Australians leading the charge for a nuclear weapons-free world

Aboriginal nuclear test survivor Sue Coleman-Haseldine spoke to delegates from over 150 governments at the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna on 8–9 December 2014. A Kokatha-Mula woman from Ceduna in South Australia, Coleman-Haseldine was about three years old when the British nuclear weapons tests took place at Maralinga. She told delegates that the British and Australian governments chose to conduct the tests at Maralinga and Emu Fields because they didn't believe that the land was valuable.

"There are lots of different Aboriginal groups in Australia. For all of us our land is the basis of our culture. It is our supermarket for our food, our pharmacy for our medicine, our school and our church. These tests contaminated a huge area and everything in it but people hundreds of kilometres away were also impacted ... I noticed people dying of cancer, something that was new to us," Coleman-Haseldine told the conference.

While the British and Australian governments did not acknowledge Sue Coleman-Haseldine's testimony at the conference, 44 states called for a prohibition of nuclear weapons due to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The Pope also sent a statement that was delivered at the conference, which declared his position that a ban on nuclear weapons is both necessary and possible. "I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity planted deep in the human heart will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home," Pope Francis said.

The Australian government continues to rely on the nuclear weapons of the United States in its security doctrine, despite half-hearted statements mentioning the ultimate goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) − a powerful international movement with its origins in Australia − played a leading role at the conference, as well as at previous conferences on the same topic held in Mexico earlier this year and Norway last year.

Prior to the Vienna conference, ICAN Australia wrote an open letter to the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on behalf of more than 30 peace, health, humanitarian, union, Aboriginal, student and environmental organisations in Australia. The letter urged the Australian Government to support the commencement of negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, to commission research into the impact of a nuclear winter on agriculture in Australia, and to establish a defence posture that does not rely on US extended nuclear deterrence.

More than 100 Australian parliamentarians have signed ICAN's global appeal for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and opinion polls show that well over 80% of the Australian public also support a ban.

At the conclusion of the Vienna conference, the Austrian government delivered the "Austrian pledge" in which it committed to work to "fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons" and pledged, "to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal".

Vienna carried forward the momentum for negotiations to begin on a binding international instrument to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons and South Africa has said that it is considering its role in future meetings.

As Sue Coleman-Haseldine told the Vienna conference, "If you love your own children and care for the children of the world, you will find the courage to stand up and say "enough"."

The transcript and video of Sue Coleman-Haseldine's address to the Vienna conference is posted at:

From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia,