PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū)
: I move,
That the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee to consider the bill. [Interruption]
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): The member has the floor.
PHIL TWYFORD: This bill would ban the possession, use, sale, manufacture, testing, and transit of uranium weapons within New Zealand and by agents of the New Zealand Government. Depleted uranium has been described as the Agent Orange of the 21st century. There is growing international concern about the health risks it poses to combatants, civilians, and the environment. I want to make it clear from the outset that definitive scientific studies conclusively demonstrating the health impacts of depleted uranium weapons have not been done. Nevertheless, this bill takes the precautionary approach, because we believe there is sufficient concern and sufficient evidence that uranium weapons do pose an unacceptable risk. Belgium and Costa Rica have in recent years legislated to ban depleted uranium weapons, and for New Zealand to adopt a similar ban would add our voice to a growing international movement, just as we did with nuclear weapons, landmines, and cluster munitions.
Let me explain for a minute a little about depleted uranium weapons. Depleted uranium is the by-product of the processing of uranium ore for use in nuclear reactors and in nuclear weapons. It is an extremely hard substance and over the last 25 years militaries have chosen to use depleted uranium weapons primarily as an armour-piercing munition. It has been used in a number of recent conflicts: both the first and second Gulf Wars and in the Balkans, and there is some dispute and argument about whether it has been used in Afghanistan in recent years.
When the depleted uranium warhead impacts, it ignites at an extremely high temperature, and a radioactive and chemically toxic gas is released. This is what is primarily the thing that risks the damage to both combatants and civilians who are exposed. About one-third of the 800,000 United States veterans of the 1991 Gulf War now claim disability benefits for mystery illnesses, and depleted uranium exposure has been put forward as one of the risk factors that is likely to be a factor in that syndrome. There has been a sharp increase in cancers and child deformities in Iraq after 1991 and 2003.
- Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
PHIL TWYFORD: Depleted uranium weapons have been linked to a sharp upsurge in cancers and birth deformities in Iraq after the wars in both 1991 and 2003. The most recent cases, which have attracted considerable media coverage, were reported by Iraqi doctors in Fallujah, which was the subject of very heavy bombardment in 2004. Depleted uranium weapons also leave land contaminated, and the data from Iraq indicates that those weapons have not been restricted only to armoured targets but have been used extensively against civilian targets. The result is a very large number of contaminated hot spots.
Experience shows that decontamination is extremely difficult and expensive to achieve. This is why the definitive epidemiological studies on the effects depleted uranium weapons have not yet been done. Such a study would require full transparency from the military authorities, including their targeting data, detailed site management and environmental assessments, a stable cohort of civilians numbering in the thousands, a stable political situation in the affected area, detailed pre- and post-conflict health records, and the political will from Governments to fund this work. Think about Iraq,
which is the place where depleted uranium weapons have most recently been used. These conditions simply cannot be met. There has been a breakdown in the health authorities, loss of records, massive displacement of the civilian population, ongoing security concerns, and active obstruction by the US authorities.
Nevertheless, depleted uranium does pose a serious risk to human health and the environment. Radioactive dust particles from depleted uranium weapons contain a high proportion of uranium, which is a known carcinogen and causes birth defects. Multiple studies suggest that leukaemogenic, genetic, reproductive, and neurological effects are a result of chronic exposure to depleted uranium. Three UN resolutions, each of which New Zealand voted for, acknowledge depleted uranium as a potential hazard, as do the World Health Organization, the UN Environment Programme, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and as do, I should add, the military users of these weapons, who all have extensive precautionary safeguards in place to reduce the exposure of their personnel to depleted uranium. But civilians have no such protections.
The question is, then, when should States act when there is clear evidence of potential risk but the best available science is unable to provide the required level of certainty? If depleted uranium weapons were being used on New Zealand soil, or our Government was grappling with hundreds of contaminated hot spots and contaminated wreckage, then I feel sure that our Government would not monitor the situation for years or decades, waiting for conclusive scientific studies; we would apply the precautionary principle, just as we do in our Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.
