Senate debates

Monday, 30 November 2015


Tom Uren Memorial Fund

9:49 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to share with the Senate the recent launch at Parliament House of the Tom Uren Memorial Fund, which I was delighted to attend with so many of my Labor colleagues. I joined a number of Labor MPs and senators, including shadow ministers Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek, to support and listen to Tom's dear wife, Christine Logan, to discuss Tom's legacy, his long campaign against nuclear weapons, and the memorial fund itself, which honours the life and work of this champion of the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements. The Tom Uren Memorial Fund was established by Christine Logan and Tom's close friends to support the important work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons—ICAN—in Australia, raising public awareness about nuclear dangers and building support for disarmament.

In the final month of World War II, Tom Uren witnessed the second atomic bombing of Japan, on the city of Nagasaki, on 9 August 1945. He described it later:

It reminded me of those beautiful crimson skies of sunsets in Central Australia, but magnified about ten times stronger ... It's never left me.

It was a crimson sunset, Tom learned later, that obliterated between 40,000 and 80,000 human lives, with thousands more to die later from burns and radiation poisoning, and it left horrific scars in the flesh of many survivors. It was a sunset of unimaginable death and destruction that would have been far worse, as Professor Fred Mendelsohn put it during the fund's launch, 'but for the bad weather and winds which caused the nuclear bomb to miss its planned target in the middle of Nagasaki by 3 kilometres'. This truth becomes even starker when we realise the nuclear bomb that had previously destroyed around 80,000 lives in Hiroshima was also considered very inefficient because it only fissioned about 1.4 per cent of its nuclear material.

According to ICAN, today nine countries together possess more than 15,000 nuclear weapons. And most of those weapons are many times more efficient, effective and powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. With the detrimental effect of nuclear weapons on humanity, who would not want their children and grandchildren growing up in a nuclear-free world? People like Tom Uren knew this before anyone else. For Tom, it was paramount. I quote him:

The struggle for nuclear disarmament is the most important struggle in the human race.

He later told a journalist:

I really do think that the dropping of a nuclear bomb on human beings, generally, was a crime against humanity …

I could not agree more.

The vast majority of Australians want their country to help end the age of nuclear weapons because, in Fred Mendelsohn's words, 'they recognise that there are no scientific barriers to eliminating nuclear weapons, only political barriers'. Labor is fully committed to pursuing this goal as an urgent humanitarian initiative of the highest order. Indeed, it was the Keating government that established the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons 20 years ago this month to deliberate on issues of nuclear proliferation and how to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It is also worth reflecting on the fact that this year marks 70 years since the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which claimed more than 200,000 lives. And so, with that fact in mind, Labor's new national platform, adopted at our national conference this year, confirms our party's unequivocal support for the negotiation of a global treaty banning nuclear weapons. And we welcome the growing momentum for a treaty as a significant first step towards eliminating the ultimate menace.

Last December, the Austrian government issued a historic pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons—and 120 nations have so far endorsed the landmark document, signalling their readiness and determination to start negotiations on a ban. And 135 nations supported the next step—that is, a UN working group to start discussing elements for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. But Australia, I regret to say, was not one of them. In fact, according to ICAN, over the past two years Australia has been among the most vocal and active opponents of the fast-growing international movement to prohibit the use, production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. At this year's UN General Assembly Disarmament and National Security Committee, Australia voted against, or abstained from voting on, all significant proposals to advance nuclear disarmament. Australia has refused to accept the view expressed by four-fifths of the UN membership that any use of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable on humanitarian grounds. Indeed, Australia has sought to establish a counter-narrative that humanitarian concerns must be balanced against the supposed security benefits derived from nuclear weapons.

And whilst Australia does not itself possess nuclear weapons, and never has, successive Australian governments have claimed that Australia is protected by the so-called US nuclear umbrella. But the United States has never publicly affirmed this policy. The late Malcolm Fraser described it as total fantasy. But claiming its existence, no matter how absurd, has profound implications. It says to the world that Australia considers nuclear weapons to be militarily useful, strategically necessary and morally acceptable, that Australia believes nuclear weapons are legitimate instruments of war and that, in extreme circumstances, it would be reasonable to use such weapons for military gain, to extinguish hundreds of thousands of lives. This is simply not acceptable. It is not an acceptable proposition for Australia to have.

Professor Mendelsohn said:

The leaders of nuclear-armed nations argue that they, unlike others, are responsible and can be trusted to wield these nuclear weapons. But who is to decide if one is trustworthy or not? How can a country such as the United States, which clings firmly to an arsenal of several thousand nuclear weapons, expect to persuade others, such as North Korea and Iran, to abandon their nuclear ambitions?

Rejecting the bomb is by no means a radical proposition. In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 'There are no right hands for wrong weapons.' Australia has rejected and banned other inherently inhumane and indiscriminate weapons such as antipersonnel mines, cluster munitions and chemical and biological weapons long before the United States has been willing to do so. Australia rejected these weapons categorically by joining conventions that outlaw them. Indeed, we helped pioneer the chemical weapons convention. If Australia wants to deal with the issue of nuclear proliferation as a key priority for our national security, Australia must pursue disarmament.

I urge my parliamentary colleagues who have not yet done so to sign ICAN's global parliamentary appeal for a nuclear weapons ban and join the 804 parliamentarians in 42 countries who have already done so. The only way to liberate the world from the terrible potential of nuclear conflict is to disarm, reduce and, eventually, abolish nuclear weapons. And that is why I commend wholeheartedly Christine Logan and Tom Uren's friends for establishing the Tom Uren Memorial Fund to continue Tom Uren's legacy of peace and disarmament in the hope that one day we will indeed live in a nuclear-free world.