the resource demands of military defence, so advance planning and co-ordination are essential to achieve the optimum balance between them.

Quite categorically he then stated:

To plan for the possible wartime requirements of civil defence, which would meet the Commonwealth Government's responsibility a national framework is needed.

Later he stated:

The capabilities required over and above those now maintained by the States would depend on policies and directives that can only come from the Commonwealth Government. They should be based on an assessment of, first, the type of threat and, second, the extent and the type of preparation that should be attainable within the available warning time. If an effective framework were to be initiated now when there is no perceived threat, it could provide the standardisation necessary for the implementation of this maximum level of civil defence response.

I commend those words of wisdom to honourable senators. Finally, in that monograph Colonel Baker stated:

It could be difficult to arouse sufficient interest in civil defence among State and local governments and within the community at large because it seems unlikely to be required in the short term. Judging by the apathy shown by the public to defence matters in general, this may be so; but there has not so far been any attempt to promote an interest in civil defence. It would appear logical that, as part of the current defence philosophy calling for self-reliance, civil defence should be publicised.

Now I shall deal briefly with an international assessment of this matter. This was carried out by Colonel William O. Staudenmaier of the United States Army and is reported in the October 1 978 edition of Military Review. It points out:

The Soviet Union has a massive civil defense program which has government and public support from the highest echelons of government down to the population at large. The Soviets have concentrated on population protection, protection of the economy, postnuclear strike rescue and recovery operations and training of the population.

In this article Colonel Staudenmaier points out in some detail the extent to which the Russian Government is carrying out this function. In passing he also mentions what is being done in Switzerland. I think this is an interesting example because Switzerland is a country in which the right to make legislation is not restricted only to members of parliament, but a country in which the initiative comes from citizens and in which, indeed, citizens take care that they look after themselves. They do so perhaps better than a government would. The Swiss are implementing a $2.4 billion program to insure their six million people against the hazards of nuclear warfare. The pitiful few hundred thousand dollars now being spent in this country contrasts with the spending of $2.4 billion by a smaller country with less than half of our population. In fact, the Swiss effort, interestingly enough, is over $800m greater than the total United States Federal funding for civil defence for the period from 1962 to 1977.

I looked for material dealing with the Natural Disasters Organisation, which is, of course, the rudimentary Commonwealth body concerned with these areas. I found an article, the only material I could find at short notice, written by Major General Alan Stretton. This article appeared in the Pacific Defence Reporter dated April 1976. Any suggestion that it might be critical is not directed at General Stretton but at the overall situation in this country. In fact, in the article, there is no specific reference whatsoever to civil defence against nuclear attack. Only one vague reference is made to the situation even of civil defence in wartime. General Stretton, speaking of the basic structure, states:

The structure relates to the Civil Defence function, although the units are employed exclusively in the natural disasters role in peace, with Civil Defence as the designated wartime role. The SES Organisations provide the core Civil Defence structure for expansion in the event of war emergencies.

To my surprise that was all that he said about the matter. That is the beginning and end of the statement on that area. Wherever I have looked, wherever I have tried to find anything on this subject I have found the same thing- civil defence is regarded as a bad term. People do not want to hear about it, governments do not want to hear about it, and, therefore, the attitude taken is that we should do nothing. That attitude make me angry. I will not deny that it makes me angry. I do not believe that people are irresponsible about their safety and about the safety of their families. I think this is a public relations problem; that the Government has succeeded -as some other governments have done- in hiding this matter away, in making sure that it does not get publicity, and that it is not debated and discussed as it should be. It is a matter that concerns the lives of millions of people but we are doing nothing. The public has been left in ignorance.

What is the actual situation? In some major New South Wales cities a good deal has happened in the past. State Emergency Services in New South Wales has done its best to try to lay down some idea of where there might be suitable places for underground shelters and it has tried to work out some way in which people can be moved from one place to another. But they have been effectively crippled by an almost complete lack of staff and money. Without these things it is not possible to carry out any proper organisation of such a massive task.

Something happened today in New South Wales that has made this whole debate much more urgent. In the State Parliament amendments to the State Emergency Services and Civil

Defence Act were passed, which puts effectively the SES in New South Wales under the control of the New South Wales police. I know that these amendments certainly passed the lower House in New South Wales this morning. 1 predict that this legislation will bring an end to any real attempt in Sydney to grapple with the problem of civil defence from nuclear attack. I do not say that in any spirit of criticism of the New South Wales police, who I am sure would do their best, as in everything else, in such a contingency. It is simply that this large problem is not in the nature of things something that a busy, localised police force can or should deal with. One can be critical of the New South Wales Government, although that might be unfair. Perhaps the New South Wales Government quite rightly sees that the problem we are talking about is a Commonwealth matter and it sees no reason why it should have to try to deal with that problem when it is properly the place of the Commonwealth to do something about it.

In relation to Melbourne, I refer briefly to an article which I was delighted to see used in the Melbourne Herald on 29 March. I commend that newspaper for raising this matter which is of such importance to our citizens. I commend the Daily Mirror, which I think is the only newspaper in Sydney to have raised this matter so far. However, I predict that it will become a matter of increasing public interest in the future. The article in the Melbourne Herald, entitled 'Where Can We Hide?' is one which I think can incite only the utmost disquiet in its readers. It was a serious attempt by Allan Pinches to talk with the State Emergency Services and to find out just what was going on, what would happen to Melbourne in the event of a nuclear attack and how people could be protected. To put it briefly, he did not get very much change. He said:

The Defence Department estimates that fallout shelter space for about 700,000 people would be available in Melbourne in case of nuclear attack.

Officers of the department's Natural Disasters Organisation have surveyed about 2S0 metropolitan buildings.

One assumes that these are buildings with basements or cellars that people could be put into in the event of a nuclear war. The interesting point in the article is the following one:

But the department and State Emergency Service refuse to name any buildings.

So we have a situation in Melbourne where apparently there are buildings where people could go but about which nobody knows anything. The real point is that the people who would want to go to them in the event of a nuclear attack would be the last to know about them. They do not have any idea what the buildings are or what they should do. There is no evidence that the buildings are suitable in any way or that they would be provided with food and water supplies which would be necessary for people to survive the period of fall-out, which could be two or three weeks. Further on, the article states:

So it was back to SES director, Col. F. B. Wood, who had earlier maintained the matter was 'clearly in the Commonwealth Government area'.

I sympathise greatly with Colonel Wood because he was asked a number of awkward questions to which he was not really able to make replies. However, he did say:

We anticipate looking at the underground rail loop to provide additional spaces.

He was then asked whether he could nominate any of the buildings offering shelter, to which he answered:

No I can 't for fairly obvious reasons.

When he was asked how effective underground railway stations would be as shelters, he said:

I 'm not prepared to enter into that.

Finally, he said that it would not be possible for him to continue the interview on the basis suggested, because he did not really have the answers. So, that is the situation in Melbourne. I have not yet had time to research the situations in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane but I have no doubt that we would find a similar situation there.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

General Business taking precedence of Government Business after 8 p.m. ( Quorum formed).







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