This bill asks that those basic health and environmental protection norms should be available to the many and not just the few. The bill seeks to add uranium weapons to the list of weapons that New Zealand has outlawed as international law has progressed over the last 100 years. That list includes chemical and biological weapons, nuclear weapons, landmines, and cluster munitions.
Why should we prohibit a weapon that New Zealand does not make or use? Well, there are two reasons. The first is that New Zealand soldiers risk exposure to depleted uranium weapons in the battlefield, which is why the defence force requires personnel returning from places like Afghanistan to provide urine samples so that their exposure to low-level radiation can be checked. I also note that when this issue was discussed at the select committee, Jerry Mateparae, then the Chief of Defence Force, came along and told the select committee that the defence forces would prefer that New Zealand personnel in the field were not subjected to depleted uranium weapons.
The second reason for considering this bill and the ban it proposes is that by legislating a ban, New Zealand would add its voice to a growing international movement calling for a global treaty outlawing these weapons. We have done it before with landmines, we have done it with cluster munitions, and I submit to this House that now is the time to do it with depleted uranium weapons. In 2009 the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee declined to support a petition brought by a group of citizens in Christchurch asking the committee to consider addressing the central concerns about depleted uranium weaponry. Unfortunately, the committee did not support the petition, and reported back to the House with what I regard as a pretty anodyne and disappointing response on this issue. Labour and the Greens tabled a minority view supporting the petition and calling for a ban based on the precautionary principle. That view inspired this bill, and I hope that members tonight, having heard the arguments, will send this bill to the select committee so the issue can be considered again. Thank you.
JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa)
: It is interesting how the worm turns. The petition that led to this bill in fact came to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Committee in 2005, and it was promoted by one Robert Ritchie. The then Government—who was the Government in 2005? It was Labour—it was a Labour Government. It let it sit on the Table because it did not want to address it until this Government, the National-led Government, came into office in 2008. At that point we had the appendages to address the issue.
I draw on the report of the select committee, which happened to be under my chairmanship. The committee recommended that staff who had been exposed to battle situations, and particularly air force personnel who were involved with our Skyhawks, be constantly monitored, and they are continuing to be constantly monitored. This is because the Skyhawks had depleted uranium on their ailerons. Why? It is not because they are strong but because they are damned heavy. The committee recommended that, yes, we keep monitoring, but we take no action without clear scientific evidence. I am interested that Mr Twyford pulled up comments from the then Chief of Defence Force, General Mateparae, because I very clearly remember asking Jerry Mateparae, the then Chief of Defence Force, “Are you concerned about exposing your troops to situations where there is depleted uranium?”. Check the record: he gave an unequivocal answer of no; he had no concerns about that.
This bill, if it were implemented, would make our soldiers criminals if they got into the wrong armoured personnel carrier or Humvee on a joint operation. It would make our people criminals for calling in air support or artillery support from any ally and failing to check what ammunition they were going to use. It would make criminals of our people planning UN peacekeeping operations who authorised the deployment of foreign nation vehicles with the wrong kinds of armour plating. New Zealand supported a UN General Assembly resolution last year that encourages member States to facilitate and monitor studies and research on depleted uranium by relevant international organisations. Until there is evidence—hard, factual evidence—National will not support this bill. Thank you.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill)
: That was a disappointing speech from Mr Hayes, because it deliberately misrepresents a number of things. I just want to address a couple of comments that he made in his very brief speech.
We are not worried about the fact that there might have been depleted uranium in the ailerons of the Skyhawks. That is not going to be a health hazard. We are not worried that there might be depleted uranium in the ballast on an aircraft, although I notice that commercial aircraft are now phasing that out. What we are worried about is when depleted uranium is used as a munition, and when it explodes at a very high temperature and creates a dust that is chemically toxic. Mr Hayes is not so silly that he does not know that. That is why that speech was a misleading speech, because he was creating a straw man and knocking it over, when that is not the point of the matter at all.
We are sufficiently concerned about the impact of depleted uranium when our troops serve in areas like Iraq as part of the peacekeeping group there, and in Afghanistan, that every single New Zealand service person is tested for the effects of uranium in their urine when they come home. That is how concerned we are about it. We know that it is a hazard. We know that it can cause damage to the kidneys and to the lungs. We know that it is a toxic chemical, and that is the concern that we have.
The second thing that Mr Hayes said that is absolutely wrong is, of course, that it would create criminals, he alleged, out of New Zealand service personnel operating with the military forces of other countries that use depleted uranium. No, Mr Hayes, you know that is simply not correct. It is no more correct than the allegation that because New Zealand actually led the charge against cluster munitions, had the Wellington conference, and was one of seven countries that led to the breakthrough on the convention of cluster munitions—we say that we will not use those ourselves, and
appropriately so—that New Zealand is prevented from serving alongside the United States, which does use cluster munitions.
We will use all of the power in our persuasion to ensure that cluster munitions be banned and that landmines be banned, but it has never stopped the interoperability of New Zealand service personnel with other countries that have not signed up to the Ottawa Convention, or to the Oslo convention, in that regard. It is absolutely wrong, and if the only ground for the opposition of the National Government to this legislation is what Mr Hayes has said, then that shows that National is a party that has not done its homework, that has not thought this through, and that is not prepared to subject this bill to a select committee process, where people can come in and pass on their expertise and their evidence about it.
This bill is a very moderate bill. What it says is that we should ban the possession, use, sale, manufacture, testing, and transit of uranium in all conventional munitions and armour within New Zealand—Mr Hayes, within New Zealand—and by agents of the New Zealand Government. That follows a precautionary principle. We know that depleted uranium and the dust caused by the use of munitions involving depleted uranium is carcinogenic. We know that it is damaging to health. We are worried about the impact of that, and the Governor-General and former Chief of Defence Force has made that statement himself. This is something to be concerned about. And it is something to be concerned about not because of the fact that there is not yet all of the conclusive evidence there but because we worry about the long-term effects of this.
I remember the age when the military said that agent orange in Viet Nam was nothing to worry about—it was nothing to worry about. They did not know—they simply did not know. It makes sense that when we do not know what all the impacts of depleted uranium munitions might be, but we do know that the immediate impact is dangerous and damaging to health, that we take a precautionary policy.
Yes, we support the work that is ongoing with the United Nations Environment Programme. They have found that depleted uranium munitions do contaminate soils and groundwater. We know that there are concerns around the potential of this as a cause of birth defects. There are birth defects in areas where it has been used that are unaccounted for. The direct lines of connection have not yet been proved conclusively, but there is enough to worry about to say that this is a likely cause of damage to unborn children and to children who are born, and therefore we should have nothing to do with it.
New Zealand does not have to make big sacrifices in order to adopt the principles in this bill. But we can show leadership in the world, just as we showed over cluster munitions, and just as we showed over landmines through our leadership and support before those causes became fashionable. I say to Mr Hayes and the National Government: think again, at least send this bill to a select committee, enable the evidence to be put up there, enable the debate to be had, and do not simply try to close down the debate because it is not convenient to you. This is a bill that has been carefully worked through. I think it will have a lot of support in the wider population of New Zealand, and I hope that all of the political parties in this House send it to a select committee so a proper examination of the consequences of the use of depleted uranium can be worked through.
Hon TAU HENARE (National)
: Kia ora, Mr Speaker. Let us go back a couple of years, to 2005, when the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee decided—
Brendan Horan: That’s 7 years.
