Australia

Nuclear-weapon endorser

Has not yet joined the TPNW

Status

Australia has not yet signed or ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

 

National position

In October 2022, Australia for the first time abstained from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that welcomes the adoption of the TPNW and calls upon all states to sign, ratify, or accede to it “at the earliest possible date”. This move formally brought an end to five years of Australian opposition to the treaty. (From 2018 to 2021, Australia had voted against the resolution.)

Ahead of the vote, the Australian government indicated that it was assessing its position on the TPNW “taking account of the need to ensure an effective verification and enforcement architecture, interaction of the treaty with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and achieving universal support”, adding that it was engaging constructively with the treaty.

In July 2022, it said that it shared “the ambition of TPNW states parties of a world without nuclear weapons” and would examine a number of important questions “to inform its approach to the TPNW in close consultation with partners, and civil society stakeholders”.

The Australian Labor Party, which formed government in May 2022, adopted a resolution in December 2018 committing it to sign and ratify the TPNW in government. This was moved by Anthony Albanese, who now serves as prime minister and has been a vocal supporter of the TPNW. He said at the time: “Our commitment to sign and ratify the nuclear weapon ban treaty in government is Labor at its best.” Labor reaffirmed this position at its national conference in 2021.

Three in four federal Labor parliamentarians have also individually pledged to work for Australia’s signature and ratification of the TPNW, as have parliamentarians from the Australian Greens and other political parties. In September 2022, 10 independent federal parliamentarians issued a joint statement urging the Labor government to “make use of every opportunity to advance Australia’s position in support of the [TPNW]”.

A cross-party parliamentary friendship group was established in 2020 and re-formed in 2022 to promote adherence to the TPNW.

According to various policy statements issued by previous Australian governments, including the defence white paper of 2016 and foreign policy white paper of 2017, Australia supports the retention and potential use of US nuclear weapons on its behalf.

ICAN campaigners protest on the roof of the Australian foreign ministry building in Canberra on 20 September 2017, the day the TPNW opened for signature. Credit: ICAN

Labor parliamentarians, including the current leader Anthony Albanese, hold a copy of the TPNW at parliament house in Canberra in 2018. Credit: Martin Ollman

 

Meetings of states parties

Australia attended as an observer the first meeting of states parties to the TPNW, held in Vienna in June 2022. Ahead of the meeting, 55 former Australian ambassadors and high commissioners sent an open letter to the prime minister urging him to act swiftly on Labor’s pre-election pledge to sign and ratify the TPNW in government.

They wrote: “Membership of the TPNW is compatible with Australia’s alliance commitments and will make a positive contribution to the security objectives we share. We have previously signed and ratified treaties – on landmines, cluster munitions and nuclear testing – to which the United States is not a party.”

In October 2022, the government said that its decision to observe the first meeting of states parties demonstrated “the constructive engagement with the treaty during the current phase of assessment [of its position]”.

 

Public opinion

A public opinion poll conducted by Ipsos in 2022 found that 76 per cent of Australians believe that their government should sign the TPNW, with 6 per cent opposed and 18 per cent undecided. A similar poll in 2018 found that 79 per cent favour signing, 8 per cent are against, and 13 per cent are undecided.

Many organisations in Australia have voiced support for the TPNW, including Australian Red Cross, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and more than 60 religious organisations.

The councils of more than 40 Australian cities, including Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney, have called on the Australian government to sign and ratify the TPNW, as has the Australian Local Government Association.

 

TPNW negotiations

Australia did not participate in the negotiation of the TPNW at the United Nations in New York in 2017 and thus did not vote on its adoption. On the opening day of the negotiating conference, it joined the United States and several other states in protesting the treaty-making process.

In 2016, Australia voted against the UN General Assembly resolution that established the formal mandate for states to commence negotiations on “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

Earlier that year, it had attempted to derail a UN working group on nuclear disarmament in Geneva, which adopted a report recommending that negotiations commence on a new treaty. Australia said that it could not accept the draft report and forced it to a vote.

ICAN campaigners protest at Australia’s diplomatic mission in Geneva during a UN working group on nuclear disarmament in 2016. Photo: ICAN

 

Nuclear testing in Australia

From 1952 to 1963, the British government, with the active involvement of the Australian government, conducted 12 nuclear test explosions and up to 600 so-called “minor trials” in the South Australian desert and off the Western Australian coast.

Radioactive contamination from the tests and trials was detected across much of the continent. Little was done to protect the 16,000 or so test site workers, and even less to protect nearby Aboriginal communities.

Two representatives of those communities, Sue Coleman-Haseldine and Karina Lester, testified at the TPNW negotiations in 2017 about the devastating long-term harm from the tests. In large part due to their advocacy, the preamble to the treaty recognises “the disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples”.

