24 April 2011

Malcolm Fraser on our cluster munitions legislation

Cluster munitions are bombs with an outer casing that breaks open in mid-air, scattering smaller “bomblets” over a wide area, with a radius of up to a kilometre.  Many of these bomblets fail to explode on impact, leaving a hazard to civilian populations, and especially to children, for decades after the cessation of conflict.

Laos is a case in point: 35 years after the end of the war, unexploded sub-munitions, estimated by the International Red Cross to number between nine and 27 million, continue to kill and maim Laotian civilians, about one third of them children.

Australia has signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, and legislation ratifying our adherence to the Convention will be considered by the Senate in the forthcoming session of Federal Parliament. Our United States ally is conspicuous by not being numbered amongst the more than 100 countries that have signed the Convention, which creates an issue for the Australian Government in striking a balance in the legislation between our commitment to eliminating these inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, and the ways in which we cooperate with a major ally that continues to use them.

In an op-ed piece, Lame stance on cluster bombs, in the 16 March 2011 edition of The Australian, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, whose commitment to the US alliance can hardly be questioned, presents a number of reasons for concluding that we lean much too far in the direction of accommodating the US on this matter. Rather than seeking to convince the US that it is in its own best interest to rid itself of these weapons, “the government is highlighting its willingness to do whatever it takes to be a compliant partner of the US, even when that means undermining the spirit and intention of a convention that we helped bring into being”.

Fraser concludes:

Rather than bending over backwards to accommodate the US, if Australia maintained the humanitarian commitment it displayed in signing this convention and actively worked to convince all our allies to cease using cluster munitions, we could surely make a significant contribution towards a better world.

Read Malcolm Fraser’s opinion piece in full here.


Nicholas Gruen said...

I'm surprised you're not editorialising this more Paul. The issues seem pretty clear to me. We should do what Fraser says. While Bob Hawke was easily the best PM in my lifetime, and a disappointment as ex-PM, Mal wasn't that flash as PM but certainly the best ex-PM we've had in a long while.

Also, looks like an economic solution would be nice. The country responsible for the unexploded bombs should be footing the bill for the peacetime carnage. Victims should be able to sue.

Anonymous said...

Why should Australia oblige by their signature to an International treaty? Why can't Australia just have its cake and eat it too?

Hearing Australia defending their right to assist using cluster bombs indicates Australia is not ready to join this treaty yet. Then it is better to stay outside the treaty. It is all good to make national legislation that regulates the use of cluster bombs, but the international convention is about making a ban on cluster bombs.

Australia wants to look good to the world and its people, and signs a treaty. However it is in fact doing dirty work on behalf of USA by weakening the convention, risking becoming a bad example to be followed by other signatories that have not yet ratified the convention.

Nicholas Gruen calls for economic solution. Good if the perpetrator would be morally obliged to pay for damage done. There are victims in the process trying to sue USA for the damage done to them by the cluster bombs that US dropped.

Anonymous said...

Australia needs to stand up to the pressures from the US policy makers. The treaty that bans Cluster Munitions exists for one solid reason, to totally and permanently ban the very existence of Cluster Munitions. No ifs, no buts, a total ban. Australia's proposed legislation comes no where near this goal. The draft bill on offer is a crafty document of legal omissions that will only legitimise the future use of this weapon system. This will not bring about an end to this weapon. Australia was an erosive force at the treaty negotiations and this negative influence still exists today. It shows a complete lack of commitment to creating a strong treaty. If Australia wants to legitimise the future use of Cluster Munitions then they should simply stay outside of the treaty along with the US, and other rogue states. Malcolm Fraser understood the catastrophe that Cluster Munitions are and was spot of with his analysis. Its a pity our current leadership is not of his calibre.