Australian opposition party declares support for global treaty banning nuclear weapons
August 13, 2015
The Australian government has been a vocal critic of recent diplomatic efforts to achieve a treaty banning nuclear weapons, arguing that Australia’s security depends on the possible use of US nuclear forces. But this regressive national stance could soon change if the opposition Labor party regains power at the next federal election, likely to be held in the latter half of 2016.
Last month Labor adopted a new national platform committing it to “act with urgency and determination to rid the world of nuclear weapons” and declaring its firm support for the negotiation of a global treaty banning nuclear weapons. This represents a significant strengthening of its earlier platform, adopted in 2011, which simply supported “examining the need” for a new convention.
“Prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons is a humanitarian imperative,” the 2015 platform states. “Civil society and non-government organisations in Australia and internationally who form the global movement to secure a ban on nuclear weapons do important work … [Labor] welcomes the growing movement of nations that is supporting this objective.”
On 13 August, to mark the 70th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Australian senate – the upper house of the Australian parliament – passed a motion welcoming “the three conferences convened since 2013 by the governments of Norway, Mexico and Austria on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons”.
Introduced by Labor senator Lisa Singh, the motion noted “the Humanitarian Pledge, endorsed by 113 nations, to identify and pursue effective measure to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and “the growing movement of nations supporting the negotiation of a global treaty banning nuclear weapons”.
An earlier version of the motion, tabled on 12 August, “welcomed” the 113-nation pledge and international moves towards a ban treaty, but this formulation was unacceptable to the governing Liberal and National parties, which forced an amendment. Nevertheless, the government’s acknowledgement of a “growing movement” to ban nuclear weapons is itself significant.
Senator Singh, a representative of the southern island state of Tasmania, delivered an impassioned speech earlier this week denouncing the doctrine of “extended nuclear deterrence” and urging the Australian government to “stand firmly on the right side of history” by joining negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Australia’s support for the concept of a “nuclear umbrella” sends a message to the world that nuclear weapons are “militarily useful, strategically necessary and morally acceptable”, she argued. This is a “morally indefensible” position, denying Australia any authority or credibility in calling on Iran or other nations not to acquire nuclear weapons or North Korea to dismantle its atomic arsenal.
“We have never claimed the protection of a chemical weapon umbrella or a biological weapon umbrella. Those weapons Australia has rejected categorically … why do we believe that nuclear weapons are somehow more acceptable than mustard gas or nerve agents or anthrax or smallpox? All these weapons are abhorrent. All these weapons are weapons of mass destruction.”
As a country that has experienced the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear test explosions conducted by the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 60s, Australia has a “special interest in realizing a world without nuclear weapons”, she said. It is time for the government to “get serious about bringing the nuclear era to an end”. “Let us close the nuclear umbrella and keep it shut for all time.”