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20th Anniversary of NZ's Nuclear Free Legislation

Hon Phil Goff
Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control

12 June 2007

Speech Notes

Government Notice of Motion No 1 - 20th Anniversary of NZ's Nuclear Free Legislation

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Hon Phil Goff and MPs at a ceremony on Parliament's steps to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of NZ's Nuclear Free Legislation - Scoop Image


I move Government Notice of Motion Number one which stands in my name.

Twenty years ago this month on June 8 1987, the Fourth Labour Government passed through this House legislation which committed New Zealand to being nuclear free.

Moving the third reading, Prime Minister David Lange said that the legislation represented "a fundamental reassessment of what constitutes our security".

Nuclear weapons, he said, did not guarantee New Zealand's security but were detrimental to it.

The legislation was at the time controversial. It was bitterly opposed by the National Opposition. National Leader, Jim Bolger, called it "an exercise in futility".

Periodically since, political parties opposed to it or not holding being nuclear free as an article of faith, have attempted to challenge the legislation.

But Lange was prophetic when he stated that "the Bill will not allow any successive New Zealand Government to reverse that policy without first going through a test of democratic opinion at a general election and , secondly, without subjecting its legislative process for repeal to the scrutiny of an informed House of Representatives and the general public".

With the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders supporting this country's nuclear free status, being clean, green and non-nuclear has become an essential part of our identity. The policy has stayed. It was Don Brash who has gone by lunchtime.

The Labour Party opposition to nuclear weapons is longstanding.
At the height of the Cold War in 1959 Prime Minister Walter Nash at the United Nations stood apart from Anzus partners to support a treaty to ban nuclear testing.

In 1973 Norman Kirk sent a frigate up to Mururoa to protest at French nuclear testing and Martyn Findlay took a case to the International Court of Justice to end atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.

The Fourth Labour Government passed the Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act to set out in statute a prohibition on nuclear weapons in New Zealand and visits by nuclear powered ships.

It was the strongest way we could express our view that far from providing security, the nuclear arms race posed a threat to humanity.

Human history has been marked by conflict but never before had human beings possessed the ability to destroy our world which nuclear weapons now provided.

The legislation showed two things. First we prepared to lead the world in opposition to the existence and build up of nuclear arms. Secondly, it showed our readiness as a small but proudly independent nation to speak out for the values we believe in.

In that sense, the nuclear free legislation has come to embody not only our strong opposition to weapons of mass destruction. It also represents the assertion of our right to promote our firmly held beliefs without the need to first seek the concurrence of stronger friends or allies.

Twenty years on, is the legislation still relevant and necessary?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. There continues to be the need for New Zealand to provide a strong voice for nuclear disarmament and against proliferation.

The Cold War may be over, with some reduction in the nuclear weapon stockpile.
But we have not yet achieved the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Today there is still a stockpile of 27,000 nuclear weapons, each with explosive force between eight and forty times the power of the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Just last week, in response to the United States' plans for a missile defence shield, Russia tested new long-range missiles. President Putin went as far as declaring that the nuclear arms race had restarted.

China this year fired a missile into space to destroy a satellite, and progress has not been made on preventing the extension of an arms race into outer space.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has still not come into effect, negotiations have not yet begun into a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has not progressed for a decade.

Thousands of nuclear weapons remain on hair trigger alert.

There would be little time to prevent retaliation if a missile was fired by accident or by miscalculation.

The number of countries possessing nuclear weapons has increased by at least three – India, Pakistan and North Korea – and probably four, Israel.

Just four years ago, two of those countries India and Pakistan were on the brink of conflict.

Thirty more countries according to the International Atomic Energy Agency are capable of going nuclear in a short period.

Iran has given the international community grounds to believe it is seeking nuclear weapon capability, adding new dangers to an already volatile region, given its hostile relationship with Israel.

And terrorist groups are openly acknowledging their quest for weapons of mass destruction, creating new nightmare scenarios in the post 9/11 environment.

Our nuclear free legislation not only remains relevant, but the leadership stance that New Zealand took in 1987 continues to be necessary.

Together with the like-minded countries – Ireland, Sweden, South Africa, Egypt, Brazil and Mexico, New Zealand makes up the New Agenda Coalition which continues to push initiatives in multilateral negotiations such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

With Brazil, we are at the forefront of a push to bring nuclear weapon free zones together into a Southern Hemisphere Zone free of nuclear weapons.

We strongly support efforts to stop proliferation through active participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative.

Under the G8 Global Partnership, we have contributed to projects to destroy chemical weapons and close down the last plutonium-producing reactor in Russia. We are this year embarking on a new project to help stop the smuggling of fissile material across the Russia – Ukraine border.

We contribute to and implement the policies of all export control groups designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear goods and technologies.

We comply with all United Nations Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency resolutions relating to weapons of mass destruction.

We also acknowledge that conventional weapons have killed tens of millions of people in localised conflicts since the Second World War. As Kofi Annan has said their effect has been to act as a weapon of mass destruction. We have played a key role in opposition to land mines and cluster munitions and in support of an Arms Trade Treaty.

New Zealand can be proud of its role in disarmament and non-proliferation as well as the specific piece of legislation we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of in parliament today.

Our greatest challenge may be that, having survived six decades with nuclear weapons, the world has become complacent about the dangers they pose.

Albert Einstein's warning however remains relevant.

'The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe'.


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