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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 857


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (18:07): I rise to add the comments of the Australian Greens to the debate on the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and to add my support to that of the coalition for this bill. This bill is Australia's instrument to ratify the 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. This is a threat that has been considered internationally for decades. Indeed, the fears of individuals or state networks illicitly acquiring nuclear materials and using them for deadly ends have been felt for as long as nuclear technology has existed. The very existence of nuclear materials invites these fears and makes them rational to have because this technology is truly terrifying in the scale of its consequences.

In 1979 the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was adopted in Vienna. This treaty aimed to avert the potential dangers posed by the unlawful taking and use of nuclear material and to protect nuclear material in use, storage and transfer. The events in New York on 11 September 2001, Bali in October 2002, Madrid in 2004 and London in July 2005 prompted that negotiation of the treaty we are discussing today. The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism is the 13th antiterrorism convention of the United Nations and the first international accord aimed at fighting against acts of nuclear terrorism. The document, for the first time, defines nuclear terrorist crimes. It fills the gaps in the existing antiterrorism treaty system, it helps improve the international legal framework on antiterrorism and it provides the legal guarantee to prevent and punish acts of nuclear terrorism.

The sentiments that led to the negotiations are summed up very well in a 2005 speech given by the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He said:

I firmly believe that our generation can build a world of ever-expanding development, security and human rights—a world "in larger freedom". But I am equally aware that such a world could be put irrevocably beyond our reach by a nuclear catastrophe in one of our great cities.

In the chaos and confusion of the immediate aftermath, there might be many questions. Was this an act of terrorism? Was it an act of aggression by a state? Was it an accident? These may not be equally probable, but all are possible. Imagine, just for a minute, what the consequences would be. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people would perish in an instant, and many more would die from exposure to radiation.

The global impact would also be grave. The attention of world leaders would be riveted on this existential threat. Carefully nurtured collective security mechanisms could be discredited. Hard-won freedoms and human rights could be compromised. The sharing of nuclear technology for peaceful uses could halt. Resources for development would likely dwindle. And world financial markets, trade and transportation could be hard hit, with major economic consequences. This could drive millions of people in poor countries into deeper deprivation and suffering. As shock gave way to anger and despair, the leaders of every nation represented here at this conference—as well as those who are not here—we would have to ask: How did it come to this? Is my conscience clear? Could I have done more to reduce the risk by strengthening the regime designed to do so?

The Greens support the intention of this legislation and treaty, but we remind the Senate this is really only a bandaid measure—it is a valuable one, but that is all it is when it comes to identifying the root cause of nuclear terrorism, which is of course the existence of nuclear materials, fissile materials and nuclear weapons.

As senators would know, the four forms of nuclear terrorism canvassed by this bill include theft or purchase by terrorists of a nuclear weapon from the arsenals of the states that possess nuclear weapons and those states include the United States, Russia, France, the UK, China, India, Israel, Pakistan and the DPRK. The second category is acquisition by terrorists of highly enriched uranium, HEU, or plutonium for use in an improvised nuclear device. The third category is terrorist attacks on or sabotage of vehicles transporting nuclear materials or weapons or on nuclear reactors themselves, which you often hear described as pre-deployed radiological weapons waiting to be detonated by an enemy. Around the world there are also numerous research reactors at universities which have virtually no security at all. Finally, the building and use of radiological dispersal devices, or 'dirty bombs'. This does not involve fissile material but simply dispersing material, whether it be from radioactive sources or material from uranium mines or indeed the dispersal of depleted uranium emissions.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission rightly called their report Weapons of terror because the weapons they had spent some years analysing were designed to terrify as well as destroy. The title was somewhat controversial at the time. They used this terminology because these weapons are in the stockpiles and hands of states. Critics of the treaty in the bill that we are discussing today have noted that it excludes activities of armed forces during an armed conflict and that it does not address the issue of the legality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by states. So, of course, what it effectively does is entrenches the legitimisation of nuclear weapons and fissile materials in the hands of a very small number of states while further criminalising—as is entirely appropriate—the possession or theft of these weapons or materials by nonstate actors or terrorist networks.

The WMD Commission dealt with the threat of nuclear terrorism in lengthy detail in their report but they were also unequivocal on a crucial point. The commission:

… rejects the suggestion that nuclear weapons in the hands of some pose no threat, while in the hands of others they place the world in mortal jeopardy. Governments possessing nuclear weapons can act responsibly or recklessly. Governments may also change over time. Twenty-seven—

or now 22—

thousand nuclear weapons are not an abstract theory. They exist in today's world.

