Speech to the 48th National Conference of the Australian Labor Party – Moving Support for the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty – Adelaide Convention Centre, SA – Tuesday, 18 December, 2018
I want to begin by thanking my two friends and shadow ministerial colleagues Penny Wong and Richard Marles for the constructive engagement, along with other caucus members, who participated to get an outcome, which really takes us forward today.
Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created.
Today we have an opportunity to take a step towards their elimination.
Ours is a great Party.
Our members have seen a lot of history over more than 120 years.
One of those was my mentor, a fellow called Tom Uren.
In 1945, having served his country and fought for his country, and been captured in Timor in 1941 – and had a tour of Asia – Changi Prison, Burma-Siam Railway, he ended up on an island close to Nagasaki.
He saw there the second atomic bomb with his own eyes.
He came back, having fought for Australia, a fighter for peace and disarmament.
And he described in his retirement speech: “The struggle for nuclear disarmament is the most important struggle for the human race.”
And delegates, there is a continuum.
Gareth Evans, one of Labor’s great Foreign Ministers, spoke just a couple of weeks ago at the Tom Uren Lecture that I host in my electorate.
He said that the difficulty of achieving disarmament was no excuse for inaction.
He said and I quote: “Nuclear disarmament is core business for any Labor government worth the name.”
And that is why I am pleased that this motion before us today says that Labor in government will sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
It also says these issues are complex – they’re not simple.
That we need to take into account and work through a range of complex issues on enforcement, on effectiveness and on verification.
But we must not be timid when it comes to verification.
Article Four of the Treaty outlines a process of verification.
Article Three sets out the safeguards which are as strong as those in the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons).
Some argue that signing the treaty will undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But that’s not the view of the experts.
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said recently: “It must be said that the ban is fully compatible with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I think there is complementarity.”
The third issue that we need to consider is universal support, and that’s very relevant.
That’s a practical issue of how we bring those states, which are nuclear states, forward, so that this isn’t just a gesture – and we want outcomes, that’s what we’re about as a political party.
But one way in which you secure universality of support, in terms of a step towards that, is by Australia playing a role. And Australia, of course, played no role at the UN processes where this treaty was finalised.
Others have raised concern that somehow this would interfere with our relations with the United States.
I am a very strong supporter of our friends and our alliance with the United States, it goes beyond a relation between individuals.
The fact is that we can disagree with our friends in the short term, while maintaining those relations.
When other treaties such as landmines first came up, the United States and many other countries that ended up supporting it today were hostile to the idea.
But the fact is that we have, on our side, the overwhelming support of the Australian people.
The fact is that around four in five of our Federal Labor Caucus have signed up to support this process, and that’s because it’s consistent with the Labor way.
It’s consistent with what we did on the Canberra Commission.
It’s consistent with what we did on the NPT.
It’s consistent with the role that we’ve played internationally.
It was of course a Labor Member, a Labor leader, Dr Evatt, who became the first President of the United Nations.
So we’re up to the task of advocacy, 122 countries have signed up and ratified already.
We need to be out there advocating advancement on these issues because progress always requires leadership. And there’s a lot of discussion about what leadership looks like.
Delegates, this is what leadership looks like.
This is a Nobel Peace Prize.
Awarded to an organisation made up of activists concerned about our place in the world, formed in Melbourne.
ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, just 10 years after they were formed.
That is something that we should be incredibly proud of and I’m pleased that the resolution today recognises that.
The fact is the people who change the world are those that are ambitious.
We just had a debate and changed the Labor Party policy with people campaigning for it, consistent with what’s happening internationally.
I don’t argue that this is easy.
I don’t argue that it’s simple.
But I do argue that it’s just. I do argue that it’s consistent with what the Labor Party is about.
I believe that unless we do move down towards the path of disarmament, then we know the concern that the global community, including us right here, felt when North Korea was so close to being in a position whereby someone erratic would have their finger on a button.
That’s why we need to be a part of the global community.
This resolution is Labor at our best.
It enables us to participate in the debate in a constructive way and move it forward.
I commend the resolution to the conference.