MOTION: Nuclear Weapons

Today Mark spoke in support of this motion to acknowledge the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and note that nuclear weapons present an unacceptable risk to humanity. 


That this council—

1. Acknowledges the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which occurred on 6 and 9 August 2020, respectively;

2. Notes that the coronavirus pandemic starkly demonstrates the urgent need for greater international cooperation to address all major threats to the health and welfare of humankind, including the threat of the use of nuclear weapons;

3. Notes that close to 14,000 nuclear weapons are held between nine nations, presenting an unacceptable risk to humanity;

4. Notes the concerning trend in weakening or undermining arms control agreements by nuclear-armed states, including the Iran deal, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty;

5. Notes the substantial progress of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which comprehensively outlaws nuclear weapons and provides a pathway to elimination, towards entry-into-force; and

6. Urges the Australian government to work towards signing and ratifying the TPNW, in line with our international obligations to pursue the elimination of these weapons of mass destruction.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Seventy-five years on from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world is awash with nuclear weapons. The danger of nuclear war is growing. The more we learn about the catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, the worse it looks.

As the motion points out, nine nations possess some 14,000 nuclear weapons and 1,800 of them stand poised and ready to be launched within minutes. As long as they exist, nuclear weapons pose the most acute existential threat that human beings have created for ourselves and for all species with whom we share planet Earth.

Whilst these weapons have thankfully not been used in the last 75 years, they have not gone away—far from it. Thankfully, there are a number of groups in civil society that are refusing to accept that this situation is normal or acceptable. I will pick out just two: the Medical Association for the Prevention of War and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in bringing together the international community to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Unsurprisingly, there is a considerable overlap and cooperation between these groups.

The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the first global treaty to ban nuclear weapons and all activities related to them. It makes nuclear weapons illegal alongside land mines, cluster munitions, chemical and biological weapons. ICAN urges all nations to sign and ratify this groundbreaking agreement, which will enter into force after the 50th ratification. This UN treaty now has 84 signatories and 47 ratifying state parties, so we are just three nations short of the number of nations needed to bring the treaty into operation.

There is one glaring and embarrassing omission in the list of nations and that is Australia. Australia has no nuclear weapons but our foreign policy is so weak and our reluctance to offend the US, which together with Russia has 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons, means that Australia is yet to sign. That has to change and that is why ICAN launched a parliamentary pledge a few years ago. The pledge reads:

We, the undersigned parliamentarians, warmly welcome the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 7 July 2017 as a significant step towards the realization of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

We share the deep concern expressed in the preamble about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons and we recognize the consequent need to eliminate these inhumane and abhorrent weapons.

As parliamentarians, we pledge to work for the signature and ratification of this landmark treaty by our respective countries, as we consider the abolition of nuclear weapons to be a global public good of the highest order and an essential step to promote the security and well-being of all peoples.

So far, 13 South Australian Members of Parliament have signed this pledge. I want to put their names on the record, in alphabetical order—no priority here. I will read the names as they are listed on the charter rather than give the members' electorates, which we normally do, but this is how it is reported so I think I can do that.

From the House of Assembly: Frances Bedford MP, Blair Boyer MP, Geoff Brock MP, Susan Close MP, Nat Cook MP, Katrine Hildyard MP and Joe Szakacs MP. From the Legislative Council, again in alphabetical order: Tammy Franks MLC, Ian Hunter MLC, Tung Ngo MLC, Frank Pangallo MLC, Mark Parnell MLC and Irene Pnevmatikos MLC. I expect that many more members would like to sign that pledge. My guess is that they may not have seen the invitation, so I make no criticism of them. But it is not too late to sign; you can do it online.

The Hon. C. Bonaros: I'll sign.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: We have one taker immediately, Mr President, from the crossbench. It takes no effort; you can do it online. It sends a strong message to our constituents and our governments that, even at the state level, we want our voices to be heard on this important issue. Members can also download the report 'Choosing Humanity: Why Australia must join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons'.

The motion also refers to the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. I have never been to either of those cities but my mother has. My mother, Judith Leng, was seven years old when she accompanied her father and mother to Japan after World War II in 1947. My grandfather, the late Bill Leng, was a distinguished public servant who rose to become deputy secretary in the Department of Defence until he retired in 1970.

At the end of the Second World War, he served as finance adviser to the Australian commander-in-chief of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (the so-called BCOF) in Japan between 1947 and 1949. He was made an honorary brigadier. He was encouraged to take to Japan his young family, and according to my now elderly aunt the family would often make excursions from their military base to Hiroshima, where my seven-year-old mother and her sisters happily played amongst the ruins. My mother subsequently died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 22, leaving behind my distraught father and my two-year-old self. That was nearly 60 years ago. I do not remember my mother; I only have photographs.

Is there a connection between my mother's death, as a young woman of 22, and the atomic bombs? Of course, we cannot know for sure in any individual case, but there is certainly epidemiological evidence of a possible connection between non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and exposure to ionising radiation. The evidence comes from studies conducted at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, studies of nuclear workers at other sites who have been exposed to ionising radiation, and there is also evidence from persons exposed to the atomic bomb showing an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

My point in telling this story is that the impact of nuclear weapons goes much wider than even the immediate death and devastation. The ripples from these appalling weapons reach out into all nations and all parts of society, and they last for generations. The most effective way to ensure that nuclear weapons will never ever be used again is to ban them from the face of the earth. That requires international cooperation, and Australia must play its part. I fully support this motion, and I congratulate the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos on putting it on our agenda.