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Would uranium sales to India breach a key Labor treaty?

Uranium sales to India may be in breach of a key international treaty established by the Hawke government in 1985, according to one of Australia’s most eminent international lawyers.

Anti-nuclear group International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons asked ANU Professor of International Law Donald Rothwell about the implications of Julia Gillard’s proposal to overturn the Labor Party’s long-standing prohibition on the sale of uranium to countries that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

According to Rothwell, sales of uranium to India while it did not have in place full Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards — which it does not — would breach the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, signed by the Hawke government in Rarotonga in 1985 and that came into effect in 1986. Eleven Pacific Island states and Australia and New Zealand are signatories.

Under the Rarotonga Treaty, signatories are not permitted to sell uranium to “non-nuclear weapon states” unless subject to special safeguards required by Article III.1 of the NPT (which are established by the International Atomic Energy Agency). For the purposes of the NPT, India is a considered a “non-nuclear weapon state”, as it was not one of the five original nuclear powers in 1967. Rothwell’s advice is that India would similarly be considered a “non-nuclear weapon state” under the Rarotonga Treaty, and quotes comments from the Howard government, which imply as much.

Rothwell notes that the Howard government was asked specifically about whether uranium sales to India breached the Rarotonga Treaty. The issue was raised in Parliament shortly before the 2007 election, when Democrat senator Lyn Allison asked a series of questions about the issue. In responding on behalf of the government, then-deputy leader of the government Helen Coonan said that uranium sales to India would not breach the treaty. However, her answer was on the basis that “the uranium is covered by IAEA safeguards”.

Any sale of uranium by Australia to India, before it has in place all of the safeguards under Article III of the NPT, is therefore likely to place Australia in breach of the Rarotonga Treaty. Under the Treaty, other signatories can complain about Australia’s breach of the treaty and even take the dispute to the International Court of Justice.

In practice, however, the real sensitivity on the issue is within Labor itself. The Rarotonga Treaty was supported by Bob Hawke, who earlier this year cited it as an example of his willingness to pursue a foreign policy independent of the US, saying “South Pacific nuclear free zone, they hated the idea, hated it. But I went through it with them and indicated it wouldn’t stop the transit of their aircraft or their ships through the region, and they accepted the concept and particularly as I argued if they had a look at the Treaty of Tlatelolco which covered the Americas they would see similarities between it and so they accepted that.”

Julia Gillard, of course, has tried hard to cultivate an association with Hawke, who addressed Labor’s 2010 election campaign launch. A switch on uranium sales to India wouldn’t merely be a reversal of a long-standing Labor policy, but might wreck an important element of the Hawke Labor legacy.

This article originally referred to Professor “Nicholas” Rothwell and has been corrected. Apologies to Prof Rothwell.

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  • 1
    GocomSys
    Posted Monday, 28 November 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    What is Bob Hawke’s stated position these days. Has he changed his mind? Worth knowing.

  • 2
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Monday, 28 November 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Darn it … it’s all this nanny world guvvermint innit? Like the EU or UN or sumfink. One minute tellin’ us to stop lockin’ up kids and now sayin’ who can can or carn’t flog our stuff off to… damn treaties…

    You remember Martin, doan never sign nuffin. They come back and bite you on the *rse.

  • 3
    Edward James
    Posted Monday, 28 November 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Bob Hawke is only a member of a shrinking and very dysfunctional Labor Party I could not care less about his stated position these days! It is about as important as Paul Keating’s stated position. If they are not happy they can make their position felt at the Ballot box like the rest of us OK ! Edward James

  • 4
    GocomSys
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    Anybody want to know what John Howard’s position is these days? Remember him, the loser?
    But than, he is only a member of a forever shrinking and very dysfunctional Liberal Party. On second thought, it does not really matter at all what he or his acolyte Tony Abbott thinks, does it?

  • 5
    Kulbir Singh Sevadaar
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    The title of the news is wrong. Instead of “Key Labour Treaty” it should be “Key Treaty signed by Australia”. Hawke signed the treaty on behalf of Australian govenment and people.
    Also, India has very poor Human Rights record.
    Noting that Australia has ratified and is bound by international law to uphold the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,

    Noting that Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states unconditionally that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life and that Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states unconditionally that no one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,

    Noting also that Australia has ratified and is bound by international law to uphold the Convention Against Torture,

    Noting further that the prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm of international law,

    Noting especially that Australia has ratified and is bound by international law to uphold the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide since 1948,

    Observing that Australia is a democratic society which in which all races, cultures and religions are equal before the law and the rule of law is upheld,

    This draws the attention to the following:

    • In allowing the supply of uranium to the Indian government, the Australian government is contributing to the advancement of the political career and objectives of persons who are known to have committed the crime of genocide as defined in international law.

