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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 122

(Question No. 1368)

Senator Bourne asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 4 May 1994:

  (1) Is the Government aware of the invitation issued by the International Court of Justice to all members of the World Health Organisation, including Australia, for submissions to be made on the legality of nuclear weapons.

  (2) Will Australia be making a submission to the International Court of Justice on this matter, if so, (a) what is the nature of public consultation which the Government is undertaking as a prelude to making the submission; and (b) is it intended that the Government's submission be made a public document before being presented to the International Court of Justice.

Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) The Government is aware of the invitation issued by the International Court of Justice to member states of the World Health Organisation, including Australia, to make submissions on the question of the legality of the use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict. An order of the Court dated 13 September 1993 fixed a time-limit of 10 June 1994 for lodging written statements on the question.

  (2) After long and careful consideration, the Australian Government lodged a submission with the Court on 9 June 1994 arguing that the Court should exercise its discretion not to proceed with an opinion. I set out the reasoning behind the Government's position in my answer in the Senate to a question without notice by Senator Margetts on 2 June 1994, in which I incorporated the text of a letter on the subject to my parliamentary colleague Garrie Gibson.

  (a) The Government's decision was a finely balanced one taking into account very complex political, legal and strategic considerations. There has been considerable interest among community groups and from members of Parliament in this issue, and the Government has taken into account the wide range of arguments put to it by them. I personally and my Department have engaged in dialogue with individuals and representatives of interested organisations through formal consultative mechanisms, such as the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament, and through extensive correspondence, as well as on an informal basis with interested individuals. In the end, while understanding the motivations behind the WHO referral to the Court of the question of the legality of the use of nuclear weapons, the Government had strong doubts as to whether an advisory opinion of the Court would in fact assist the cause of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, or whether it would be more likely to complicate the important disarmament negotiations now taking place.

  (b) The Court treats the written statements submitted to it as confidential and will not release them to parties which have not made statements, at least until the Court has reached the oral hearing stage. The ICJ is not expected to reach the stage of oral hearings on the WHO referral before the second half of 1995. Accordingly, until that time,

the Government does not intend to release its submission as a public document. Nevertheless, the Government has made no secret of its thinking on this case and thus is prepared to provide interested individuals and community groups with further details of the approach in its submission to the Court.