Hon TAU HENARE: Oh, it is just a couple—it is a couple. The chair, John Hayes, who spoke in the debate earlier on, is absolutely right. I just want to say that if you have a look at Phil Twyford’s bill, the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill, it is basically
three lines that have been stolen from the minority report. Sometimes we have very in-depth minority reports. But the minority report in 2005 was three lines long. So, did Phil Twyford do his homework? Of course he did. He went to the select committee, picked up the report, and cut and pasted three lines. And the three lines in that report said to ban the manufacture, the use, the storage, the supply, and the transit of armour and munitions. That is all it said. That was the minority report. So this is nothing but a flight of fancy to get the guy in the news.
All of the scientific evidence says, and even the International Atomic Energy Agency says—and I will read it out. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in 2003 that “Based on credible scientific evidence, there is no proven link between DU exposure and increases in human cancers or other significant health or environmental impacts.” It is actually time to look at the real things in front of this country and not some sort of Fabian fantasy that is going on inside that small head of Mr Phil Twyford.
Hon Simon Bridges: That sounds like a movie Shane Jones would watch!
Hon TAU HENARE: Yes, well, it could have been. There is no reason for us to go down this path.
GARETH HUGHES (Green)
: Kia ora. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora. That was an absolutely shocking couple of calls from the National members just then. This is a legitimate, serious, and very prescient issue facing this Parliament and we hear nothing but politics from the National members—nothing but politics. You know, it is just like—paraphrasing that famous New Zealander—you can almost smell the depleted uranium coming off their breath. We would like to congratulate the member Phil Twyford. This Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill is a good bill. The Green Party is proud to be supporting it. We are disappointed that National will not be supporting it. You know, I did not hear any legitimate arguments why National could not send it to a select committee, so we could get the experts, we could get the military in, we could maybe even hear from some of our allies, and thrash out the issues. Instead, this party wants to throw it out the door—to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
It is a significant issue. It has been shown in numerous reports around the world from the United Nations Environment Programme that it does pose a health risk to humans and it does pose an environmental risk. I note that in 2006 New Zealand became a signatory to the UN General Assembly resolution accepting that depleted uranium munitions were a potential risk to health. I do not get what the problem is with sending this bill to a select committee so that we can have this discussion. This bill is a simple bill. It does only a few things. It seeks to ban the possession, use, sale, manufacturing, testing, and transit of uranium munitions around New Zealand.
It is important that New Zealand sends a message to the world. We have been a world leader on cluster bombs. We have been a world leader on landmines. We have been a world leader on banning nuclear weapons around the world. The “New Zealand disease”, as it was called, was the risk that we would spread our nuclear-free zone around the world, and it has happened in a number of countries, and history has proved us right. I am convinced that history will prove the National Party wrong on this serious, important issue. We could have that debate around what impact it would mean for our Defence Force. In fact, what I think our New Zealand Defence Force would like is having the legal cover so that its personnel do not have to work with depleted uranium around the world. We know that we are already testing them when they come back from overseas deployments. We want to give them protection so that they do not have to be involved in something that I consider is immoral, a significant health problem, and something we should be banning. New Zealand, if we were passing this law, would be sending a strong message to the world.
I would like to touch on a different point, which is the fact that New Zealand has been trans-shipping annually in the last almost two decades through our ports around 5,000 tonnes of uranium yellowcake from Australia. The fact is that I have gone through all of the Environmental Risk Management Authority reports and one of the destinations of the Australian uranium yellowcake is a facility in Metropolis, Illinois, the same facility in the US that produces depleted uranium munitions. I believe that New Zealand is complicit in the international nuclear trade. We are complicit in making it cheaper and facilitating the trade so that the US can manufacture horrible, horrible weapons.
New Zealand should not be part of that nuclear trade, and that is why the Green Party is proud to be supporting this bill. We have been a leader on these issues before. History has proven us right. History will prove us right again. It is absolutely disappointing that the National Party is not supporting it, but we take our hats off to Phil Twyford. We do not think this is about politics. We think this is about a serious, important issue that New Zealanders and people around the world are facing, and we congratulate them and wish this bill all the best.
Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie)
: It is a pleasure to take a short call on the first reading of the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill. Let me state up front that this is the first time I have spoken on a bill in this House where I have opposed a bill. I oppose this bill because it is wrong in its formation, and it is not based on scientific evidence—the evidence-based approach that this Government takes.
What the bill does is seek to ban the use of depleted uranium ammunitions and armour until research proves that it does not have an adverse effect on health. We on this side support continued monitoring and research into the effects of depleted uranium, but we will not take further action without clear scientific evidence. This stance is supported, as my honourable colleague the Hon Tau Henare has said, by recommendations of the 2001 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the 2010 submission to the United Nations by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
A number of evaluations of the environmental and health impact of depleted uranium munitions have been performed. Together with the United Nations and several international appraisals, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the WHO have come to the conclusion that “the results of these assessments indicated that the existence of depleted uranium residues dispersed in the environment does not”—does not—“pose a radiological hazard to the population of the affected regions.”
We oppose this bill. It is another clear example that the Labour Opposition is legislating and creating problems, rather than legislating to fix problems, as this National Government does. I oppose this bill.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Just before I call the honourable member, a reminder about the use of electronic devices in the Chamber. Can I advise members that the rules relating to the use of electronic devices in the Chamber have been relaxed in recent years. Their use is permitted, but not so as to disrupt the business of the House, and they must be switched to silent mode when in the Chamber. Any member using electronic devices for notes from which to refresh their memories when speaking in debate is fine. At these times they may be placed on the top surface of a member’s desk. At all other times they should be placed on the drop-down work surface so that they in no way obstruct or interfere with the Speaker’s view of the House or any of its members.
RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First)
: I am pleased to rise on behalf of New Zealand First to speak to the first reading of this thoroughly commendable member’s bill, the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill. New Zealand First supports the broad aims of this bill and we are happy to support it going to select committee. We do have some
concerns about certain of the provisions of this bill, notably the extraterritorial application outlined in clause 6. We are very unhappy about that particular aspect of this bill. It is not the view of New Zealand First that New Zealand should seek, as a general rule, to extend the reach of our laws beyond the limits of our own territorial jurisdiction. There is some justification, we think, for extending the application of New Zealand law in certain circumstances, for example to those who organise or participate in child sex tours to countries whose laws do not, in our view, offer adequate protections to the young and the vulnerable. But we do not see the implications of depleted uranium falling into the same category as those types of acts.
Depleted uranium as a metal has properties that make it of great value in military applications. It is a very heavy, dense metal, heavier than lead, and also very hard, second in hardness only to tungsten. In a previous incarnation I was involved in the manufacture of anti-tank missiles, and in those days depleted uranium was regarded as being as near to the mythical material unobtainium as it was possible to get. Armour made from depleted uranium could not be pierced by anything other than depleted uranium, and penetrators made from depleted uranium could slice their way through any armour made from any other material. Depleted uranium penetrator rounds sharpen themselves as they cut through armour, and the metal ignites on impact, at the relatively low temperature of 500 to 600 degrees Celsius created by the heat of friction from the impact itself. Thus depleted uranium rounds self-ignite, and do not require an additional incendiary charge.
Playing devil’s advocate, then, from the point of view of the manufacturer or indeed the user of armour and anti-armour weapons, depleted uranium is a very useful and desirable material indeed, and that is why it is used militarily. But depleted uranium does have civilian applications, and in assessing these uses it is important to remember that depleted uranium is not regarded as a particularly radioactive material. Depleted uranium is utilised, amongst other things, in radiation shields for the transport and storage of nuclear waste, in industrial X-ray applications, as a counterweight and ballast in ships and aircraft, as other members have mentioned, and as an ingredient in some white and fluorescent pigments, including those used in dentistry.
Depleted uranium is created as a by-product of either the enrichment of uranium for nuclear reactor fuel or the production of nuclear weapons—
Hon Maurice Williamson: How does the member know all this?
