Speech to the Tom Uren Memorial Foundation for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – Sydney
Australia must play its part in abolishing nuclear weapons
In 1961 John F Kennedy told the United Nations:
Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.
It is incredible to think that almost six decades on, this threat still exists.
We must continue to dedicate ourselves to eliminating this threat.
Every nation has a responsibility to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Australia is no exception.
That is why the work of ICAN in Australia and around the world, in helping to progress the disarmament agenda, is so important.
I come to this debate with the benefit of the testimony of a man who saw the horror of nuclear weapons first hand.
Tom Uren was imprisoned in a POW camp on the island of Omuta on 9 August 1945.
Just after 11am, the US detonated an atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki about 80km away.
Estimates of the death toll ranged between 40,000 and 80,000.
That’s men, women and children. Nuclear weapons don’t discriminate.
Tom witnessed the explosion.
He later 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.
As you know, in October last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution to convene a UN conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.
One hundred and twenty-three nations voted in favour of this resolution.
What is disappointing and unacceptable is that that Australia was not one of the countries that voted in favour of this resolution.
ICAN is right to herald this resolution as a potential breakthrough, after decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.
Thanks to leaders like Tom Uren, Bruce Childs and Robert Tickner, the Labor Party has a proud tradition of advocacy for disarmament.
People like Melissa Parke and many others have tried to build on that legacy and maintain that struggle.
The Labor Party’s platform affirms our belief, committing our party to work toward the end of nuclear weapons and supporting the negotiation of a global treaty banning such weapons.
It says Labor will encourage the pursuit of further substantial reductions of nuclear arsenals and promote the development of processes to bring all nuclear armed states into the disarmament process.
As a non-nuclear armed nation and a good international citizen, Australian can make a significant contribution to promoting disarmament, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles and the responsible use of nuclear technology.
Indeed, our nation has a proud history of activism on the international stage, including in efforts to ban chemical and biological weapons and land mines.
We have now reached a time where an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations are ready to outlaw nuclear weapons, just as the world outlawed chemical and biological weapons and land mines.
There is no reason why we should not be providing leadership in the effort to ban nuclear weapons.
Australia must play our part.
Malcolm Turnbull should commit to attending the 2017 negotiating conference.
If Australia fails to participate, this will tarnish our international reputation as a disarmament supporter and, in doing so, fail to act to promote safety in our world.
So tonight, let us all recommit ourselves to supporting the work of ICAN and to seizing the present opportunity to make real progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons.