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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee: Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade: Foreign Affairs Portfolio (International security, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 4 Nov 2016

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Senator RHIANNON: I would now like to move on to the United Nations General Assembly resolution about nuclear disarmament negotiations. The question relates to resolution L.41, titled 'Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations', which I understand will be voted on between 26 October and 2 November. It currently has 39 sponsors but not Australia. How does Australia intend to vote on this draft resolution?

Ms Adamson: I will ask Mr Richard Sadleir to answer that question.

Mr Sadleir: We will not be voting for that resolution. Consistent with the position that we took in respect of the OEWG report, we will be voting no with respect to that resolution.

Senator RHIANNON: If it is no and it does not get support, does that mean that the UN General Assembly will then not proceed to convene four weeks of negotiations in New York in March, June and July next year that would be open to all states as well as international organisations and civil societies on—I am quoting from their document—'a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons leading towards their total elimination'? Is that what will not happen if Australia, along with other countries, does not give this resolution support?

Mr Sadleir: Yes. If the resolution is unsuccessful, that will not proceed. It might be helpful for me to outline Australia's position on the issue of a ban treaty. That position is consistent and clear. We do not support a ban treaty. A ban treaty that does not include the nuclear weapons states or states which possess nuclear weapons and are disconnected from the security environment would be counterproductive and would not lead to reductions in nuclear arsenals. Such a treaty would risk damaging the NPT, including by creating parallel obligations, ambiguity and confusion, and it would deepen divisions between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states. There would also be no effective verification measures to ensure compliance with such a treaty. Australia participated in the OEWG on nuclear disarmament in good faith and worked hard to negotiate a balanced and factual report that all members could support. At the final session of the OEWG in August, Australia spoke on behalf of 14 countries, explaining why we could not support a consensus report which recommended negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons next year. Australia initiated the vote on the final report which 22 countries, including Australia, voted against, and 13 countries abstained.

Senator RHIANNON: Thirty?

Mr Sadleir: Thirteen.

Senator RHIANNON: Does Australia's opposition have anything to do with its policy of extended nuclear deterrence?

Mr Sadleir: I have outlined a number of the issues that led us to oppose the ban treaty, but it is certainly true that one of our concerns relating to the ban treaty is that the geographical context is not right for such a treaty to progress at this time and—

Senator RHIANNON: Considering that I am running out of time, can I ask this: we have a policy of extended nuclear deterrence—is that correct?

Mr Sadleir: Yes, that is correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Is our opposition—there is obviously significant opposition at the United Nations and it could swing things in a totally different direction—linked to that policy? The conclusion would appear to be yes.

Mr Sadleir: Deterrence and arms control are complementary. Disarmament does not occur in a vacuum and any steps must take into account the broader security environment. Our defence white paper highlights the importance of our alliance with the United States and the critical role played by US strategic nuclear forces in maintaining peace and stability and deterring nuclear threats to Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: Going to the vote, you said that 22 countries voted against and 13 abstained. Did Australia discourage any countries from voting yes?

Mr Sadleir: Australia participated in the negotiations in good faith. We worked hard throughout to try and produce outcomes, bearing in mind that the working group was looking at a broad range of issues; so we participated in good faith. Our decision to call the vote was taken on the basis of national interest and, at the time, a number of other countries shared the concerns that I have expressed to you. Of course, as part of that process, we engaged in dialogue with like-minded countries.

Senator RHIANNON: The conclusion that could be drawn from your answer, although I acknowledge that you have not said it—I am not trying to verbal you; I am just trying to get an answer—is that Australia encouraged other countries not to support this resolution. Is that a fair conclusion?

Mr Sadleir: Yes, the conclusion could be drawn.

Senator RHIANNON: Have the US or any other nuclear armed states urged Australia to vote no?

Mr Sadleir: Australia has been lobbied by many states in terms of their positions in respect of the negotiations.

Senator RHIANNON: Which ones have lobbied?

Mr Sadleir: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Take that on notice; thank you. Do you expect the resolution to be defeated or adopted? What advice do you have at the moment?

Mr Sadleir: We will have to wait for the vote. I cannot speculate at this stage.

Senator RHIANNON: I imagine that people you work with ask your advice on that, so—

Senator Brandis: Senator Rhiannon—

CHAIR: That is an opinion, I think.

Senator Brandis: It is fair to ask the officer for his private opinion and he may have a private opinion; but, if he does, that can only be his private opinion.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. Assuming that it is adopted, will Australia participate in the negotiations next year on the prohibition treaty? What do we do afterwards, if it is adopted?

Mr Sadleir: No decision has been taken on that issue.

Senator RHIANNON: Wouldn't Australia want to have a seat at the table and try to help shape the treaty rather than stay outside?

Senator Brandis: Again, Senator Rhiannon, you are asking the officer to offer a private view, which he may or may not have, but, even if he did, it would only be his own private view.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. Apart from a treaty to prohibit and provide for the elimination of nuclear weapons, are there any measures to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons which the government realistically expects to be implemented within the next two years?

Mr Sadleir: The approach that the Australian government takes is that there are no quick fixes to securing a world free of nuclear weapons. Our focus has been on coming up with practical building blocks to try and carry forward the ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, and there are actually quite a number of activities going on which are designed to try and progress nuclear disarmament, bearing in mind that there has been measurable progress. For example, if you look at the way article 6 of the NPT has been progressed, nuclear weapons states have reduced their nuclear arsenals by 80 per cent since the height of the Cold War and from approximately 70,300 weapons in 1986 to an estimated 15,350 in early 2016; that is according to the Federation of American Scientists.

Senator RHIANNON: Because of the time, can I bring you back to the question: apart from this treaty, are there any other measures that will prohibit or eliminate nuclear weapons within the next two years? I understand that the answer is no, and that is what I want to clarify. We have something on the books or something on the table at the moment about to be voted on. Apart from that, is there anything else in terms of addressing nuclear weapons?

Mr Sadleir: We have the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament. It is the actual treaty which provides a regime for the elimination of nuclear weapons and it is already on the books.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, but to advance it, there is nothing else that will actually advance that process that is on the books or on the table at the moment.

Mr Sadleir: There is work being done on things like development of verification mechanisms and so forth, as outlined in our progressive approach, which was tabled in the open-ended working group. There is work going ahead in the IPNDV, for example—which is very good work—on trying to do the very difficult job of creating an environment where you can actually verify nuclear disarmament. That is an example of a positive exercise that is going on. Obviously, continuing work goes on in terms of CTBT entry into force and in terms of maintaining the moratoria on nuclear weapons testing and so forth. So there is a lot going on.

Senator RHIANNON: I might be able to squeeze in one more question; thank you for that. New Zealand has an active military alliance with the United States but does not claim protection from US nuclear weapons and the US has agreed to respect New Zealand's position. Wouldn't it be feasible for Australia to similarly negotiate military cooperation with the US which excludes nuclear weapons?

Senator Brandis: That is a policy question, Senator. That is not the view of the Australian government and it has not been the view of any Australian government on either side of politics for as long as the ANZUS treaty has been in operation.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Chair.

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