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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12665

Mr MURPHY (Reid) (16:22): Shortly the United Nations First Committee will consider a resolution calling on nations to take a precautionary approach to the use of depleted uranium weapons. The resolution calls for greater transparency in the use of depleted uranium weapons so that user nations reveal where they have been used so local communities are aware they may be affected. In line with representations made to me by my constituents, I urge the Minister for Foreign Affairs to support a yes vote on this resolution aimed at protecting civilians from long-term harm.

Depleted uranium, or DU, has been used in conventional weapons since 1991 because of its armour-piercing capabilities. It is radioactive, chemically toxic, carcinogenic and genotoxic. About 700 tonnes of DU has been dispersed in Iraq, affecting soldiers and civilians and contaminating land. There was a sharp increase in cancers and child deformities in Iraq after 1991 and after 2003. I have met Donna Mulhearn, an Australian campaigner who has witnessed firsthand the impact of DU on human health when living and working in Iraq. The greatest victims are women, children and the unborn, as well as entire communities struggling to use land for agriculture in a toxic ecosystem.

I note that the Australian Defence Force does not use depleted uranium and holds no stocks of depleted uranium provisions, nor does the government allow other states to use depleted uranium on Australian territory. The Australian Defence Force and the government are wise to take such a precautionary approach considering the well-documented hazards of DU weapons. It would therefore be consistent to extend this precaution to assist civilian communities caught up in conflicts where DU weapons are used.

This concept of simply requiring greater transparency regarding the location of DU weapons is at the heart of the upcoming UN First Committee resolution; therefore, supporting it would be consistent with the cautious approach already taken by the Australian Defence Force and the Australian government. Further, I note that the December 2010 agreement between the government of Australia and the government of the United States of America concerning peaceful uses of nuclear energy specifies that Australian uranium not be used for DU munitions. This is a significant and intentional inclusion and again reflects the precautionary approach taken by the Australian government in relation to depleted uranium weapons. This agreement was signed after the previous First Committee vote two years ago, at which Australia abstained. To be consistent with this precautionary approach, it is logical that Australia would change its vote from abstaining to voting yes.