On June 9, PM Kevin Rudd announced that Australia would be forming an international commission to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.
In a well-staged piece of political theatre, Rudd made the announcement after a visit to Hiroshima, where he had laid a wreath on the memorial to the victims of the US annihilation of the Japanese city on August 6, 1945, in the first use of nuclear weapons against civilians in history.
Rudd named former ALP minister Gareth Evans as head of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Commission. In 1995, in the final year of the Keating ALP government, then-foreign minister Evans created a similar body, the Canberra Commission for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
"Hiroshima should cause the world community to resolve afresh that all humankind must exert every effort for peace in this 21st century, that we the people of the Asia-Pacific region resolve afresh to make this Asia-Pacific century a century of peace and for the world at large that we should aspire now for a world free of nuclear weapons", Rudd told reporters in Hiroshima.
Announcing the formation of the commission in a speech at Kyoto University, he said, "Hiroshima reminds us of the terrible power of these weapons … and we must be committed to the ultimate objective of a nuclear weapons free world".
However, while Rudd's apparent conversion to the anti-nuclear cause was taken at face value by the Australian media — greeted with approval in the June 10 Age and disapproval in the same day's Herald Sun — other actions by the government suggest that it will not remove Australia from the nuclear weapons cycle.
Rudd's Kyoto University speech warned of the alleged dangers of North Korea having renounced the non-proliferation treaty and Iran defying calls for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear research.
While North Korea does have a small, technologically unsophisticated nuclear weapons capability, Iran only has a civilian nuclear program, has a stated policy opposing nuclear weapons and has complied with its nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations regarding IAEA inspections.
Rudd's emphasis on these states' supposed nuclear threat, while ignoring Israel's illegal nuclear arsenal (which it has regularly threatened neighbouring countries with) and promoting the preeminent nuclear power, the US, as a force for stability represents a continuity in policy from the previous Howard Coalition government.
Fabricating an Iranian nuclear threat has been a pretext for Western diplomatic and economic — with threats of military — aggression against Iran. This echoes the use of a fabricated danger from Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" as justification for the 2003 invasion and ongoing occupation of that country.
Australia's involvement in the US-led forces deployed against Iraq and Afghanistan makes Rudd's calls for nuclear disarmament hypocritical. Both occupying forces routinely use depleted uranium rounds that, while conveniently not officially classified as nuclear weapons, have the same horrific radiological effects such as hair loss, cancer and intergenerational genetic damage.
Rudd's opposition to nuclear proliferation is also hypocritical while Australia remains a uranium exporter, as was pointed out by Greenpeace spokesperson Steve Campbell to ABC News on June 9. "It's good that there's a country that is sticking its hand up and saying, we need to do more about nuclear disarmament, but whether Australia's the right person to do that given that they don't have their own house in order … remains to be seen."
While Australia may seek end-use guarantees that exported uranium will be used in civilian energy programs, waste from atomic power stations is the raw material for nuclear weapons. Practices such as "flag-swapping" mean that the final destinations of the fission products of exported uranium are untraceable.
Before winning government, the ALP, at its 2007 conference, changed its stance on uranium to scrap its "no new mines" policy. In government it has maintained support for infrastructure for the industry — from the building of a desalination plant in the Spencer Gulf in South Australia to support the expansion of BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam uranium mine.
The Rudd government is also maintaining provisions of the Northern Territory intervention that could force Indigenous communities to lease land to mining companies, and has projected extending the intervention to Western Australia. The NT and WA contain most of Australia's uranium reserves, which are 40% of the world's total.
Ironically, while Rudd was visiting Hiroshima and announcing his "anti-nuclear" initiative, resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson said in an interview with the June 9 Age that the government intended to further lock Australia into the nuclear cycle by establishing a nuclear waste dump on Indigenous land in the NT. The June 9 Courier Mail reported that local traditional owners had condemned this as a betrayal of promises given during the election campaign.
"We relied on what they said in the pre-election (period), that they would reassess the dump stuff and a lot of people voted for them on that issue", Mitch, a spokesperson for the Ngwana people, told the Courier Mail. Athenge Lhere traditional owner Kath Martin accused the ALP of speaking "with forked tongues".