Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Ministerial Statements


5:02 pm

Photo of Jan McLucasJan McLucas (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, I table a ministerial statement on Iran. I seek leave to move a motion relating to the statement.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

Photo of Helen CoonanHelen Coonan (NSW, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a short comment on the ministerial statement.

Leave granted.

The coalition today notes the statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Stephen Smith, announcing that Australia has extended bilateral sanctions against Iran in response to Tehran’s continued failure to adhere to United Nations Security Council resolutions. I want to make it clear that the coalition supports the extension of bilateral sanctions. In government we supported the United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to open its program to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, with the intent of halting what we assessed was a nuclear weapons program.

The international community has sent many unambiguous messages to Iran that it must fulfil its international obligations and to stop uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. International coordination of responses is vital. Therefore, by meeting the level of European sanctions, Australia is playing its part. Australia should keep up its pressure on Iran over failing to adhere to the UNSC, the United Nations Security Council, resolutions and not agreeing to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s requirements for inspections of all facilities and full clarification of Tehran’s nuclear policy.

The coalition considers that Iran remains committed to its indigenous development of nuclear energy and that its strategy may also include the development of nuclear weapons. Proliferation of nuclear weapons is a grave threat to the stability of world order. Iran’s commitment under its current and, for that matter, its previous leaders to develop nuclear energy and its intent to maintain a weapons option is likely to continue. Iran’s approach to this issue is of course a complex mix of energy needs, statement of sovereignty and national strategic ambition.

We also, I think, need to acknowledge Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and its increasing need for energy. However, the coalition draws the government’s attention to the IAEA September report, noting it was monitoring nuclear material under enrichment in Iran but that Iran had not agreed to provide an explanation about studies to weaponise nuclear material. We in the coalition agree with the Director General of the IAEA, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, that ‘Iran needs to give the agency substantive information to support its statements and provide access to relevant documentation and individuals’ to disprove claims of a weapons program. This was an element of the most recent UN Security Council resolution, No. 1835, of 27 September.

As I said, we oppose proliferation of nuclear weapons. In view of Russia’s opposition to further United Nations sanctions against Iran during the debate over Security Council resolution 1835, we also call on the Rudd Labor government to take up this issue in diplomatic representations with Russia. We urge the Rudd government to take into full consideration the view of the IAEA, as the authorised UN agency treating technical and operational aspects of nuclear issues, that Iran remains committed to enrichment. This is not likely to be reversed, and pursuit of non-proliferation inspections and the verification regime must be part of future international responses to Iran’s activity.

Briefly, in respect of a separate but very important issue, the coalition also strongly condemns the statement made by Iranian President Ahmadinejad in his comments to the UN assembly, calling for the destruction of Israel and questioning the Holocaust. Despite comments made in opposition, the Labor government has now apparently obtained legal advice that initiating international legal action is not likely to be successful. In those circumstances, I do urge the Rudd government to remain vigilant in strongly condemning and standing up against abhorrent anti-Semitic comments whenever they are made.

5:07 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to make some brief comments on Australia’s placement of sanctions on Iran based on concerns around Iran’s nuclear program. I would like to say at the outset that the Australian Greens do not support a nuclear armed Iran under any circumstances whatsoever. The situation with Iran and the concerns that have been rightly raised about its nuclear program highlight the inextricable link between the possession of nuclear reactors and enrichment technology and the capacity to create nuclear weapons. It also highlights many of the key problems that have blocked the political process to eliminating nuclear weapons threats.

The Australian Greens unequivocally oppose nuclear power and nuclear weapons and campaign against both, regardless of which country possesses them. I take this opportunity to remind the Senate that the origins of this technology lie in uranium mining. We reject the claims of Iran, India or any other country that nuclear energy is a so-called ‘inalienable right’. The inalienable right to nuclear energy, as it is so regrettably defined under article IV of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, has thus far amounted to the inalienable right of an expensive industry to massive subsidies, the inalienable right to expose citizens to routine releases of hazardous radiation and the inalienable right to produce a riddle that science cannot yet solve—the production of large quantities and volumes of radioactive wastes which we are bequeathing to the next several thousand generations.

It is article IV of the non-proliferation treaty which is the basis upon which Australia provides uranium to countries with nuclear weapons and countries that have the possibility or the potential of creating weapons from nuclear reactors and enrichment facilities. Our government is making a decision right now about selling uranium to the very country that is supplying Iran with nuclear fuel and nuclear reactor technology, and that of course is Russia. The Senate received a report from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in the last sitting which recommended against Australia selling uranium to Russia, the nuclear weapons state that is providing both the fuel and the nuclear reactors to Iran. The Australian Greens fully support the recommendation and again urge the government at this time not to supply uranium to Russia.

While our government is holding firm to the position that we will not sell uranium to India, it is remarkably disappointing that Australia played a role in supporting the US-India deal, through the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA. It is remarkably hypocritical because it contrasts so very sharply with the treatment that Iran is receiving from countries, including Australia, in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA who are rewarding India for proliferating nuclear weapons while punishing Iran for its concealment of such activities in the past.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind the Senate of just where Iran’s nuclear program came from. Just like the treatment that India is now enjoying, Iran’s nuclear program was once actively encouraged and resourced by key members of what is now the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the NSG. As long ago as 1957, the US and Iran signed a nuclear cooperation agreement for the US to supply Iran with technical assistance and cooperation on nuclear research. In 1974 the German contractor Siemens began construction of two 1,200- and 1,300-megawatt pressurised water nuclear reactors near Bushehr. The revolution in Iran interrupted this. In February 1990 Spanish companies agreed a protocol with Iran to complete the Bushehr reactors and supply them with fuel, but once again the deal fell through, this time due to pressure from the United States. It was not until January 1996 that Iran and Russia finally signed a deal to complete the Bushehr reactors.

Iran is not the only country of concern. Numerous other countries have more advanced enrichment programs than Iran, also run by their military infrastructure and apparatus. In Brazil, the military runs the nuclear program, enriching uranium for civil purposes, and still hopes to obtain nuclear powered submarines that would most likely require highly enriched uranium as fuel. Pakistan’s whole nuclear weapons program relies on uranium enrichment, and the know-how was stolen by AQ Khan from Urenco with very little expressed Western outrage.

Perhaps of greatest relevance here are the legitimate security concerns in the region that exist about Israel’s nuclear arsenal and its nuclear program, which have to be not only recognised but finally addressed. So where, we could ask, are the sanctions on Israel for its nuclear program, its nuclear weapons arsenal created through a clandestine nuclear program that is such a cause of concern and tension in the Middle East?

We will be watching very closely to see how Australia votes on a resolution in the upcoming General Assembly First Committee meeting in the United Nations. This is the resolution that calls on Israel to accede to the NPT without further delay and not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons and to renounce its possession of nuclear weapons and place all of its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities under full scope agency safeguards. Shamefully, in 2006 Australia was one of six countries to abstain on this resolution, 61/103. We abstained on the question of whether the NPT should be universal and on the value of safeguards. Given Australia’s statements on the importance of the NPT and safeguards, that is quite absurd.

The only long-term resolution to the global weapons proliferation crisis is to eradicate the temptation of nuclear technology altogether. Genuine negotiations are desperately needed on a nuclear-free Middle East. Only a Middle East free of all nuclear technology can be a Middle East free of nuclear weapons proliferation. The Security Council has a role to play, as it has referenced the goal of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East in prior resolutions. Now it is time for the Security Council to actually do something about that, through facilitating dialogue on the political and security issues that will clear the way for such a zone.

The sanctions that Australia is scaling up today were initiated when the former government actively supported the IAEA referral of the situation in Iran to the Security Council—and this was a mistake. The IAEA was the agency with the competence to deal with this matter, and progress was taking place. Director General ElBaradei was reporting progress right up until the referral, which he cautioned against for good reason. He called for more time before the Security Council stepped in, because of the face-saving and expressions of national pride which he predicted would follow and which of course did follow.

In view of Iran’s past undeclared nuclear activities, and its pattern of concealment, this conclusion was expected to take longer than in normal circumstances. It might be recalled that the broader conclusion took more than six years in the case of Japan and more than five years in the case of Canada. But the referral had an immediate effect on the access of the IAEA. Formerly, Iran had been acting as though the IAEA operational protocol was in place even though Iran had not ratified it, and Iran subsequently withdrew this level of cooperation—which was, it said, within its legal right.

While the Australian Greens support peaceful and diplomatic approaches regarding the situation with Iran, increasing tension about Iran’s nuclear program and increasing coercion and threats may also cause a dangerous breakdown between Iran and other nations and strengthen the hand of hardliners within Iran who have used this issue to deflect attention from domestic issues and failings. We must be very attentive to the way suspicions about Iran can quickly turn into rumours, which become allegations that are repeated over and over again until accepted as unquestionable fact. We have all seen this before.

Let me clarify that the Australian Greens reject outright Iran’s claimed right or need for nuclear power—we reject nuclear power outright for the very issues it raises about weaponisation. What I am pointing out today is that our government has a highly contradictory nuclear policy when it comes to nuclear proliferators—rewarding some, punishing others. What we must ensure is that the world’s desperate need for sustainable energy is met rather than subverted and sidetracked by nuclear power, which is polluting, dangerous, uneconomic and unsustainable—and which, as is underlined so clearly in the current crisis with Iran, leads to nuclear weapons proliferation. That is why the Greens are calling for the recognition of the international right to sustainable and renewable energy.

Question agreed to.