Sue Coleman-Haseldine, a Kokatha elder and nuclear test survivor, with ICAN’s Nobel peace prize medal in 2018. Credit: Martin Ollman

 

Founding of ICAN

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was founded in Australia in 2007 with the goal of prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons via a new international treaty. The founders assembled a broad global coalition of organisations to work together to build a groundswell of public opposition to nuclear weapons.

ICAN campaigners in Melbourne, Australia, celebrate the announcement of ICAN’s Nobel peace prize in 2017.

Nuclear-weapon endorser

Has not yet joined the TPNW

[HIGHLIGHTS]

Status

Australia has not yet signed or ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

 

National position

In October 2022, Australia for the first time abstained from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that welcomes the adoption of the TPNW and calls upon all states to sign, ratify, or accede to it “at the earliest possible date”. This move formally brought an end to five years of Australian opposition to the treaty. (From 2018 to 2021, Australia had voted against the resolution.)

Ahead of the vote, the Australian government indicated that it was assessing its position on the TPNW “taking account of the need to ensure an effective verification and enforcement architecture, interaction of the treaty with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and achieving universal support”, adding that it was engaging constructively with the treaty.

In July 2022, it said that it shared “the ambition of TPNW states parties of a world without nuclear weapons” and would examine a number of important questions “to inform its approach to the TPNW in close consultation with partners, and civil society stakeholders”.

The Australian Labor Party, which formed government in May 2022, adopted a resolution in December 2018 committing it to sign and ratify the TPNW in government. This was moved by Anthony Albanese, who now serves as prime minister and has been a vocal supporter of the TPNW. He said at the time: “Our commitment to sign and ratify the nuclear weapon ban treaty in government is Labor at its best.” Labor reaffirmed this position at its national conference in 2021.

Three in four federal Labor parliamentarians have also individually pledged to work for Australia’s signature and ratification of the TPNW, as have parliamentarians from the Australian Greens and other political parties. In September 2022, 10 independent federal parliamentarians issued a joint statement urging the Labor government to “make use of every opportunity to advance Australia’s position in support of the [TPNW]”.

A cross-party parliamentary friendship group was established in 2020 and re-formed in 2022 to promote adherence to the TPNW.

According to various policy statements issued by previous Australian governments, including the defence white paper of 2016 and foreign policy white paper of 2017, Australia supports the retention and potential use of US nuclear weapons on its behalf.

ICAN campaigners protest on the roof of the Australian foreign ministry building in Canberra on 20 September 2017, the day the TPNW opened for signature. Credit: ICAN

Labor parliamentarians, including the current leader Anthony Albanese, hold a copy of the TPNW at parliament house in Canberra in 2018. Credit: Martin Ollman

 

Meetings of states parties

Australia attended as an observer the first meeting of states parties to the TPNW, held in Vienna in June 2022. Ahead of the meeting, 55 former Australian ambassadors and high commissioners sent an open letter to the prime minister urging him to act swiftly on Labor’s pre-election pledge to sign and ratify the TPNW in government.

They wrote: “Membership of the TPNW is compatible with Australia’s alliance commitments and will make a positive contribution to the security objectives we share. We have previously signed and ratified treaties – on landmines, cluster munitions and nuclear testing – to which the United States is not a party.”

In October 2022, the government said that its decision to observe the first meeting of states parties demonstrated “the constructive engagement with the treaty during the current phase of assessment [of its position]”.

 

Public opinion

A public opinion poll conducted by Ipsos in 2022 found that 76 per cent of Australians believe that their government should sign the TPNW, with 6 per cent opposed and 18 per cent undecided. A similar poll in 2018 found that 79 per cent favour signing, 8 per cent are against, and 13 per cent are undecided.

Many organisations in Australia have voiced support for the TPNW, including Australian Red Cross, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and more than 60 religious organisations.

The councils of more than 40 Australian cities, including Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney, have called on the Australian government to sign and ratify the TPNW, as has the Australian Local Government Association.

 

TPNW negotiations

Australia did not participate in the negotiation of the TPNW at the United Nations in New York in 2017 and thus did not vote on its adoption. On the opening day of the negotiating conference, it joined the United States and several other states in protesting the treaty-making process.

In 2016, Australia voted against the UN General Assembly resolution that established the formal mandate for states to commence negotiations on “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

Earlier that year, it had attempted to derail a UN working group on nuclear disarmament in Geneva, which adopted a report recommending that negotiations commence on a new treaty. Australia said that it could not accept the draft report and forced it to a vote.