RICHARD PROSSER: —or as a by-product of the consumption of nuclear fuel in naval and power-generating reactors. If the member had been listening, he would understand that I have been involved in the manufacture of anti-tank missiles, so that is how I know.
In either case, the resultant metal contains a lower proportion of highly fissile isotopes and a higher proportion of less fissile isotopes, meaning that depleted uranium is a heavier, more dense, and actually less radioactive material than natural uranium, or yellowcake as it was referred to earlier. In medical terms it is regarded as a toxin rather than a radiation risk. However, when it is burnt or otherwise destroyed as part of military munitions, depleted uranium produces a very fine dust, sometimes mistaken for smoke by the way it behaves. This dust, because of the way it accumulates in the body and living tissue, is radioactive and does create a radiation risk. This dust is a known carcinogen, and the author of this bill is quite correct in identifying it as such.
We share the concern that depleted uranium may contain the risk of becoming the agent orange of the next generation of returned servicemen, and we agree with the adoption of the precautionary principle as far as its use in New Zealand is concerned, but we are also concerned that the only New Zealanders or agents of the New Zealand Government who may be involved in the development, use, sale, manufacture, transit,
or testing of depleted uranium munitions in overseas jurisdictions will be military personnel or scientists on exercise transfer or secondment to the Governments or military forces of the United States or Great Britain. Depleted uranium munitions are manufactured in nearly 20 countries, but it is only Great Britain and the US that will admit to their use, and it is only those two countries with which we are likely to be associated that will be using them. Neither is likely to be swayed from using depleted uranium because of the position taken by New Zealand, but any attempt to extend the reach of domestic legislation beyond our jurisdiction is likely to have the potential to interfere with our defence and diplomatic relationships.
That said, we do feel that the point has to be made, and that New Zealand does need to stamp our mark on the moral high ground with regard to the military use of depleted uranium. It is a horrible, toxic substance when used in this way, and, oxymoronic though it may sound, it has no more a rightful place on the modern civilised battlefield than did poison gas a century ago. In any case there is far more devilish weaponry, I can tell this House, under development today, that will render ballistic and even kinetic weapons and physical armour obsolete within a few decades, and any efforts we can make to hasten the demise of the military use of depleted uranium can only be to the greater good.
In closing I reiterate that New Zealand First agrees with the broad aims of this bill, and we are happy to support it going to a select committee, where the concerns that we do have may be addressed. Thank you.
JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany)
: I stand to speak in opposition to the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill. I understand that the member Phil Twyford does feel strongly about this issue, but National stands in opposition to this bill because we do not believe in boxing at shadows. We do not believe in passing legislation that would put us in the league of a number of countries such as Belgium. What are the other countries? That is the only country that has banned depleted uranium. So although we like to be world leaders around the world, we do not necessarily have to be the ones who go off banning things unnecessarily, when, to date, no adverse health effects have been identified by New Zealand Defence Force personnel, and no conclusive evidence that depleted uranium poses a significant health or environmental threat has been found, either.
The people of Te Atatū made a bold decision last year. They elected Phil Stoner Twyford to Parliament to be their representative, to champion their most significant issues, and to stand up for them on the big issues of the day. What have we got here today? A bill about banning depleted uranium. This is a bit of a non-event. This is boxing at shadows.
Hon Maurice Williamson: This is a huge issue in my electorate—a huge issue!
JAMI-LEE ROSS: This is not a huge issue in my electorate, Mr Williamson. I can assure the House that I have thoroughly asked my constituents at every single constituent meeting—no, no, I am just joking here. This is not an issue that I think weighs heavily on the hearts of New Zealanders.
