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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4344

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (9:56 PM) —I rise to speak in this debate on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Bill 1998 because, like you, Mr Deputy Speaker Hollis, I have a long history of involvement in the campaign against nuclear weapons. In that context, I am pleased to say that there is largely a bipartisan approach to this important and complex issue this evening. I also want to refer to the fact that I believe that the television pictures, the newspaper headlines and the radio stories which blared out at us all last night and this morning reflect the urgency of this debate on a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

After the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War many people hoped and thought that a new era of peace would settle on the world. We all watched the hype when some nuclear facilities in the USA and the former Soviet Union were decommissioned. We again hoped that these were further signs of a new era of peace settling on the world. I also understand the important role that Australia has in the UN. I myself used to experience that in the ILO, which is part of the UN. Australia is not a large country from a population point of view, but it is always regarded as an honest broker; a nation that has the capacity to work out a reasonable solution and to draw other parties to that solution.

It is for this reason, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I, like you and many others in the House, have spent many active years in the peace movement. The developments of previous years were good signs in respect of this particular movement. After all, many a time I proudly marched behind my union's banner, calling for nuclear test bans as part of the huge annual Sydney Palm Sunday marches. I want to place on record this evening my appreciation of former Senator Bruce Childs, who was active in the development of and involved in those mass rallies, those Palm Sunday marches, not just in Sydney but in many towns and centres around Australia.

We in the union movement in Australia have always, I am pleased to say, strongly voiced our opposition to the mounting stockpile of nuclear warheads. It is also interesting to note that, historically, we have in many instances been attacked for that view. We called on the Australian people and we called on our government to take strong and decisive steps in opposition to the madness of nuclear stockpiles. We hoped and thought that, with the end of the Cold War, we would also see an end to these stockpiles. It is a long held desire of many Australian families.

The Australian people made their voices heard at that time. The Palm Sunday marches were an institution which grew and grew as the threat seemed to increase and slowly dissipated as the nuclear threat seemed to recede. I now think that the Australian people must once more march peacefully in the streets and make their voices heard again. The claim must be: we do not want nuclear war.

That is what the Australian people want to make loud and clear not just to this parliament but also internationally. We have to take to the streets. As a nation that has contributed to development of the changes that have occurred on the nuclear front, we are not going to tolerate and we do not want nuclear war. I hope that unions and other groups—churches and community organisations—join with all other sections of Australian society to make their voices heard. We must tell the governments of India and Pakistan that the peoples of this region are opposed to the mounting nuclear menace that they represent, in the same way that we sent our voice to France in recent times.

The Prime Minister (Mr Howard) must take every effort to get these two countries to sign up to the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. Diverting the scarce resources of India and Pakistan into a muscle flexing nuclear competition is not good for the millions of poor people in those two countries. But getting India and Pakistan to back off and to talk treaty will mean more positive action on nuclear disarmament by the Western world. It is about leadership. You have got to lead by example. On that note, the charges of hypocrisy aimed at France, the United States and others is a very real charge. We have to face up to that in the debate about the bill before the House this evening.

Non-aligned nations have correctly been lobbying for the real elimination of nuclear weapons. The comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, in its preamble, makes repeated mention of the need for nuclear disarmament, but there is no commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons. That is a debate that must occur not just within Australia but also internationally. The Western nuclear powers have flatly rejected the position of the non-aligned nations who have consistently argued for a time-bound framework for nuclear disarmament.

I think that the West must take steps now which will lift the charge of hypocrisy and so bring India and Pakistan into the negotiations for the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. India, as we all know, has by far been the most important and vocal opponent of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. They, for example, back the claims of the non-aligned who argue that the treaty does not do enough to advance total nuclear disarmament and is thus merely a non-proliferation measure. They argue that the treaty, as it exists, allows the existing nuclear weapons states to maintain a discriminatory status quo. India's representative in the United Nations, Ambassador Prakash Shah, said:

Clearly the nuclear weapon states have no intention of giving up their dependence on nuclear weapons, nor do they have any intention of letting the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty become an impediment to their pursuit of the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons. In such circumstances it was not surprising that the negotiations were skewed and the text which emerged, far from being the intended historic step towards a nuclear free world, will only succeed in perpetuating a discriminatory status quo.

Since those statements were made, unfortunately, I consider that a right-wing Hindu-centric government has come to power in India which is prepared to use the rhetoric of the disarmers to cover its own aggressive drive to become part of the nuclear club, and we should not lose sight of that issue.

The people in charge of India are influenced by a narrow-minded ideology which is perceived as being hostile to both its own Muslim citizens as well as its Muslim neighbours. Pakistan correctly feels threatened and has retaliated, unfortunately, with its own nuclear tests. The clandestine nuclear program which Pakistan had been involved in, with the alleged secretive help of China, is now well and truly in the open. Pakistan's worry about India has always been related to its view that its huge neighbour would get some type of advantage in the nuclear race.

Now that Pakistan has so dramatically tested its nuclear capacity, it has unfortunately been lauded by some Islamic nations for being the first to hold the so-called Islamic nuclear bomb. Our worry as a nation, and of those who are concerned about the importance of the state of the international community, must now be how the third threshold nuclear state, namely, Israel, reacts to the headlines in the Islamic media which have rejoiced at Pakistan's new nuclear status. We should use whatever influence we have with Israel to ensure that they do not get involved in this escalating nuclear madness. It must come to a stop. India and Pakistan are to be condemned. Israel must show leadership and in doing so win brownie points by not responding and joining the move.

Across the political parties, Australia has played a laudable role in the Conference on Disarmament. Both the current Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer) and the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, the honourable member for Holt (Mr Gareth Evans), are to be congratulated on the manner in which they have set about contributing to this debate. I also have a view that Australia's delegation to the conference was among the most active and was noted for its ability to negotiate between all parties to progress the cause of nuclear disarmament. Australia will continue to play a key role, along with Russia and the USA, by providing the technical experts and the technologies to monitor the implementation of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

All of this, I consider, gives us a special status in the debate about further proliferation of nuclear arms. We should use this status as an honest broker; that is how we have long been regarded in the UN process—a nation that is properly regarded and respected as an honest broker. But with India and Pakistan we must use that capacity to stop any further destabilising escalation of this regional nuclear armaments race. For future generations, we must ensure that we stop this escalation spreading, especially into the tinder box of Middle East politics.

I urge all Australians, across the political spectrum, to act cooperatively to further the aims of full and final nuclear disarmament. The government of Australia, along with ordinary Australians of all political persuasions, should show its displeasure with India and Pakistan. We did not want the French to test their nuclear weapons in the South Pacific, in our backyard, which had the potential to have disastrous environmental impacts on our eastern seaboard. This evening we do not want the Indians and the Pakistanis to escalate their regional nuclear arms race which will have a potentially disastrous environmental impact on our western seaboard.

I am very pleased to be associated with the developments to date. In my own way I have sought to suggest this evening that we must not cease the progress that has been made and that we must not rest on our laurels. Hopefully, further progress can be made over time to achieve full and proper nuclear disarmament. But the first challenge this evening is to impress on the governments of India and Pakistan that enough is enough. More importantly, we should not just send a loud and clear message to India and Pakistan that enough is enough, but we should make it clear that we do not want it to go beyond India and Pakistan.