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Australia's cluster munitions shame


Cluster bombs

After Australia was elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council on Friday, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said: 'It's the world saying "we see Australia as a good country, a fine global citizen".'

For the next two years, other countries will take their lead from Australia when they are urged to act on matters of global importance. We have the opportunity to make a substantial contribution to creating a better world for all people.

However there are already signs that we are compromised and could be predisposed to squander that opportunity. 

Earlier last week Australia acted in a shameful manner when we cynically ratified the international treaty to ban cluster munitions only after the Federal Government created a loophole that will destroy its effectiveness.

Cluster bombs release many small bomblets over a wide area, posing serious risk to civilians both during and after they are dropped. For years to come, innocent Syrians will continue to be maimed by Russian-supplied cluster munitions being used in the current conflict.

In 2008, 108 countries signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, transfer and stockpile of the bombs. But before Australia finally ratified the Convention last week, the Senate passed into law the Cluster Munitions Prohibition Bill, which allows Australian military personnel to operate alongside US forces deploying cluster munitions, as occurred in 2003 in the Iraq war. 

Moreover, according to former Defence Force chief Peter Gration, the Bill enables the United States 'to stockpile cluster bombs in Australia' and 'transit cluster bombs through Australia either by ship or by plane'.

He was one of 47 eminent and expert Australians who signed an open letter warning the Defence Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister and Attorney-General not to pass the legislation without removing the exemptions.

Malcolm Fraser wrote that the legislation is 'scattered with alarming loopholes that, to my mind, directly undermine the spirit and intention of the convention. These exemptions are unnecessary at best and add little or nothing to our national security. At worst, they run directly counter to the treaty's intent by setting a precedent which explicitly facilitates the ongoing use of cluster bombs.'

The legislation was passed in August, clearing the way for last week's ratification of the Convention, in compromised circumstances. Australia has set a regrettable precedent that is likely to be followed by other countries who look to our example when they introduce their own domestic legislation to ratify the treaty. 

Australia is hardly leading other nations towards a better world. We are not the fine global citizen Bob Carr says we are. If the Security Council seat is intended as a reward for exemplary conduct on the international stage, we don't deserve it.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, UN security Council, Bob Carr, cluster munitions



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Existing comments

I am loath to think that our politicians are as irresponsible and heartless as the passage of this this legislation suggests. Surely playing party politics can not be an issue here. The only thing I can think of is that the US is exerting some undisclosed, but powerful, pressure on us to force our compliance. Can anyone identify it? Or, if not, explain what's behind our decision?

Joe Castley | 22 October 2012  

The age old act of 'brown nosing' to the USA is hardly going to vanish with someone like Bob Carr at the DFAT desk, and with Beazley in Washington defending Australia's hounor. Both prefer American history to Australian history. Both know more about, and admire, the American Civil War than our own. And with either Gillard or Abbott at the national helm, we will see ever more of this brown nosing going on. There is no 'undisclosed' pressure required Joe, when our national leaders all delight in brown nosing for its own bizzare pleasures.

janice wallace | 22 October 2012  

We need one of our social media watchdogs to get a petition going to show this legislation for the rubbish that it is and get it undone and replaced with the real thing.

Bernadette | 22 October 2012  

I couldn't agree more! What a rued oppurtunity for standing true to Jesus' message of nonviolence, in getting rid of these ghastly blight on creating an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just, and nonviolent human presence on the planet. But if our record of brown-nosing the U.S, as much as I love the country, having visited there 7 times,now, is any guide, why should I be surprised?!

Phillip | 22 October 2012  

Not to mention our war mongering with the US and our continual jailing of those who flee.

Marilyn | 22 October 2012  

As Bernadette says, We need our social media watchdogs to get a petition going to show this legislation for the rubbish that it is and get it undone and replaced with the real thing. Christians including Eureka Street must make an outcry. Parliamentarians must be pushed to say something.

valerie yule | 23 October 2012  

It is high time this country stopped obeying the USA with everything military. It has become an embarrassment in my view. If they love war, and all that goes with it, we don't! Wasn't it John Howard who called Australia the US deputy sheriff, or something ridiculous like that?!

Australia has a golden opportunity now on the UN SC, to make a positive contribution to this troubled world. But it won't mean much if we continue to support militarily the stupid US. The bomb legislation should withdrawn, and we should back away from the USA.

Louw | 27 October 2012  

The world must ban not only cluster bombs but bombs containing depleted uranium.,Contact with the residue from these bombs leads to an increase in lymphoma, leukemia and birth defects. When my late husband was an aid worker in Kosovo in 1999, he came in contact with depleted uranium residue which led to lymphoma from which he later died.Italian peace-keeping soldiers there had a greater than normal incidence of leukemia.

Mary Samara-Wickrama | 26 November 2012  

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