Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Decoding government-speak on the cluster bomb bill

By Michelle Fahy - posted Monday, 20 August 2012

The federal government has made the same few statements for almost two years in responding to criticism of its Cluster Munitions Prohibition Bill. Some of its claims are misleading statements of opinion presented as facts, while one oft-repeated line has been shown by the US embassy cables released by Wikileaks to be false.

The Bill was introduced into parliament in late 2010 to enable Australia to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the most significant international disarmament treaty negotiated since the landmine ban treaty in 1997. Both treaties are important because they were negotiated outside the United Nations yet have been effective in stigmatising the use of these inhumane weapons, which cause long-lasting unacceptable harm to civilian populations. (Read more about cluster bombs and why they have been banned.)

There are two serious problems with the draft legislation. It's supposedly giving effect to a Convention which seeks to eradicate cluster bombs, yet it allows Australian troops to actively assist countries that haven't signed up to the Convention (in practice, the USA) with the use of cluster bombs. It also has explicit wording enabling the USA to stockpile its cluster bombs on Australian soil and to transit them through our ports and airspace.


The Bill passed the lower house with little scrutiny and entered the Senate in November 2010. Due to the Bill's inconsistencies with recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, it was referred to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee for review. The committee called for submissions, conducted a public hearing, and produced a report which noted many suggestions for improvement made by civil society but nevertheless recommended the Bill be passed without amendment. One committee member, WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, tabled a dissenting report.

The Bill is scheduled for debate in the Senate this week. If passed, it will become law.

Line 1: "This legislation faithfully implements the Convention on Cluster Munitions."

Three ministers and their departments have been involved with this legislation: Attorney-General, Defence, and Foreign Affairs, and they have trotted out this line repeatedly. It is an opinion with which many respected organisations and individual experts disagree.

International Committee of the Red Cross: "…section 72.41 of the Australian Bill raises substantial concerns… which would contravene the Convention and undermine its goals..." AND "allowing the foreign stockpiling of cluster munitions on Australian soil… would undermine the objectives of the Convention…"

Australian Red Cross: "The Bill …would permit the use of cluster munitions in a manner that weakens the aims and objectives of the Convention…" AND "[s72.41] could in fact allow the intentional violation of the Convention" AND "[s72.42] allows acts generally prohibited in the Convention to occur on the territory of a State party."


Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School IHRC: "the Bill creates a defense for many acts during such operations that on their face violate the convention" AND "Section 72.42(1)… should be removed because it runs counter to Articles 1 and 9 of the convention."

Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser, former Prime Minister: "the government has drafted legislation scattered with alarming loopholes that, to my mind, directly undermine the spirit and intention of the convention."

General Peter Gration, former Chief of the Defence Force: "the wording used in our legislation goes well beyond [that required for interoperability with US] and in fact doesn't follow a couple of the key things that the convention is about…"

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

3 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Michelle Fahy is a Canberra-based writer and editor. She also acts in a voluntary capacity as a committee member of the Cluster Munition Coalition (Australia) which represents the views of around 25 Australian NGOs on issues related to the successful implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Michelle Fahy

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Michelle Fahy
Article Tools
Comment 3 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy