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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4467


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (18:12): Firstly, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for introducing this very serious and important motion. I strongly support the motion that this House affirms its support for the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, and its support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. I also take this opportunity to make a few remarks about Australia's relationship with nonproliferation efforts and, in the context of this motion, to discuss the important work that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been doing.

Australia has long been a very tireless worker on the issue of nonproliferation. The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, developed the nonproliferation treaty as the world recognised that, following what had occurred in World War II and with the increasingly tense situation developing between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a strong collaborative effort was required to protect the future of our world. As the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the NPT, came into force in 1970, Australia set about ratifying the treaty, and we did so in 1973. I note the very significant work that the IAEA does in the areas of not only nonproliferation but also disarmament in general and the manageable use of nuclear research for peaceful purposes.

While Australia certainly could not be considered to be a nuclear power we do utilise nuclear technology for research purposes—for example, at the Lucas Heights research reactor in New South Wales. Domestically, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office enforces our standards and facilitates IAEA activities in this country. I commend that office for carrying out the more practical concerns of today's motion. In our own country the safe utilisation of this technology is, of course, a serious issue that we must always consider for the future safety of all Australians.

The sentiment among the vast majority of nations is against the threat or use of nuclear weaponry. This has been increasing for some time. The International Court of Justice handed down the decision in 1994:

There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

Furthermore, in 2007 the Five-Point Plan on Nuclear Disarmament was submitted to the United Nations General Assembly, which recognises the abhorrence of nuclear war. This global interest in nuclear disarmament continues to grow, with the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom reaffirming their responsibility to take concrete and credible steps towards irreversible disarmament at a United Nations conference on nuclear weapons in May 2010. More recently, as this motion notes, the United States and Russia ratified the measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, New START, in February 2011. We have also seen further important treaties and bilateral cooperation between Australia and Japan on this issue. Again, as this motion states, I strongly support the consensus views expressed by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in Report 106: Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Unfortunately, in 2012, there are ongoing significant political and military issues occurring from South America to South-East Asia. There is also significant political unrest in the Middle East, with some countries there having obtained or seeking to obtain a nuclear arsenal. Whilst Australia has maintained on an international diplomatic level our commitment to a nuclear-free Iran, the IAEA is in fact unable to verify whether their nuclear arrangements are indeed peaceful. In many ways, the uncertainty creates more alarm in the region and around the world. I strongly support the call in this motion for continuing efforts to establish a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

Significantly, in our area there are still ongoing attempts at nuclear testing in North Korea. As recently as late April there were more reports of North Korea's plan to conduct a nuclear bomb test. Our world does not want to contemplate nuclear war but, with the problems in Iran, North Korea and other parts of the world, we must have faith that diplomacy can overcome a nuclear threat, as it did during the Cuban missile crisis and as it has attempted to do in North Korea. That is why it must be the resolve of all countries that this issue does not go away, so it is up to world leaders such as Australia to put significant resources into encouraging other countries to join the cause. That is why I support the call for states outside the NPT to join the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states.

I would like to take the opportunity in this chamber to record the very significant contribution from the International Committee of the Red Cross in the area of nonproliferation and to acknowledge their continuing work. On Monday, 7 May, I was fortunate to gather with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to celebrate the launch of the Parliamentary Friends of the Red Cross. As a co-convenor of this group, along with my colleagues Mr Bruce Scott, Mr Graham Perrett and Senator Christine Milne, I look forward to working with the Red Cross to see how best this parliament can assist them in the very important work they do. On that day, we principally shared our appreciation for their assistance during the Queensland floods and other work they do around Australia.

The Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement have been at the heart of the issue of nuclear weapons and nonproliferation from the outset of this debate. By continuing to raise their grave concerns and through their role in developing international humanitarian law, the movement contributed to the creation of additional protocols to the Geneva conventions in 1977. These protocols strengthened the distinction between civilians and combatants and reaffirmed the commitment to no unnecessary harm being caused to civilians during times of war. Of course, the destruction caused by nuclear weapons would fail to meet the no unnecessary harm principle. In 2011, the Australian Red Cross launched its official campaign to raise awareness of the horrific humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. It is a campaign of great consequence, and we all know the absolute destruction these weapons can cause. This is positive progress and the International Committee of the Red Cross and other bodies associated with disarmament should be commended for their work in both helping to ensure increasing interest and capitalising on commitments from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Our leaders must focus on the devastating humanitarian cost, as the Red Cross does. Remember that a nuclear weapon does not discriminate. Its path of destruction includes civilians, hospitals, doctors, land for farming, food and water. A nuclear bomb not only wipes out a city; it also wipes out so much more. As the vice-president of the ICRC, Christine Beerli, noted:

… the debate about nuclear weapons must be conducted not only on the basis of military doctrines and power politics but also on the basis of public health and human security.

And further:

Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time … and indeed to the survival of humanity.

Those are compelling words. We cannot have this debate without considering the humanitarian cost, but neither can we ignore the world in which we live—the instability, the uncertainty and the threats which lie within our anarchistic international system.

Should a nuclear weapon fall into the hands of a terrorist organisation willing to use it, the consequences would be devastating. This is why I support the Prime Minister's motion and why I commend the International Committee of the Red Cross for its strong contribution to this issue.

In conclusion, one of the most iconic images throughout history is, undoubtedly, the ruined Hiroshima peace stone, standing alone amid the destruction of the city. I hope to see nuclear weapons become a part of our past, not our future and, for that reason, I strongly support this motion.