We know from the report that the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee did most recently that this is not an issue that is pressing for the country to deal with. I just want to finish off by quoting a paragraph from the select committee report. It said: “Agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency have conducted research into the effect of depleted uranium on the human population, and generally conclude that the risk of post-conflict contamination is statistically insignificant.” I suggest that this bill is also insignificant and is not worthy of being passed by the House.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Consumer Affairs)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to clarify whether the way that the Hon Tau Henare’s iPad is positioned is in line with your earlier clarification to this House.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Can I just advise members that members may use such instruments during the course of a debate when they are in the House, but when members are not debating, they must be removed from the top of the bench and placed on the desk underneath.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour)
: It gives me great pleasure to speak to the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill. What does not give me great pleasure is the lack of intellectual honesty that we have seen coming from the fatuous speeches from the other side. They make light of something that has the potential, if not proven already, to cause deformity, and to be carcinogenic—to cause cancers. For this Parliament not to take this seriously should make all of those members opposite hold their heads down at the moment—and they are, except for two, and so they should.
I have never heard such offensive trivia coming from the members opposite, and they turn that into an art form usually. But right now we have been debating a bill that asks for a very precautionary approach to be taken to an issue about which there are serious international concerns. I ask members opposite whether they have never ever in their lives learnt something that made them do things differently. Have they never once had the occasion to be informed about something, which then conferred upon them a sense of responsibility to do something? What these disappointing contributions from the National members are causing me to get angry about is the fact that knowledge brings responsibility. There is evidence. There is sufficient evidence—
Hon Members: Where?
Hon MARYAN STREET: Let us see. The United Nations Environment Programme has found that depleted uranium munitions have the potential to contaminate soils and groundwater. Uranium is a known carcinogen. It induces birth defects. Dust particles from depleted uranium weapons contain high proportions of uranium.
I do not know what all the science is about when it comes to depleted uranium. The New Zealand First speaker who spoke before me, Richard Prosser, clearly knows more about this area than I do, but I am willing to learn, which is more than can be said about any of the National contributors to this debate. Not only have I never heard a single serious word come out of the mouth of the Hon Simon Bridges but I have not heard—
Hon Simon Bridges: I haven’t spoken on the bill yet.
Hon MARYAN STREET: Exactly my point—exactly my point, Mr Bridges. Thank you for confirming what I just said. So can I just say that in the course of learning about agent orange some decades ago, we came to do things differently. We did not know about the effects of agent orange in the 1960s, but we do know the effects of agent orange now, and we have done work to compensate people for their suffering as a result of that.
The fact that we do not have all the information about the effects of depleted uranium does not absolve anybody in this House from the responsibility of looking into it if it has the potential to harm human beings. Why is that lot over there denying the opportunity for a moderate bill to go for examination to the select committee? Take some responsibility. This is not party politics here. This is about whether or not when one knows something, one can finally do something about it. When one knows something, does one take responsibility for it?
My frustration here is that the lemmings on the other side will simply play politics with any good idea that comes from anybody who is not of their party. Any good idea that comes from somebody who is not of their party, they will shoot down in principle—and the only principle is that it does not come from their party. This is a
shocking performance. If something has the potential to harm human beings, why does any member on that side of the House refuse to do anything about it? That lack of responsibility, that kind of attitude, is the sort of attitude that we would not wish to pass on to our children. I want my daughter to be responsible when she learns about things. The example from members opposite will never make that happen for their children. What we have seen tonight is a complete travesty.
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National)
: I have listened very carefully to the reasons my colleagues have articulated as to why they cannot support the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill. I join with them in opposing the bill.
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū)
: In 1995 I was working for Oxfam, and at the time there was an international conference on the international convention on inhumane weapons. The National Prime Minister of the time was Jim Bolger, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade was Don McKinnon. I worked with a range of Opposition party leaders, including Peter Dunne, Winston Peters, and Helen Clark, and together those Opposition leaders went to Mr Bolger, the Prime Minister, and said that the New Zealand Government’s position needed to change, that New Zealand should support a ban on landmines, and that we should change our position. At that time, New Zealand’s position was to not support a global ban on landmines.
