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New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Extension Bill

I move, That the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Extension Bill be now read a second time.

The passing of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act in 1987 was a milestone in New Zealand's development as a nation that can create its own destiny, think for itself, and support the principles of peace and safety for all peoples. It prevents the stationing of nuclear weapons on our land or territorial sea out to 12 miles, the entry of nuclear-powered ships into our harbours, and the building of nuclear reactors in New Zealand.

It is actually very modest legislation, although New Zealanders have been enormously proud of it. It has made waves internationally and marked New Zealand out as a country that stands up for what is right in that respect. But it is modest. It does not prevent nuclear weapons and reactors from cruising along our coast, as long as they are just passing through, and it does not prevent ships carrying other nuclear materials.

There have been two major developments since 1987 that justify updating the Act. Firstly, the International Court of Justice, prompted especially by New Zealand, has declared the deployment of nuclear weapons to be illegal. That justifies taking an even stronger stance on where they may be carried. The numbers of those weapons, and the States holding them, have increased, despite the end of the cold war. Uncertainties around the intentions of nuclear States and the location and safety of weapons have made disarmament an even more urgent priority now than it was in the 1980s.

Secondly, nuclear fuel reprocessing has gone global, with shipments of highly hazardous plutonium mixed-oxide fuel and high-level waste passing regularly between Japan and Europe, sometimes through the Tasman Sea. This bill was drafted in 1997 as the Pacific Teal was passing through the Pacific--in fact, through the Tasman Sea--with a cargo of high-level nuclear waste. Another ship took this route last year, and, as we speak, two empty ships are on their way from Europe to Japan to collect plutonium mixed-oxide fuel that has been rejected by Japan because British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, which produced it, falsified the safety data. It is a totally unnecessary shipment, in both directions, of fuel that should never have left home and where the company that produced it lied about the safety data.

There is a very close connection between the nuclear fuel cycle and weapons. Reprocessing creates plutonium that is usable in weapons. There is a lot of it stored in Japan now, but despite the statements that this fuel reprocessing is absolutely essential to the nuclear power industry, none of the reprocessed fuel produced by this France-Japan circuit has ever been used in a power station. The Act does not deal with the products of fuel reprocessing, because the trade did not exist in 1987, and we need to deal with it now.

My objectives in drafting this bill were not just to try to protect New Zealand and the sea immediately surrounding it, because in the end there is no security from nuclear materials unless there is security for everyone. It was, rather, to take another tiny step towards a nuclear free South Pacific and, eventually, a nuclear free world. I hoped that the discussion around this bill would support calls already being made for continued evolution of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to clarify that "innocent passage" means only cargoes that are genuinely innocent. So I was disappointed, not only that the Government is voting this bill down today, but that it was completely uninterested in any kind of changes to the bill that might have seen it used to make some kind of advance on the 1987 Act, or to require more information and safety from the ships coming through.

The Government has raised three main arguments against proceeding with this bill. The first is that nuclear materials are not generally transited through our exclusive economic zone now, and the Government has an assurance from the nuclear States that this will continue. The first response to that argument is to ask why, if that is occurring de facto anyway, it should not be codified in law. As the Peace Foundation said to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, "the fact that New Zealanders felt justified in requesting nuclear States not to transit through the exclusive economic zone, and the fact that those States have agreed to this, provides legitimacy to the claim that such protection of an exclusive economic zone is becoming part of the customary right of coastal States. Codifying this protection in national legislation would both affirm and strengthen this right."

The reason this argument was not accepted, of course, is that the Government does not want it to become a precedent for other States. There is ample room for a ship to pass through the Tasman Sea without infringing the exclusive economic zone of either Australia or New Zealand. But that is not true of other parts of the South Pacific, where island States are so close together that there is no passage, without entering the zone of some country. New Zealand is therefore accepting an assurance that our own immediate safety will be protected, and is refusing to take a stand that will help other States to protect themselves from the nuclear threat. If our objective is a nuclear free South Pacific, this is not the way to achieve it.

Second, the Government argues that this bill is illegal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which gives States the right of innocent passage through the waters of other countries. This is a provision of the convention, but it is not absolute. The convention is actually about striking a balance between the rights of coastal States and those of maritime nations. Article 23 makes the right of innocent passage subject to certain precautionary measures. It provides that "foreign nuclear-powered ships and ships carrying nuclear or other inherently dangerous or noxious substances shall, when exercising their right of innocent passage through the territorial sea, carry documents and observe special precautionary measures established for such ships . . ."

New Zealand has been campaigning for strong international regulations for such transits, and these ought to confer--liability in the case of an accident; full documentation of cargo and route; prior notification, and, preferably, informed consent; a full environmental impact assessment of possible accidents, and a contingency plan for emergencies. But no such precautionary measures have been agreed. So New Zealand is entitled, in my view, in the absence of such measures, to keep these ships out. The Law of the Sea convention also, in articles 21 and 56, gives coastal States jurisdiction, with regard to protection and preservation of the marine environment.

The third issue, on which the Government opposes the bill, is that it believes it is unenforceable. I was particularly touched that Judge Weeramantry from the International Court of Justice saw fit to come and make a presentation to the select committee. In addition to pointing out that--if a nuclear exchange broke out while a ship carrying a nuclear weapon was in our economic zone--we would become a target, he also had this to say about enforcement: "It is not the availability of enforcement provisions that gives validity to a principle of international law. International law is respected through the weight of its legal authority. The ICJ itself has no enforcement powers, yet over 90 percent of its decisions are implemented."

We learnt from Mr Colin Keating, a New Zealand negotiator, in 1982, of the Law of the Sea convention, why our officials are desperate not to open the question of how the convention may evolve to clarify the rights of coastal States. He told us that in 1982, New Zealand fought hard for a maximum economic zone and maximum access to the resources of the continental shelf--such as fish and minerals. The issue of rights of coastal States to protect their environment from pollution and dangerous cargo, was on the table at that stage. New Zealand gave that away, in return for fish and minerals. That is what he told us; that was a deal done in 1982. The Minister said yesterday that those rights had not been traded away, because we had never had those rights. What we learnt from Mr Keating was that those issues were on the table for discussion but New Zealand chose not to pursue them, in order to gain maximum economic advantage in the economic zone, and to the continental shelf. So if a missile hits us, while a United States submarine carrying nuclear weapons is in our zone, we can say: "So long, and thanks for all the fish!". The Green Party tried a number of amendments to the bill.


Second Reading speech in Parliament
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