Monday, 28 November 2011 / 3 comments
Would uranium sales to India breach a key Labor treaty?
by Bernard Keane
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 Nicholas Rothwell about the
implications of Julia Gillard's proposal to overturn the Labor Party's
longstanding 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 which
came into effect in 1986.
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. 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 and
claimed that it did not, "provided that appropriate safeguards are in
Any sale of uranium by Australia to India, before it has in place all
of the safeguards under Article III of the NPT (which are established
by the International Atomic Energy Agency), may therefore 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
even now cites it as an example of his willingness to pursue a foreign
policy independent of the United States, and is still cited as one of
the key foreign policy achievements of the Hawke years.
Julia Gillard, of course, has tried hard to cultivate an association
with Hawke, who addressed Labor's 2010 election campaign launch.