The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has joined forces with fellow peak health organisations in calling for the ALP to sign a landmark United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons ahead of the party’s annual national conference.
Australian-born activist group The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) drove the development of the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which was adopted by 122 countries at the UN in New York in 2017 and led to ICAN being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize later that year.
The treaty prohibits the use of nuclear weapons, their development, testing, stockpiling, production and threat of use.
The danger of nuclear weapons being used is higher than it has been for more than half a century and evidence from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows no health service in the world would be capable of responding to the devastation even a single nuclear weapon could inflict on a city.
The current Australian government refused to sign the treaty and formally acknowledge ICAN’s efforts, falling into line with the world’s biggest nuclear-armed nations such as the United States and Russia.
However, other US allies such as New Zealand and Thailand have signed and ratified the treaty and maintain their ties.
While the ALP too failed to recognise the Nobel Peace Prize, its existing policy adopted in 2015 details support for “negotiation of a global treaty banning such [nuclear] weapons” and the topic is likely to spark strong debate at its national conference held from 16 to 18 December.
Tellingly, 78% of the Federal Labor caucus have already pledged support for signing and ratifying the treaty.
Health professionals in Australia and around the world have long advocated for banning nuclear weapons due to their catastrophic consequences and threat to human health and welfare.
In a show of collective action, the ANMF, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Rehabilitation Medicine Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have signed a Healthcare Organisations Statement, initiated by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW, Australia), calling on the Australian Government and ALP to sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty.
It followed calls last week by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) for Australia to sign the treaty.
The statement says nuclear weapons represent an overwhelming threat to human and environmental health and that the only way to avoid widespread destruction is to abolish them.
“As an organisation of healthcare professionals, we call on the Australian Government to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and we call on all parliamentarians to work to achieve this essential goal, as we believe it is a key step toward the abolition of the world’s most terrifying devices,” it reads.
ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said the country’s largest union felt it was important to take a stand on nuclear weapons.
“With millions of colleagues around the world, including the International Council of Nurses and the World Medical Association, we strongly support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Ms Butler said.
“The treaty represents a significant step toward eliminating the most destructive weapons ever created. We call on all governments, including our own, to sign and ratify the Treaty.”
MAPW Australian President, Dr Sue Wareham, welcomed the support from peak health organisations representing doctors, nurses and midwives.
“Peak organisations representing hundreds of thousands of health professionals have today taken action to prevent humanitarian catastrophe and address the nuclear threat to public health. MAPW urges the government and opposition to commit to signing the treaty.”