House debates

Monday, 9 November 2020

Private Members' Business

Nuclear Weapons

11:50 am

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to second the motion of the member for Fremantle, which is on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. We've just passed the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear blasts. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of those bombs, including Australian prisoners of war and troops sent in immediately after VP day. Of course, the testing of nuclear weapons, whether in Western Australia, at Woomera or in the Pacific, also led to many deaths from radiation-induced disease. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction and should not be present on the face of the earth.

Australia has a proud history of opposing such weapons, especially those which are used on civilians. Out of the ashes of the war we led the way, through Doc Evatt and the Labor Party, in establishing the United Nations in the 1940s. We led the way in negotiating and ratifying conventions against chemical weapons in 1972 and against landmines and cluster munitions in more recent times. Gough Whitlam ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1973 and that treaty is still important in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. However, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty does not say that possessing nuclear weapons is unacceptable. Its sole purpose is that weapons shouldn't spread from those already possessing them—the 'nuclear club'—to those who seek to acquire them.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was concluded in July 2017 with the support of 122 states. Unfortunately, Australia was one of those few countries that did not vote for that treaty. Under this government, we didn't even participate in the negotiation of the treaty, and we voted against the 2016 UN General Assembly resolution that established the mandate for negotiations. It isn't a proud record. Despite that, only a few days ago, the treaty reached the 50 ratifications needed to bring it into force. I, for one, argue in this place that Australia should work towards signing and ratifying the treaty. It sends a message to the world, including our powerful friends, that possession of nuclear weapons is not acceptable. I congratulate Nobel Prize winners the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons or ICAN, an Australian-initiated NGO, on the wonderful work they've done in initiating this treaty and getting the necessary ratifications to bring it into force.

The ALP has committed to working toward the ratification of the treaty. The ultimate environmental and human disaster would be a large-scale nuclear war. I'm horrified about the spread of nuclear weapons. I note the ramping up of Cold War rhetoric between the US, Russia, China and other countries, behaviour not seen for several decades. The Morrison government needs to show the leadership that ICAN has shown. We need to show leadership in a less rational world. Labor at our national conference in 2018 committed that Labor in government will sign and ratify the treaty, after taking into account the need to ensure an effective verification and enforcement architecture, to ensure the interaction of the ban treaty with the longstanding non-proliferation treaty, and to work to achieve universal support for the ban.

Critics of the treaty say that ratification will affect our strategic alliances, especially the US alliance. The US alliance is very important to Australia and to the Australian Labor Party. Ratifying this treaty as a sovereign state should not affect our relationship with the incoming Biden administration. Any issues should be able to be worked through. We should be able to continue our military alliances and at the same time express our opposition to nuclear weapons. I believe that support for this treaty will not affect our ability to host or participate in exercises or affect our capacity to host bases, whether listening posts or military bases. These are separate questions. But what our support will do is indicate that Australia can stand on its own two feet. We can stand on the right side of history with those who don't have nuclear weapons and say that the possession of nuclear weapons is no longer acceptable. New Zealand took a strong position on visits by US nuclear armed warships 35 years ago. That action did not impede their capacity to be part of the ANZUS alliance or to be a strong voice on international issues. I strongly support the motion.


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