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Janet on nuclear weapons, ICAN and meeting a Nagasaki bombing survivor

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 6 Feb 2018

I had a rare privilege last week. I met someone who survived the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a hibakusha, Mr Terumi Tanaka. Mr Tanaka was 13 and living in Nagasaki at the time the US dropped their devastating bombs. Since then, he has devoted his life to campaigning against nuclear weapons. He's the co-chair of Nihon Hidankyo, the Japanese confederation of atomic bomb survivors. There are around 400,000 people that were killed by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, and approximately 400,000 survivors. The average age of the survivors who are still with us is over 82. Mr Tanaka, whom I met, is 85. These survivors aren't going to be around for much longer. As I said, I felt very privileged to meet him.

When we spoke he told me of the stigma he has lived with now for over 60 years, being a hibakusha—a survivor of the bombs. He spoke of hibakusha not wanting to marry and have children because of the risk of deformities and illness due to radiation poisoning, and others who would have dearly loved to have married but were shunned and couldn't find anyone that would accept them. Ten years ago, he spoke at the UN of his experience. He said then:

I am a survivor of the Nagasaki A-bombing of August 9, 1945. I was 13 years old and was inside my house located at 3.2 kilometres from the blast center. Suddenly I felt a brilliant flash. While feeling that flash changing colours from white to blue, orange and red, I lost consciousness. After a while, I found myself under several panes of glass blown by the blast. Miraculously, I did not suffer heavy injuries. Though I had to go through hardships as the Hibakusha (A-bomb survivor), anyhow I could survive and today speak before you as a living witness of the incident.

However, I lost five of my family members all at once—my grandfather, uncle, two aunts and a cousin, university student who had been back from his school in Tokyo. Hit by intense heat rays, they were burned directly or trapped under the clashed house and burned to death. My uncle, who escaped instant death without any apparent injuries eventually died with high fever, and destruction of his body cells by radiation. With my own hands, I cremated the body of my aunt in the field, who survived only a few days after the bombing with heavy burns. This sad experience at the age of 13 and the scenes of A-bomb hell on the ground keep coming back to me vividly even after about 63 years.

But, when we met, Mr Tanaka spoke overwhelmingly of hope for the future, hope that the world was finally coming to its senses, hope for a world without nuclear weapons and with no more hibakusha.

There was something else that was inspirational about our meeting, and that was that I met him on the Peace Boat, which has been touring Australia for the last fortnight. The Peace Boat is a cruise ship with a difference. It's Japanese based, and a typical voyage has 1,000 passengers. Its mission is building a culture of peace around the world. The Peace Boat's first voyage was organised in 1983 by a group of Japanese university students, as a response to government censorship regarding Japan's past military aggression in the Asia-Pacific. They chartered a ship to visit neighbouring countries, with the aim of learning firsthand about the war from those who experienced it and initiating people-to-people exchange. It has now grown into an ongoing and powerful part of the international peace movement, with its core focus being the campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons once and for all.

ICAN, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, were proud hosts of the Peace Boat in Australia. My former colleague Scott Ludlam has joined the boat on its voyage back to Australia, as an ICAN ambassador. Other special guests on board include Karina Lester, a Yankunytjatjara-Anangu second-generation survivor of the devastating Maralinga nuclear tests. The mood on board the boat was one of optimism. Despite Trump's war of words with the North Koreans, despite no end to the hostilities in the Middle East, the peace movement is on the up. The magnificent work of ICAN is a big part of this. The ambitious determination of a small group of people from Melbourne to work for a treaty to rid the world of nuclear weapons has grown in the last decade to be a massive international movement that has succeeded in having such a treaty adopted. It has been a huge achievement, which of course was so appropriately recognised last year with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. As former Senator Ludlam said in his address to the UN in Geneva last July when the treaty was formally adopted:

This treaty will change the way these weapons are spoken of all over the world, including in the states not represented here today. It helps us, as Parliamentarians and civil society representatives, to build the case for abolition.

As your work in here is now so close to its conclusion, for those of us returning to nuclear weapons states and their allies, our work is really only just beginning.

We commit to all of you … to make our way home and campaign for our governments to recognise that this treaty is the best chance we have to build a truly secure world free of nuclear weapons. One by one, we will bring them into the room.

In the vote on the treaty text at the UN, 122 countries voted in favour, and only one voted against. Sixty-nine nations didn't vote, including all of the nuclear weapon states and, sadly, Australia. Since then 56 countries have ratified the treaty, and five countries have been global leaders and have signed the treaty, which brings me to the nub of what I want to say tonight.

Despite the clarity of the disaster that any use of nuclear weapons would cause, despite the potential of global nuclear holocaust, despite the stories told over and over again by people like the brave and honourable survivor Mr Terumi Tanaka, Australia is woefully resistant to this treaty. We have much work to do to bring Australia into the room. New Zealand is in, Ireland is in, Austria is in, but not Australia. Why not? Because we are joined at the hip to the US. We can't seem to think for ourselves, or we won't think for ourselves, because this might upset the US. We are deeply engaged with US military bases on our soil. We are apologists for US nuclear posturing. We are complicit in the increasing threat of nuclear disaster. We host 1,250 US Marines and a dozen combat aircraft in Darwin in the Northern Territory. We have joint intelligence facilities in Western Australia and Pine Gap near Alice Springs. We conduct regular joint training exercises.

And where are the Labor Party on US nuclear war capacity, on our complicity, on our resistance to a treaty? Despite some brave souls in the Labor Party speaking out—and I commend them for that—overall, Labor are cheek-by-jowl with the government. Support for US bases on our soil is absolutely bipartisan, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. As far as I know, Bill Shorten hasn't congratulated ICAN on their Nobel Peace Prize, just like Malcolm Turnbull hasn't.

Mr Shorten and Prime Minister Turnbull.

Yes, Mr Shorten—and just like Prime Minister Turnbull has not. Labor's Defence spokesperson, Mr Richard Marles, late last year was quoted as saying:

I'm absolutely up for a discussion on growing the US relationship in terms of however, whatever, it wants to involve itself with here.

The Marines rotation in Darwin has been a huge success and there has been an ongoing discussion to look at ways that can be developed, evolved and enhanced.

We can head in a different direction and the Greens are leading the push to do so. We could have a government working for peace and working globally for a ban on nuclear weapons, joining the growing number of countries across the world that are doing so. But to do that we need to have people in our parliaments who will vote for change. There is no point having members of parliament, whether it is Labor or Liberal, holding personal views and then voting in the parliament against world peace—who are apologists for the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. I urge our government and the Labor Party to listen and to learn so that together we can realise the potential and the optimism of this resurgent global movement for peace.

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