Explanations by the nuclear haves that the weapons are indispensable to defend their sovereignty are not the best way to convince other sovereign states to renounce the option. This is a debate that is occurring in the Australian defence community at the moment with the reconsideration of the defence white paper. Where do US nuclear weapons fit within Australia's security doctrine? We exist, as we did right through the years of the Cold War until now, under what is called the United States nuclear weapons umbrella—that is, we are not pursuing actively the development of Australian nuclear weapons because we understand that the United States government would use them on our behalf if they had to. Let us think about that for a moment. That entirely legitimises the use of these weapons of genocide in the cause of the defence of Australia. That is completely unnecessary. We need to get out from under the US nuclear umbrella as a way of encouraging our nuclear ally to disarm. Although it is often forgotten and not much remarked upon these days, President Obama came to office with such an extraordinary promise in his speech in Prague shortly after his election about renunciation of these weapons—that is, not simply a non-proliferation agenda: a disarmament agenda. In this respect, the commission was echoing the Canberra commission final document, which says:

… immediate and determined efforts need to be made to rid the world of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to it. The destructiveness of nuclear weapons is immense. Any use would be catastrophic.

The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity—

lacks credibility. It continues:

The only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.

That was an extraordinarily valuable effort on behalf of the Australian government and, I think, quite a creative example of middle power diplomacy in order to get our allies to shift their thinking and to shift doctrine.

Nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors are themselves the root cause of the problem of nuclear terrorism that is being addressed by this bill and by this treaty that it enshrines. The fact today that the theft of fissile material somewhere can jeopardise security everywhere is not controversial, as Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the IAEA, explained when discussing the AQ Khan network, which illicitly sold weapons technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran. He said:

The relative ease with which a multinational illicit network could be set up and operated demonstrates the inadequacy of the present export control system. The fact that so many companies and individuals could be involved (more than two dozen, by last count)—and that, in most cases, this could occur apparently without the knowledge of their own governments—points to the shortcomings of national systems for oversight of sensitive equipment and technology. It also points to the limitations of existing international cooperation on export controls, which relies on informal arrangements, does not include many countries with growing industrial capacity, and does not include sufficient sharing of export information with the IAEA.

… In a modern society characterized by electronic information exchange, interlinked financial systems, and global trade, the control of access to nuclear weapons technology has grown increasingly difficult. The technical barriers to mastering the essential steps of uranium enrichment—and to designing weapons—have eroded over time. Much of the hardware in question is "dual use", and the sheer diversity of technology has made it much more difficult to control or even track procurement and sales.

This reflects some of the comments that I made subsequent to question time here in the Senate this afternoon in the instance of Iran. The technology that you use to enrich nuclear materials for fuel is the same plant, the same factory and the same technologists and engineers that you employ to enrich that same uranium all the way up to weapons grade.

Dr ElBaradei's words are those of a man who deeply believes in nuclear energy, unlike myself, and who headed up an agency with a mandate of promoting nuclear energy. Nonetheless, we are still making a long-term radioactive mess that will be dangerous and usable by terrorists—however you define that term; the international community has still not arrived at a mutually shared definition—for centuries. Solutions to the threat posed by nuclear terrorism obviously involve international cooperation such as the means advanced through the treaty that we ratify through this bill. Obviously eliminating nuclear materials would seriously impede terrorist networks' ability to acquire such materials. Immediately securing all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material is also obvious. Locking down and eliminating existing fissile material and nuclear weapons and facilities is really the only way to address the danger of nuclear terrorism.

Of course, terrorist networks are very unlikely to blow up a wind farm or make a dirty bomb from a solar panel, but these weapons will continue to exist as long as we give our collective consent to that existence. So, inasmuch as we support the aims of this bill and the work that has gone into it—the international collaboration and the international work that has gone into bringing this bill into this parliament and other parliaments and assemblies around the world—we know that it is only part of the question. This does not deal with the source of the materials. It does not deal with the source of the expertise or any of the rationales why various networks or other states around the world might seek to acquire these weapons. This debate must go further. We pass this bill today but we must proceed further to the debate about how to eliminate these weapons from the arsenals of all nations, including our ally the United States.