Australia denied visa to Indian n-officials: report

March 17th, 2008 - 7:30 pm ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, March 17 (IANS) Two Indian nuclear officials were last year refused short-stay business visas by Australia’s former John Howard government which feared they would have access to information that could assist “India’s weapons of mass destruction programme”, a media report said here Monday. Even as Australia was negotiating the sale of uranium to India, Dipankar Mukherjee and Mohammed Afzal of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) were refused visas on “health and character” grounds in April - around the time former foreign minister Alexander Downer had made a submission to the cabinet’s National Security Committee for uranium sales to India for its peaceful nuclear programme.

Noted barrister Julian Burnside, QC, told IANS: “It’s a very strange decision by the former government. The visa denials defied logic when Australia was negotiating uranium sales to India.”

According to The Age, the refusal of visas to the two officials is revealed in documents held by a high-tech Melbourne company, GBC Scientific Equipment Pty Ltd, which has been involved in a longstanding dispute with the federal government over the export of its equipment.

GBC Scientific designs, manufactures and markets a range of scientific instruments comprising atomic absorption spectrometers (AAS), UV-visible spectrometers (UV-Vis), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometers (ICP-OES), inductively coupled plasma time of flight mass spectrometers (ICP-TOFMS), high performance liquid chromatographs (HPLC) and rheological analysis equipment.

Federal officials claim its equipment can be used in nuclear weapons programmes.

According to The Age, documents show that two officials from BARC were refused short-stay business visas for their visit to finalise the purchase of an X-ray machine from GBC’s laboratory. The machine is not subject to any export controls.

In a letter to GBC, the Immigration Department’s acting assistant secretary Michael Clisby stressed the importance of applicants meeting “Australia’s health and character standards”.

“As part of visa processing, various checks must be undertaken prior to visa grant. This includes mandatory health checks, character and security checking … for privacy reasons, I am unable to discuss the reasons why Mukherjee and Afzal’s visa applications were refused,” wrote Clisby.

Another letter written on Downer’s behalf by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s assistant secretary for arms control and counter proliferation, John Sullivan, is said to have argued that the Indian scientists worked for an organisation that played “a leading role in India’s nuclear weapons research”.

“Knowledge the individuals could acquire in Australia could be of assistance to India’s WMD programme,” Sullivan wrote.

The Howard government in August had agreed to export uranium to meet India’s growing energy needs, subject to strict conditions. This was an exception to the rule as so far Australia had only exported uranium to countries which were signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Howard had argued the deal to sell uranium to India would be of major economic and strategic advantage to both countries and boost bilateral relations.

Then opposition Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd had said that he would “tear up” any nuclear deal with India if he wins the election but has overturned the decision since coming to power last December.

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