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Speech: Nuclear Disarmament

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 14 Jul 2014

In the 1980s the call for nuclear disarmament resonated around the planet. In Australia Palm Sunday rallies attracted hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people and prominent people added their voice to the public discourse that recognised that ridding the world of nuclear weapons was a key priority. Three decades on, the issue of nuclear disarmament is not the priority it was, but the threat remains just as real.

The good news is that this campaign is gaining renewed energy, and in my state of New South Wales a number of Sydney peace groups regularly raise their concerns with me. This discourse has added vigour and analysis. Since the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Abe, a number of people have expressed to me their disquiet about some of the comments that Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Tony Abbott made about military cooperation and they have also raised their continuing concern about the Australian-US military alliance.

One colleague reminded me of a statement issued last year by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It is very relevant to be reminded of his words. I want to share some of them with the Senate, because, considering the comments that were made last week in our joint sitting, I think we should reflect on them. These comments were made in May last year. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser stated:

Australians should be profoundly concerned that our government is today doing more to increase the dangers of nuclear weapons being used than it is helping to ban them. Its professed support for nuclear disarmament is contradicted by its actions. We claim the protection of US nuclear weapons, despite there being no agreement or treaty giving the concept of 'extended nuclear deterrence' any credibility. We support continued investments in US nuclear weapons and willingness to use them, despite this making us a nuclear target.

Mr Fraser went on:

We are dramatically ramping up Australia as a subservient US military base, with growing spy, surveillance and communications facilities; increasing military exercising; US troops on permanent rotation; plans for drones based on the Cocos Islands; and possibly a US aircraft carrier taskforce in Fremantle. We are accomplices to a hazardous and provocative US policy of containment of China, which risks a new cold war. We, our children and the world deserve better.

Australia should, as New Zealand has done, ensure that nuclear weapons have no place in our military alliances, and that no facilities on our soil and no Australians ever take part in their use. We should use our position on the UN Security Council to help lead the push for negotiations on a treaty to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Mr Fraser's words are giving leadership and inspiration to many who realise that there is still a lot to be done in the ongoing campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

However, in international forums, Australian government representatives have resisted calls by civil society to join the vast majority of nations in supporting negotiations on a treaty to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons. Australian governments have generally been strong proponents of what is often called 'horizontal nuclear proliferation'—that is, stopping nuclear weapons from spreading to other countries—and is obviously something we should support. However, Australia does avoid the issue of nuclear disarmament—that is, getting rid of existing weapons. Rhetoric has centred on what other nations must do or not do and has ignored the enormous responsibility Australia has by virtue of its ties with nuclear armed states.

The 2009 Defence white paper issued by the former Labor government stated:

Stable nuclear deterrence will continue to be a feature of the international system for the foreseeable future.

While more than 140 nations support the goal of a treaty banning nuclear weapons, Australia, to our shame, is not among them. This is despite public campaigning and high-level advocacy from many Australians. Nearly 800 recipients of the Order of Australia including former Prime Ministers, Governor-Generals, foreign affairs and defence ministers, premiers, governors, High Court justices and chiefs of the armed forces have called on the government to adopt a nuclear-weapon-free defence posture and work for a nuclear weapons convention. This clearly should be listened to.

Australia's reluctance, however, to support a global ban on nuclear weapons can be directly linked to this nation's continued reliance on and support for the US policy of extended nuclear deterrence. Australia's support for the US nuclear posture as providing both stable deterrence globally and extended deterrence protection regionally plays out with Australia hosting US intelligence and military facilities vital to US nuclear war operations.

The joint defence facility, Pine Gap, in Central Australia is a key part of US systems of missile early warning, missile defence and nuclear targeting. I pay tribute to the many organisations that have organised protests at Pine Gap, one of the most difficult areas to be able to mobilise people to—and I had the opportunity to participate in a women's-only camp at Pine Gap in 1983 where we took up these very issues.

The Australian government has acknowledged that Pine Gap would be a high-priority target for the reasons that I set out that: missile early warning, missile defence and the nuclear target. Pine Gap would be a high priority target in a major war between the US and China. Interestingly, this has been reinforced by Dennis Richardson, the Australian ambassador to the US, in a closed congressional session in 2009 where he stated:

Australia's most enduring contribution to the US nuclear force posture has been through our partnerships in the joint defence facility Nurrunga r and the joint defence facility Pine Gap.

So clearly these facilities make Australia a nuclear target.

We are caught up in this sorry saga because Australia exports uranium to, among other countries, all of the nuclear weapons states that are party to the nuclear proliferation treaty—Russia, the US, France, Britain and China—while repeating the decades-old myth that safeguards keep our uranium out of weapons.

The movement for nuclear disarmament is also gaining momentum within the tertiary sector. The international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons has contacted all public universities in Australia in an effort to find out whether they invest any of their funds in companies that produce nuclear weapons. ICAN has confirmed that four universities do invest in nuclear weapons producers and 12 do not. For the remaining 17 universities insufficient information was available. Interestingly, they found that most universities do not have ethical investment policies for externally managed funds.

Australian public universities, some of which have endowments exceeding $1 billion, routinely invest in international markets. These investments are significant because they undermine the work for a nuclear-weapon-free world and it devalues any commitment by the Australian government to achieve nuclear disarmament. The international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons commenced a global divestment campaign to build pressure on nuclear weapons producers to end their involvement in nuclear weapons work. This is where we can have a role in Australia, and I congratulate the students who are now lobbying the universities in this country to ensure that they are not paying any part of this trade.

There is a very useful report put out by ICAN entitled Don't Bank on the Bomb—A Global Report on the Financing of Nuclear Weapons Producers. Australian public universities receive their funding from various sources including from students, from federal and state governments and from private donors so this issue is very relevant to public consideration. ICAN's investigation has found out that: the Australian National University has invested about $840,000 in nuclear weapons companies; the University of Sydney, over $2 million; University of Wollongong, just over $130,000; Swinburne University of Technology is also involved but the amount is unknown; and then there are all the other universities that they have not been able to get figures on.

I have been following this closely. Those figures are from a couple of years ago. I know the groups I work with are trying to ascertain if there have been changes in that area; hopefully, there has and that can be reported to the Senate. This is an issue of vital importance for the very security of our society, for the health of our communities and for the world's environment.

But we need to ensure that nuclear weapons are no longer produced, no longer deployed and that those currently in production are disbanded.

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