Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Answers to Questions on Notice

Question No. 407

3:03 pm

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

Pursuant to standing order 74(5), I ask the Minister for Defence for an explanation as to why an answer has not been provided to question on notice No. 407, which is overdue, having been lodged on 17 March this year. Some notice was provided to the minister, so I am hoping that she has something to tell us.

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Ludlam. I have been advised that the answer is overdue. I was unaware of that previously. I will ensure that the answer is tabled this week.

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

I appreciate that, Senator Payne, and I move:

That the Senate take note of the explanation.

Colleagues, the question that I put to Senator Payne and the department is one of fundamental importance. I am not surprised that the Minister for Defence and her advisers have been so slow to respond, because the answer would have required facing up to some important truths: 72 years after more than 200,000 people were killed in the twin attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki it is still Australian government policy to endorse the threat and the use of nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

My question to the minister went to precisely that matter—whether the Department of Defence was part of the reason why Australia is boycotting the most hopeful moves to a nuclear weapons ban that the world has seen in decades. I must admit that they have been slow to come up with an answer. It is in the Defence White Paper, and it has been there for years. It goes by the bloodless term 'extended nuclear deterrence'. That means, in practice, that if you commit indiscriminate mass murder on our population, collapse our economy, irradiate our food and fresh water and unleash a cancer epidemic that will overwhelm your health system—if you do that to us, we will do it to you. And we will do it with weapons a hundred or a thousand times the destructive yield of the ones that turned those wartime Japanese cities to ash.

All of us here have lived under this obscene global suicide pact for our entire lives—so long that it has come to be seen as normal. It was a visceral truth in the global mass consciousness during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Everyone knew that in a very real sense a miscalculation or aggression by one side or both could kill tens of millions of people over the course of a few hours and leave the survivors to try and make it through the nuclear winter. The nuclear-armed states want us all to believe that this agreement will hold forever, until some imaginary future time when the weapons will be stood down. In the meantime we are meant to believe that the command and control structures will never fail; that these weapons will remain in the hands of rational state actors forever; that the leaders with executive control over this global suicide pact will be sensible, caring people; and that on no single day will a false alarm, slip-up, breakdown or act of malice loose one of these weapons and provoke an escalation.

This is the definition of insanity. These weapons must be banned before they are used. Nobody is pretending that this will be easy, but nobody should imagine that it is impossible. The alternative, that one of these weapons is actually used, has been treated as unthinkable. Right now I invite the Senate to consider, to think, as our parents and grandparents used to think, about what happens if one of these weapons is used. What happens on the day that a 100-kilotonne bomb, roughly eight times the explosive yield of the bomb that flattened Hiroshima, is detonated over central Sydney? Everything and everyone between Balmain and Double Bay disappears under a radioactive fireball hotter than the sun. Out to a radius of five kilometres—say between Petersham and Mosman—the blast wave kills nearly everyone, most structures are torn apart, and anything flammable ignites. Out to 10 kilometres—say between Rockdale and Manly Beach, half the population dies of blast trauma or burns, and the remainder will be at the highest risk of radiation sickness from the neutron flash or the fission products that will soon begin to fall out. Out to at least 80 kilometres—the distance to Wollongong—depending on wind direction and the height of the blast, people begin to fall sick from acute radiation sickness. Children and the elderly, as always, are the hardest hit. Law enforcement, the health system and emergency services cease to exist.

I have described one detonation over one familiar city. Hydrogen bombs a hundred times more powerful are deployed right now, at this moment, in the arsenals of the nine nuclear weapons states who hold this threat over everybody else. Colleagues, it may not be Sydney: it may be Karachi, St Petersburg, Seoul or New York. In a full-scale nuclear exchange, in which the hideous agreement of mutually assured destruction is realised, 100 million people die in first half-hour of our species' final war. This is how the World Health Organization describes the aftermath:

It is obvious that no health service in any area of the world would be capable of dealing adequately with the hundreds of thousands of people seriously injured by blast, heat or radiation from even a single one-megaton bomb. Whatever remained of the medical services in the world could not alleviate the disaster in any significant way. To the immediate catastrophe must be added the long-term effects on the environment. Famine and diseases would be widespread, and social and economic systems would be totally disrupted. Therefore the only approach to the treatment of the health effects of nuclear explosions is primary prevention of such explosions.

With this horror front of mind the global disarmament community has spent decades organising mass mobilisations and building the political will to support diplomatic efforts around test bans, the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and demobilising and disarming certain categories of weapons. I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge three generations of those organisers from all over the world—leaders and mentors like former senator Jo Valentine and also countless others who played their part in organising a global disarmament movement that reached from street demonstrations all the way to negotiating tables in Geneva and New York.

Most recently, at the urging of organisations like the International Red Cross, fed up with 40 years of sandbagging and delay, the international community began the process of negotiating a formal ban on nuclear weapons. Australian diplomats, firstly under Prime Minister Abbott and then Prime Minister Turnbull, have spent three years trying to sabotage this process—or, as the DFAT spokesperson put to me in estimates, 'bringing balance to the agreement'. Having pulled a disastrous and counterproductive vote in the UN open-ended working group late last year that simply polarised international opinion against Australia, 130 governments resolved to draft such a treaty—and it shames me as an Australian to know that, with those talks underway right now, having failed to disrupt the process Australia is boycotting those talks.

These negotiations are underway now, and this is happening at long last. In a few days, in the absence of an Australian delegation, I intend to join them in New York to see firsthand what the global community can do when we join together in a common cause. Australians have played a major part in this process, even if not at a formal level. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, was conceived in suburban Melbourne and is now a global network that has breathed new life into this movement, now in its third the generation, to stand down these genocidal weapons and to redeploy hundreds of billions of dollars into human security, health care, education and economic development. Think about a familiar place—think about your home town. Think about how you will feel on the day that one of these weapons is used before this ban is sealed and think about what you can do to make that ban happen with foresight and with wisdom rather than with regret.

Question agreed to.