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Thursday, 13 August 2015
Page: 8390

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:02): Just after 11 am on 9 August 1945, the United States detonated the second atomic bomb, on the city of Nagasaki. Estimates of the death toll ranged between 40,000 and 80,000. Consider for a moment the scale of this event. Imagine if, for example, the entire 44,000 people who live in Port Macquarie disappeared in one blinding flash; or, if you look at the higher estimates of the death toll at Nagasaki, imagine if the entire 80,000 people who live in Rockhampton ceased to exist in instant. This is the scale of destruction that stemmed from man's decision to use the atomic bomb.

We must not forget that most of the victims were noncombatants—workers, mothers, children. Military historians have examined at length the issue of whether the American decision to unleash the most devastating weapon in human history caused Emperor Hirohito to surrender on behalf of Japan on 15 August 1945. I will leave that to the historians, but, on the 70th anniversary of the bombing last Sunday, my mind moved quickly to the only person I have known who actually saw the detonation of the so-called 'fat bomb' after it was dropped from a B29 aircraft known to its crew as 'Bockscar'.

Just after the bomb detonated, Australian prisoners of war on the island of Omuta, about 80 kilometres away, noticed a discolouration on the horizon in the direction of Nagasaki. Decades later, one of those prisoners described the sight. He said:

It reminded me of those beautiful crimson skies of sunsets in Central Australia, but magnified about 10 times stronger, and it's vividly … it's never left me.

That POW was Tommy Uren, who later went on to serve in this parliament for more than three decades and was one of this nation's most energetic campaigners for nuclear disarmament. In interviews later in his life, Tom noted that in 1945 he was glad the bomb had been dropped because it meant that the war was about to end and he could go home after years of oppression, including the time that he spent on the infamous Burma railway. He also said that, later, the more he thought about witnessing the explosion the more he came to realise that nothing could justify the use of nuclear weapons. He later told a journalist: 'As I evolved and understood nuclear war, I found that it was a crime against humanity.' It says a lot about Tom Uren that, despite losing his youth to the war and undergoing unimaginable hardships at the hands of his Japanese captors, he was able to disconnect his own experience from the broader issue of nuclear weapons and their impact on humanity.

He came to understand that the world would be a better place without nuclear weapons and was happy to stand up and argue the point—anywhere, any time and at any cost. When he retired from parliament in 1990, Tom left us all in no doubt on what he saw as unfinished business. Tom said:

… for the rest of my life, I will commit myself to the people. I believe the issue of nuclear disarmament is the most important struggle for the human race.

Although Tom passed away on Australia Day this year, his comment is as important today as it was when it was made.

We all have a responsibility to our children and to the generations to come to promote a nuclear-free world. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, there are 15,000 such weapons in the world today, spread across nine nuclear-armed nations. Even if global politics is no longer an intractable battle of ideologies as it was during the Cold War, too many nations possess nuclear weapons. We must work together to disarm, so that, when nations have disputes, there is no chance that their arguments will get out of hand and lead to nuclear conflict. This requires common sense and good will. In the words of British songwriter and activist Billy Bragg, in his song The Warmest Room, the only way to disarm is to disarm.

In 1959, Tom gave one of his first speeches in parliament in which he expressed his dismay that when conservative politicians debated issues to do with nuclear weapons their comments were laced with paranoid Cold War rhetoric about the evil of Russia and China. Tom said of this:

We on this side of the House do not want a hate session with anybody.

…   …   …

We must do our utmost to stop nuclear tests. … Problems can no longer be solved by wars. We must solve them by peaceful negotiation.

Coming from him, that had incredible power.

During the recent ALP National Conference in Melbourne, I was proud to be asked to launch the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Tom Uren Memorial Fund. The fund supports ICAN's important work in Australia to raise public awareness about nuclear dangers and support for disarmament. I urge the community to get behind the fund for the good of humanity and to recognise the lifetime of peaceful activism of my dear friend the late Tom Uren. Nuclear weapons are part of the history of our world. At the moment, we are stuck with them. But, as Tom Uren always told me, it does not need to be that way.