    • The genocide of the Sikh people which occurred in India in 1984, following the death of Indian president Indira Gandhi, is well-documented in official and media sources.

    • During these events, more than Thirty thousand persons following the Sikh religion were murdered, raped and tortured, including the elderly and infants. Murders were carried out using brutal and inhumane means. Thousands of victims were burnt alive or ritualistically executed.

    • The abovementioned acts were committed by Indian police forces and military personnel in 100 cities in 18 states across India.

    • The abovementioned events constitute events which are encompassed by the definition of genocide provided for in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and accepted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

    • Officials who were responsible for issuing the orders to commit the acts that comprised the genocide have not been subject to judicial processes or prosecution for their crimes against humanity and continue to hold high-level positions in the Indian government, military and public service.

  • 6
    Edward James
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    @ GOCOMSYS
    I remember when John Howard as Prime Minister during the run up to his last Federal Election. He and the Liberal Party engaged in the most offensive act of political pork barreling I have ever witnessed. He permitted himself to be displayed on the front page of the now defunct Central Coast Weekly SUN. Where I say he “Offered to reach over the bodies of five dead people to buy votes for Jim Lloyd” I believe politics is a team activity, the people who are party members at Federal State and Local government levels and their supporters are ell part of the perceived problem when political allsorts are exposed committing political sins against the peoples. Everything from the basic abuse of our due process, to conspiracy among office staff to rip off the public purse with falsified time sheets by elected reps to flat out criminal activity demonstrated by Milton the horrible Orkopolous evolved a lot more players that those eventually abandoned by their fellow party members when the stench becomes so obvious it is impossible to ignore. Mr. Frank Sartor who is yet to understand he is a big part of the Labor Fog. Wrote in the fifth paragraph of the introduction to his book; Although I have taken the opportunity to correct the record on a number of issues where I was personally involved, the main purpose of this book is to inform the Labor movement, the Labor Party, all elected public officials and those who are involved with the conscientious business of government. Mr. Sartor your assertion ask readers of your book to simply accept all those involved in the business of government are conscientious. When from time to time we see enough evidence to know Politicians can and do turn away when confronted with evidence they and their fellow party members have committed political sins against their constituents, if not actually broken the law, which brings the party into disrepute. All too often politicians will act without good conscience, leaving it to their paid minions resort to spin and cover up.
    What really matters for me, is those people waking from years of political disinterest. I hope they exercise their votes for change and change again until we are rid of the political parasites who run rings around us while sucking the life blood from a great country. http://bit.ly/EJ_PNewsAds
    Edward James

  • 7
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    @ GocomSys

    Why dont you head over to Northbridge and ask him. You can find him in the coffee shop near the golf course.

  • 8
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Ed James;
    Bob Hawke and Keatings views are irrelevant outside the Ballot box. Unfortunately we can have the same reaction to international treaties when they become conflicting to the direction any nation wishes to take. But on a lighter note I fail to see why we can’t adopt more unique policies in relation to the export of uranium to India and others.
    Perhaps we should consider an apothicated levy,royalty or tax on every kilo we send of the bloody stuff overseas, and these funds to be directly invested with our research institutes to try to attend to the ongoing responsibities of the dietritus of the industry. A percentage of these funds could be applied to research on alternative sources of our requirements to replace our dependance on the petrochemical, nuclear and coal sources.

  • 9
    david
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    If the Labor left are as gutless over this as they are on same sex marriage, it wont happen…lets just pull the blanket up over our corner of the world and ignore the rest of the world. Howard did it successfully for years.

  • 10
    smpc
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Nicholas Rothwell? Really? The guy’s name is on the document you’re quoting, and it’s not Nicholas. Don Rothwell is on TV and radio all the time, for Christ’s sake.

  • 11
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 29 November 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    ??might wreck an important element of the Hawke Labor legacy. ?! WTF would that be, the one that deemed uranium from the Three Mines to be good & harmless and all that other stuff wicked, evil & deadly?
    Now that Hawke’s drinking again, it might also be a good time to ask him how his lobbying for the Burmese generals is going - one might have a hope of getting an hinest answer, in vino veritas an’all. He took up that highly profitable gig within weeks of leaving Parliament.

  • 12
    Edward James
    Posted Wednesday, 30 November 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    We the peoples have the power to shake the base of politics, We can do that by voting for change each election. Therby avoiding the current process where dead wood politicians finish up enjoying RnR at our expence on the opporsition Benches. These grube need to be put beck on the streat where they belong. Eventually political allsorts will get the messsage do what the constituents want or your goneeeee ! Do not kid yourself we need the experienced politicians they are the problem they are the reason we have systemic misgovernance. Edward James

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