Mr Bolger and Mr McKinnon were a Prime Minister and a Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the day who, I would say, are very different in character and temperament from the current crop of National MPs whom we see on the other side of the House, because they took principled positions. They were prepared to listen. They were prepared to summon political courage and to do the right thing. After that dialogue happened, they adopted the position to ban landmines. New Zealand became one of the first countries in the world to support a global ban on landmines. I think that the performance we have seen from the National Party members in this debate is an absolute indictment of the courage, the ethics, and the intellectual rigour that we would hope members would bring to this House.
I want to thank Robert Green and the Depleted Uranium Education Team, who are a New Zealand campaign group on this issue and who inspired this bill. I want to thank Peace Movement Aotearoa, the Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility, and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, which is doing a lot of good work on this issue on the international stage.
Hon Annette King: What about Graham Kelly?
PHIL TWYFORD: I want to remember Graham Kelly, a former member of this House who is with us tonight. He is a tireless campaigner and an advocate on these issues.
Finally, I want to urge the members of this House to think seriously about the precautionary principle in relation to depleted uranium weapons. It was really disappointing to hear one National member after another stand up in this House and parrot the phrase “there is no conclusive evidence”, as if they had been completely deaf to the statements that had preceded their speeches about the fact that numerous international agencies have said that there is a potential link between depleted uranium weapons and the risks to health and the environment, and the argument that there is sufficient concern and evidence to warrant a ban based on a precautionary principle until conclusive epidemiological studies are done. The very nature of depleted uranium weapons—the fact that they affect civilians and combatants and communities in war—makes those definitive scientific studies almost impossible to carry out. That is the basis of this argument, and I am sorry to say that members on that side of the House completely missed it the first time round.
It was incredible to hear the chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, John Hayes, stand up and raise as one of his chief objections to the Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill the fact that our old Skyhawks had depleted uranium ballast. The objection about depleted uranium weapons is not proximity to the material itself; it is that when the weapons explode and ignite they disperse radioactive and chemically toxic dust, which is incredibly harmful to human health. After being on a select committee that considered this issue for about 3 years, for the chair of the committee to come to this House tonight and raise the question of the Skyhawks’ ballast absolutely beggars belief.
He also raised the point that this bill would make criminals out of New Zealand service personnel serving overseas. Does he not know that the landmines ban and the cluster munitions ban have interoperability provisions in those Acts that allow New Zealand defence personnel to serve and fight alongside allied personnel whose countries are not signatories to those bans on cluster munitions and landmines? It was absolutely ignorant, and it was beneath that member to come to this House and raise those objections.
The member Tau Henare raised a criticism that this bill was based on a cut and paste from the select committee report. If he went and read the nuclear-free legislation, he would know that this bill is modelled closely on that nuclear-free legislation.
I want to thank the New Zealand First and Greens members for their thoughtful responses on, and support for, this bill. I urge the House to vote for this bill and send it to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee.
A party vote was called for on the question,
Depleted Uranium (Prohibition) Bill
||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; Māori Party 2; Mana 1; United Future 1.
||New Zealand National 59; ACT New Zealand 1.
|Motion not agreed to.
Hon TAU HENARE (National)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been a longstanding issue of order in the House about the mentioning of either members or parties and whether they are here or whether they are not. We are not allowed to do it. That member over there just said that a particular party was not here.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai)
: The member has stated an interjection that was said to another member in the House, and claimed that a member was claiming that another member was not in the House. If you were to take every interjection or comment that was made, then I think you would find it very difficult to maintain order in this House. I also find that member being a tell-tale tit at this stage—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order! The member was on track and was doing very, very well. I am choosing to ignore that interjection, as I am choosing to ignore the other one.
BRENDAN HORAN (NZ First)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I beg your indulgence for a new member. Can you just enlighten me, please—when it is 60 all, how is it lost?
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): It is because you have to have a positive majority in favour.
Brendan Horan: OK. Thank you.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Thank you.