Nuclear weapons pose a threat to everything we hold dear. Yet nine nations cling to 14,500 nuclear weapons, enough to annihilate our planet many times over. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently shifted the hands of the Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1953, signaling grave concern that we are entering a new nuclear arms race.
The risk is real and growing. Driven by deep concern for the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, a global majority of nations are taking action. Chemical and biological weapons have long been outlawed by international treaty. Last year, 122 nations united to put nuclear weapons in the same legal category. In July 2017, they voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations.
The Australian-founded International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for our role in helping to achieve this treaty. Regrettably, Australia hasn't yet signed on to the ban. Our Liberal / National Party government is a proud signatory to the treaties prohibiting landmines, cluster munitions, biological and chemical weapons, but is resisting signing the nuclear weapon ban treaty. This must change, to reflect the will of the vast majority of Australians who do not want weapons of mass destruction used in their name.
A diverse group of ICAN supporters recently participated in a Peace Ride, cycling 900 kms from Melbourne to Canberra, the nation's capital, taking with us the Nobel Peace Prize medal and a giant copy of the nuclear weapon ban treaty. We slept in church halls, shared potluck dinners with locals and hosted events in regional towns Benalla, Albury and Gundagai.
Our journey culminated in Canberra on September 20, the first anniversary of the nuclear weapon ban treaty opening for signature at the United Nations. Our cyclists were joined by local supporters for the final "glory lap", before we marched our message up to Parliament House with a giant banner reading calling for Australia to join the ban. While the Government refused to meet with us, many of our supporters within Parliament welcomed the cyclists and spoke up about the ban treaty inside and outside the chambers. The ACT Government passed a resolution calling on Australia to sign and ratify the treaty, while 32 giant ICAN flags flew proudly on Commonwealth Avenue.
ICAN Ambassador and Kokatha Aboriginal elder Aunty Sue Coleman-Haseldine stood outside Parliament and spoke up about the legacy of nuclear testing that her community has suffered:
"Aboriginal people … at that time knew nothing about the effects of radiation and the future poisonous outcomes. There's so many deaths in a region of various cancers. There has been no long-term assessment of health impacts in the region. What we urgently need to change is Australia's position on the nuclear ban treaty.
"I'm really proud to be here to ask the government to change their minds about the treaty and to sign on so that we can look forward to a nuclear free future. To all the policy and change makers here today, you can make this happen."
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons currently has 69 signatories and 19 state parties, as of 28 September. The treaty is setting a record pace for ratifications compared to other WMD treaties, and the UN has announced its expectation of an early entry into force.
Momentum is growing for Australia to sign and ratify the ban, with 76% of Labor Party members having pledged their support, along with a number of government, Greens, Centre Alliance and independent parliamentarians. While Australia initially resisted signing on to the treaty prohibiting landmines, it now boasts of being a proud state party. One day Australia will boast of being a state party to the nuclear weapon ban treaty as well. This treaty provides the path we desperately need, to reach a world free of nuclear weapons.