Labor Policy and the TPNW

Feb 24, 2022 | News


Within a month of its election, the Albanese Labor Government made the decision to formally observe the First Meeting of States Parties to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Susan Templeman MP was the head of the Australian delegation, participating in the conference, a number of bilateral meetings and an ICAN Australia online event. Australia’s participation in the first MSP is a welcome first step towards fulfilling their pre-election commitment to sign and ratify the treaty.

The following represents Labor’s position on nuclear weapons, and in particular the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Labor:

      • Notes the unacceptable risk posed by more than 13,000 nuclear weapons held between nine countries.
      • Notes the devastating humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and has a proud record grounded in long-standing efforts to pursue nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
      • Welcomed the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 22 January 2021, making nuclear weapons illegal under international law.
      • Has committed to signing and ratifying the Treaty in government after taking into account the need to ensure an effective verification and enforcement architecture, interaction of the Treaty with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and achieving universal support, first in December 2018 and again in March 2021, following the decision of the 2021 National Conference.
      • Condemns the Morrison-Joyce Government for its failure to help create the conditions necessary to build universal support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
      • Urges the Morrison-Joyce Government to commit Australia to attending the first meeting of states parties to the Treaty in Vienna in March 2022.

Source: Office of Senator Penny Wong, February 2022.



      • Congratulates the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons on its work in returning to global prominence the cause of nuclear disarmament;
      • Acknowledges the value of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the Ban Treaty) and its aspiration to rid the world of nuclear weapons for all time; and
      • Acknowledges the centrality of the US Alliance to Australia’s national security and strategic policy.

Labor in government will sign and ratify the Ban Treaty, after taking account of the need to:

      • Ensure an effective verification and enforcement architecture;
      • Ensure the interaction of the Ban Treaty with the longstanding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
      • Work to achieve universal support for the Ban Treaty.”

    This policy was moved by Anthony Albanese MP, seconded by Richard Marles MP and adopted by the 2018 National Labor Conference.

    It was again moved as part of Chapter 7 by Senator Penny Wong, seconded by Brendan O’Connor MP and adopted by the 2021 Special Platform Conference.

    The matters identified to be “taken account of” will help Labor deliver on this historic commitment when next in government. Further detail on each matter is below.

    Anthony Albanese MP holds ICAN Nobel Peace Prize medal while moving the resolution to commit a future Labor Government to signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 18 December 2018. Read the speech here.

    Senator Penny Wong moves Chapter 7, including nuclear disarmament, at the national Special Platform Conference, 30 March 2021.


    1. “Ensure an effective verification and enforcement architecture”

    The TPNW strengthens the current nuclear safeguards regime run by the International Atomic Energy Agency by requiring all states that join to have a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement in place (currently this requirement does not apply to all states), and by not allowing states to reduce the safeguards they already have in place (currently there is no such restriction on back-tracking). The treaty anticipates and allows for safeguards to strengthen over time.

    The TPNW provides the first internationally agreed pathway to eliminate nuclear weapons to be codified in a treaty. This framework is robust and fit for purpose, allowing states to “destroy then join”, or “join then destroy” their weapons. For the latter, it requires implementation of agreed time-bound plans for elimination of nuclear weapons and the programs that produce them to be verified by an independent international authority. The treaty doesn’t define the exact sequence of detailed steps for this, as this was beyond the UN mandate for the treaty negotiations would not have been possible in the time available, and cannot credibly be mapped out without the active participation of nuclear-armed states, all of which boycotted the negotiations. The treaty’s framework can readily accommodate detailed disarmament roadmaps when nuclear-armed states get serious about their obligation to disarm. The treaty also stipulates that the highest possible standard of safeguards be applied in states which disarm, to prevent nuclear weapons being re-built.

    Regarding enforcement, the TPNW contains mechanisms to promote compliance, including the meetings of states parties and review conferences and measures they may take. Issues may be further raised with the UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council, or resolution sought before the International Court of Justice or the Permanent Court of Arbitration. These mechanisms are imperfect, but subject to similar and not greater constraints than face any other international treaty in a world of sovereign states.

    2. “Ensure the interaction of the Ban Treaty with the longstanding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”

    The TPNW has been carefully crafted to reinforce, complement and build on the NPT, which stipulates and requires the negotiation of further legal measures to achieve nuclear disarmament. The TPNW explicitly affirms the vital role of full and effective implementation of the NPT. All states parties to the TPNW are also bound by the NPT. Like all other states parties to the NPT, Australia is obligated to pursue “effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” under Article VI. The world’s highest legal authority, the International Court of Justice, has unanimously agreed that the obligation on all states is not just to negotiate in good faith towards nuclear disarmament, but to bring these negotiations to a conclusion ie to achieve results.

    The TPNW is the first such multilateral “effective measure” to enter into force in almost 50 years. Far from conflicting with the NPT, the obligations under the TPNW reinforce and advance its objects and purpose “to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, … and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery”. Joining the TPNW will also strengthen the commitments Australia has made under the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.

    3. “Work to achieve universal support for the Ban Treaty”

    International law develops progressively, as more countries join and implement treaties; norms change and become institutionalised; evidence has impact; social, political, economic and moral pressure build. No treaty has been joined by every nation on Earth, and sometimes it takes many years for states to join treaties. For example, nuclear-armed China and France joined the NPT only in 1992, 22 years after it entered into legal force. Because of a few hold-out states, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Australia championed has yet to enter into legal force 25 years after it was negotiated. Every state joining the TPNW is obliged to work for the goal of “universal adherence of all states to the treaty” (Article 12). As with other treaties, the greater the adherence to the TPNW, the more effective the treaty can be. The best way to promote the universalisation of the TPNW, as with any treaty, is to ‘walk the talk’ and lead by example – join it, faithfully implement it, promote it, work to enhance it, and thereby be in a strong and credible position to encourage other states to do the same.


    Thus the considerations identified in the policy can serve as useful signposts for Australia’s ongoing engagement with the treaty once it has joined. Australia should signal its good faith intention by signing the TPNW without delay, followed as soon as feasible by its ratification of this ground-breaking agreement, once the changes needed to bring Australia into compliance with the treaty have been put in place. That would not only make history, but get our nation on the right side of it.



    Further detail can be found in our report Choosing Humanity. This post was first published in March 2021 and updated in February 2022.