Australians voted in what may be a defining election?

Posted November 30, 2007
Dr. Ron McCoy, Malaysia
Former IPPNW Co-President

A The eleven-year government of Australian Prime Minister John Howard has come to an end. Although Australia is a middle power on the fringes of Asia, the policies of the Howard government have had a considerable impact on Asian sensitivities and perceptions.

Asians particularly remember the 2004 threat to launch pre-emptive strikes against neighbouring countries if they harboured terrorist groups. Regional concerns also include Australia's growing military expenditure, and its commitment to military cooperation and interoperability with American military plans in the so-called "war on terror."

The Howard government was criticized for supporting the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. It has continued to provide military bases and facilities for training, intelligence, command, control and communications for the world's nuclear-armed superpower, which explicitly threatens pre-emptive nuclear attacks.

Australia would inevitably be implicated in any use of US nuclear weapons in East or West Asia, as such use is likely to involve the secretive base at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs, Australia. The Howard government's position on nuclear disarmament has unsurprisingly been ambivalent, reflecting its subordinate relationship with a United States, still intransigent on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Australia's high water mark on this came with the 1995 Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons of former premier Paul Keating. Howard's government inherited the Canberra Commission but failed to promote its report internationally.

At this year's recently concluded UN General Assembly First Committee meeting,
Australia supported incremental nuclear disarmament steps, the peaceful use of outer space, a nuclear test ban treaty, and nuclear weapons-free zones in the South Pacific and South-East Asia.

However, Australia did not support any resolution, calling for comprehensive disarmament through a Nuclear Weapons Convention. It abstained on a resolution, initiated by New Zealand and Sweden, to reduce the hair-trigger alert status of nuclear weapons to prevent the risk of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.

Australia also abstained on a resolution calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), renounce nuclear weapons and submit its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. An Australian Voters' Guide to International Policy concludes: "A thorough nuclear policy review should also consider … revisiting the nuclear weapons option … no government could leave such an eventuality entirely out of mind."

Australia has some of the largest deposits of uranium and is a major exporter of uranium ore, potentially a nuclear bomb fuel. Yet, the Howard government has been pushing for increased uranium mining in Australia and is willing to sell uranium to India, a nuclear armed country and a non-signatory to the NPT.

This breach of its obligations under the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty, mandating safeguards on transfers of nuclear material, will undermine the NPT, stimulate nuclear proliferation, boost India's nuclear weapons programme, destabilize Pakistan, and could spark a nuclear arms race in South Asia.

The ongoing crisis over Iran's civilian nuclear facilities underlines the proliferation dangers, directly linked to uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium.

Any increase in Australia's substantial export of uranium would inevitably increase proliferation and terrorist dangers, and encourage the resurgent nuclear industry in falsely promoting nuclear energy as an answer to climate change, when countries should be initiating long term plans to phase out expensive, dangerous and environmentally unsound nuclear energy to concentrate on sustainable, renewable sources of energy.

The Australian Labour Party's victory at the polls represents a generational change in Australian politics. Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd is expected to continue with many of his predecessor's policies, but will almost certainly ratify the Kyoto agreement on climate change, redefine Australia's military alliance with the United States, withdraw troops from Iraq, and seek to abolish nuclear weapons through a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

Dr. Ron McCoy is past president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a member of the 1996 Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This article was originally published in The Star on November 30th, 207

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