ICAN campaigners protest at Australia’s diplomatic mission in Geneva during a UN working group on nuclear disarmament in 2016. Photo: ICAN

 

Nuclear testing in Australia

From 1952 to 1963, the British government, with the active involvement of the Australian government, conducted 12 nuclear test explosions and up to 600 so-called “minor trials” in the South Australian desert and off the Western Australian coast.

Radioactive contamination from the tests and trials was detected across much of the continent. Little was done to protect the 16,000 or so test site workers, and even less to protect nearby Aboriginal communities.

Two representatives of those communities, Sue Coleman-Haseldine and Karina Lester, testified at the TPNW negotiations in 2017 about the devastating long-term harm from the tests. In large part due to their advocacy, the preamble to the treaty recognises “the disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples”.

Sue Coleman-Haseldine, a Kokatha elder and nuclear test survivor, with ICAN’s Nobel peace prize medal in 2018. Credit: Martin Ollman

 

Founding of ICAN

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was founded in Australia in 2007 with the goal of prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons via a new international treaty. The founders assembled a broad global coalition of organisations to work together to build a groundswell of public opposition to nuclear weapons.

ICAN campaigners in Melbourne, Australia, celebrate the announcement of ICAN’s Nobel peace prize in 2017.

[PARTNERS]

Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement

WEBSITE


Act for Peace

WEBSITE


Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia

WEBSITE


Anglican Diocese of Gippsland

WEBSITE


Architects for Peace

WEBSITE


Arid Lands Environment Centre

WEBSITE


Association of Women Educators (AWE)

WEBSITE


Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

WEBSITE


Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

WEBSITE


The Australian Conservation Foundation

WEBSITE


Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

WEBSITE


Australian Democrats

WEBSITE


Australian Education Union (Victoria)

WEBSITE


Australia Education Union

WEBSITE


Australian Federation of Graduate Women

WEBSITE


Australian Greens 

WEBSITE


Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (Victoria)

WEBSITE


Australian Nuclear Free Alliance 

WEBSITE


Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation

WEBSITE


Australian Peace Committee

WEBSITE


Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN)

WEBSITE


The Baptist Union of Victoria

WEBSITE


Beyond Nuclear Initiative

WEBSITE


Canberra Region Anti-Nuclear Campaign

WEBSITE


Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace

WEBSITE


The Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament 

WEBSITE


Climate Landcare Environment Action Network

WEBSITE


Conservation Council of the South East Region and Canberra 

WEBSITE


Conservation Council of South Australia 

WEBSITE


Council of Australian Humanist Societies

WEBSITE


Dulwich Centre Foundation 

WEBSITE


Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education

WEBSITE


Footprints for Peace

WEBSITE


Fremantle Anti-Nuclear Group

WEBSITE


Friends of the Earth (Australia)

WEBSITE


Greenpeace Australia Pacific

WEBSITE


Householders' Options to Protect the Environment (HOPE) Inc.

WEBSITE


Human Survival Project 

Hunter Peace Group

WEBSITE


ICAN Australia 

WEBSITE


Independent and Peaceful Australia Network

WEBSITE


International Volunteers for Peace Incorporated

WEBSITE


Just Peace Old Inc

WEBSITE


The Maritime Union of Australia (Victorian Branch)

WEBSITE


Marrickville Peace Group

WEBSITE


Medical Association for Prevention of War

WEBSITE


The National Tertiary Education Union

WEBSITE


Network of Immigration and Refugee Women of Australia

WEBSITE


Newcastle Bike Ecology Centre

WEBSITE


No Waste Alliance

WEBSITE


Oxfam Australia

WEBSITE


Pax Christi Australia

WEBSITE


People for Nuclear Disarmament

WEBSITE


Presse 

Psychologists for Peace

WEBSITE


Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) 

WEBSITE


Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Union (Victoria Branch, Rail Division)

WEBSITE


SafeGround

WEBSITE


The Search Foundation

WEBSITE


Social Policy Connections 

WEBSITE


Social Responsibilities Commission, Anglican Province of Western Australia

WEBSITE


Soka Gakkai International, Australia

WEBSITE


Spirit of Eureka

WEBSITE


Student Pugwash Australia

WEBSITE


Sunshine Coast Environment Council

WEBSITE


UnionsACT

WEBSITE


Unions Western Australia 

WEBSITE


United Nations Association of Australia

WEBSITE


United Nations Youth Australia

WEBSITE


Uniting Church of Australia (Vic/Tas Synod), Justice and International Mission Unit

WEBSITE


Uniting Church in Western Australia, Social Justice Board

WEBSITE


Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly

WEBSITE


The Union of Australian Women (UAW)

WEBSITE


Victorian Trades Hall Council

WEBSITE


The Wilderness Society

WEBSITE


Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Australia)

WEBSITE


3CR Community Radio 

WEBSITE


Conservation Council SA Inc 

WEBSITE


Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank (ASPATT) 

Christians for Peace Newcastle

HSU Vic Branch No2 - HACSU - Health and Community Services Union

website


Ballarat Regional Trades and Labour Council

website


Divine Word Missionaries

website


Sydney Peace Foundation

Website


Catholic Religious Australia

Website


World Citizens Association of Australia (WCAA)

website


Wellspring Community Inc

website


Lawyers For Peace

Website

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  • Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement

    WEBSITE

  • Act for Peace

    WEBSITE

  • Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia

    WEBSITE

  • Anglican Diocese of Gippsland

    WEBSITE

  • Architects for Peace

    WEBSITE

  • Arid Lands Environment Centre

    WEBSITE

  • Association of Women Educators (AWE)

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

    WEBSITE

  • The Australian Conservation Foundation

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Democrats

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Education Union (Victoria)

    WEBSITE

  • Australia Education Union

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Federation of Graduate Women

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Greens 

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (Victoria)

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Nuclear Free Alliance 

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Peace Committee

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN)

    WEBSITE

  • The Baptist Union of Victoria

    WEBSITE

  • Beyond Nuclear Initiative

    WEBSITE

  • Canberra Region Anti-Nuclear Campaign

    WEBSITE

  • Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace

    WEBSITE

  • The Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament 

    WEBSITE

  • Climate Landcare Environment Action Network

    WEBSITE

  • Conservation Council of the South East Region and Canberra 

    WEBSITE

  • Conservation Council of South Australia 

    WEBSITE

  • Council of Australian Humanist Societies

    WEBSITE

  • Dulwich Centre Foundation 

    WEBSITE

  • Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education

    WEBSITE

  • Footprints for Peace

    WEBSITE

  • Fremantle Anti-Nuclear Group

    WEBSITE

  • Friends of the Earth (Australia)

    WEBSITE

  • Greenpeace Australia Pacific

    WEBSITE

  • Householders' Options to Protect the Environment (HOPE) Inc.

    WEBSITE

  • Human Survival Project 
  • Hunter Peace Group

    WEBSITE

  • ICAN Australia 

    WEBSITE

  • Independent and Peaceful Australia Network

    WEBSITE

  • International Volunteers for Peace Incorporated

    WEBSITE

  • Just Peace Old Inc

    WEBSITE

  • The Maritime Union of Australia (Victorian Branch)

    WEBSITE

  • Marrickville Peace Group

    WEBSITE

  • Medical Association for Prevention of War

    WEBSITE

  • The National Tertiary Education Union

    WEBSITE

  • Network of Immigration and Refugee Women of Australia

    WEBSITE

  • Newcastle Bike Ecology Centre

    WEBSITE

  • No Waste Alliance

    WEBSITE

  • Oxfam Australia

    WEBSITE

  • Pax Christi Australia

    WEBSITE

  • People for Nuclear Disarmament

    WEBSITE

  • Presse 
  • Psychologists for Peace

    WEBSITE

  • Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) 

    WEBSITE

  • Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Union (Victoria Branch, Rail Division)

    WEBSITE

  • SafeGround

    WEBSITE

  • The Search Foundation

    WEBSITE

  • Social Policy Connections 

    WEBSITE

  • Social Responsibilities Commission, Anglican Province of Western Australia

    WEBSITE

  • Soka Gakkai International, Australia

    WEBSITE

  • Spirit of Eureka

    WEBSITE

  • Student Pugwash Australia

    WEBSITE

  • Sunshine Coast Environment Council

    WEBSITE

  • UnionsACT

    WEBSITE

  • Unions Western Australia 

    WEBSITE

  • United Nations Association of Australia

    WEBSITE

  • United Nations Youth Australia

    WEBSITE

  • Uniting Church of Australia (Vic/Tas Synod), Justice and International Mission Unit

    WEBSITE

  • Uniting Church in Western Australia, Social Justice Board

    WEBSITE

  • Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly

    WEBSITE

  • The Union of Australian Women (UAW)

    WEBSITE

  • Victorian Trades Hall Council

    WEBSITE

  • The Wilderness Society

    WEBSITE

  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Australia)

    WEBSITE

  • 3CR Community Radio 

    WEBSITE

  • Conservation Council SA Inc 

    WEBSITE

  • Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank (ASPATT) 
  • Christians for Peace Newcastle
  • HSU Vic Branch No2 - HACSU - Health and Community Services Union

    website

  • Ballarat Regional Trades and Labour Council

    website

  • Divine Word Missionaries

    website

  • Sydney Peace Foundation

    Website

  • Catholic Religious Australia

    Website

  • World Citizens Association of Australia (WCAA)

    website

  • Wellspring Community Inc

    website

  • Lawyers For Peace

    Website