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Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Page: 4258

Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (2:08 PM) —On behalf of the coalition, I join with the Prime Minister in condemning the extremely provocative decision of North Korea to detonate another nuclear device. This blatant act of defiance amounts to a direct repudiation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1718. In effect, the North Korean regime has returned to its default setting of brinkmanship and confrontation. Its delinquent behaviour not only challenges the authority of the United Nations Security Council but also represents a profound threat to peace and stability in our region. North Korea cannot feed its starving population and yet, ignoring the basic needs of its own people, it has diverted significant resources to develop and detonate a nuclear device which, according to some estimates, had the same explosive power as the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945.

Today is not the time or place to engage in theorising about what drives this belligerent, destabilising and frankly bewildering behaviour. The fact is that North Korea is dangerously unpredictable, the one relic of the Cold War era that has not come in from the cold. What does seem to be clear is that yesterday’s test was significantly more powerful than North Korea’s 2006 nuclear weapons test. That attempt, by almost all estimates, failed. But the sad truth in this most dreadful of sciences is that weapons engineers can sometimes learn more from failure than from success. On this occasion the magnitude of the explosion has been estimated to be as high as 5.3 on the richter scale. Russia and South Korea have released estimates suggesting a 10- to 20-kiloton yield from the underground explosion. By contrast, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation has released estimates in the low, single-digit kiloton range.

As the Minister for Foreign Affairs told the House yesterday, definitive assessments must await the testing of atmospheric samples which will take some time to emerge. But what is not in doubt is the message of provocation North Korea intended to send and the apprehension and anxiety it has deliberately sought to generate, coming only weeks after its firing of a long-range missile towards the Sea of Japan. We note the solemn reactions around our region. We note that South Korea has been forced to place its military on heightened alert. We were honoured to meet in Sydney recently the new President of the Republic of Korea, Lee Myung-Bak. As he is the leader of a key democratic partner of Australia in this region, I was glad to hear of his resolute and principled approach to dealings between Seoul and Pyongyang. We note also, and support wholeheartedly, Japan’s demand for strong and effective international action and we welcome the signals from the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York overnight which would suggest a more robust, binding resolution may be negotiated by as early as tonight.

We in the opposition believe that all possible pressure must be brought to bear upon the North Korean military regime to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Under the Howard government, Australia took part in the Five Plus Five talks, an attempt by the broader region to persuade North Korea to abandon its illicit weapons program. Likewise, we strongly supported the six-party talks—involving the US, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas—as the best mechanism involving the major powers of East Asia to convince North Korea to become a constructive member of the international community. We have joined in proactive efforts regionally and internationally to stop the illicit trade in nuclear weapons technology, through our contributions to the proliferation security initiative.

The need for a resolute international response to North Korea’s delinquency relates not just to peace and stability in our own region but to the wider imperatives of global security, for the fear and concern of everyone who aspires to peace must be that where North Korea goes others soon will follow. I note that the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is refusing to hold talks over his country’s nuclear programs with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. It raises this question: has the world’s failure to respond appropriately to North Korea’s flagrant defiance of international protocols had the effect of emboldening others to do the same? It represents a stark reminder, if one is needed, that the world cannot afford to stand back and allow the UN Security Council to be defied. We welcome the efforts of our acting ambassador at the United Nations to press for a robust international response and we trust that the United Nations can and will agree to deliver new and additional measures that will persuade and impress upon North Korea that its policy of blackmail and brinkmanship will not be rewarded.