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Cluster Munitions

Scott Ludlam 12 May 2011

NOTICE OF MOTION General Business No. 246
12 May 2011

Senator LUDLAM:  This motion relates to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which Australia is proposing to sign. It is a good convention. It has been negotiated in international forums over many, many years, and Australia is about to make an extraordinary mistake in enacting the provisions of the convention in domestic law in ways we think were carelessly drafted and very badly thought through.

It has since been revealed, as I think many people who are close to this issue suspected, that the Australian government was in negotiations with the United States government, which is not a party to the treaty and which does still use these horrific weapons on modern battlefields. The United States was using Australia, effectively, to advance its negotiating position, and the form that the Australian government is proposing to bring this treaty into in Australian law is extremely flawed. It effectively allows Australia to support United States' operations, as we did during Operation Desert Storm in the invasion of Iraq, with the US military deploying cluster munitions in urban areas-and these horrific weapons are killing a long time after the war has concluded.My plea-and the reason for putting this motion today-to senators is: please think again. Talk to your shadow spokespeople in the area of foreign affairs and defence, if you are interested in disabilities, if you are interested in our defence procurement-talk to your ministers' offices and ask, 'What on earth are you doing?' Because my understanding, and we will see how this vote goes, is that there is bipartisan support among both of the old parties for the government to proceed as it is. This motion is a red flag. Please think again. You have got it wrong and there is still room to improve this before we bring this into domestic law and set a terrible international precedent. I commend this motion.

The PRESIDENT:  Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (11:59):

Australia has consistently been a leading supporter of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and was one of its first signatories in December 2008. In March the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee recommended that parliament pass the government's legislation to ban cluster munitions in Australia. The bill ensures that all conduct that is prohibited by the convention is the subject of a criminal offence under Australian law and introduces tough penalties against using, developing, producing, stockpiling or transferring a cluster munition, including a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for individuals or a $330,000 fine for body corporates. The bill will also allow Australia to continue to undertake military cooperation and operations consistent with the convention with allies and partners that have not signed the convention.

The Senate committee's report acknowledges that the ability to undertake such operations is essential to Australia's national security and international security, including participation in UN mandated missions. This is also the view of Australia's other allies, including the United Kingdom, Canada and France. Once all measures to give effect to the convention are in place, Australia will move as quickly as possible to ratify the convention.

Senator Ludlam

I move-That the Senate:
(a) notes that:

(i)  cluster munitions are one of the most inhumane forms of weapons from a humanitarian, medical and ethical perspective,
ii) as a 'legacy weapon' cluster munitions continue to kill and maim, affecting generations of people after conflict is over, meaning that survivors of war do not necessarily survive the peace,

(iii) during the Vietnam War, 280 million cluster bomblets were dropped on Laos, leaving at least 80 million unexploded cluster bombs in that country alone such that 37 years later, survivors are still being harmed and killed,

(iv) cluster bombs are still being used and produced internationally, with confirmed reports of their use against civilians in the Libyan conflict in April 2011,

(v)   Australia is one of 108 countries that has signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, and

(vi) by signing the convention, Australia undertook to never under any circumstances use cluster munitions, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions, or assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under this convention;

(b)   acknowledges the bravery of 19 year old cluster bomb survivor Mr Soraj Ghulam Habib from Afghanistan and the work he is doing as an international advocate for peace and universal disarmament of cluster bombs; and   

(c)   calls on the Attorney General to:

(i) urgently revise the bill to reflect the convention which states parties should never 'under any circumstances' engage in prohibited activities related to cluster munitions,

(ii) apply the convention's prohibitions on use in joint operations with non-states parties,

(iii) urgently revise the bill Criminal Code Amendment (Cluster Munitions Prohibition) Bill 2010 in relation to jurisdiction issues which explicitly allow foreign forces to use Australian territory to stockpile and transit cluster bombs,

(iv)   honour our obligations under the convention to ban all forms of both direct and indirect investment in cluster munitions and which echoes calls from the Australian financial industry and the Australian Council of Super Investors, and

(v)   honour our obligations under the convention to provide assistance to ensure adequate provision of care and rehabilitation for victims of cluster munitions, clearance of contaminated areas, education and destruction of stockpiles.

Motion negatived

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