National MPs block New Zealand depleted uranium bill at first reading
Triggering heated exchanges in parliament, Phil Twyford MP from the opposition Labour party submitted his draft bill for a national ban this morning, which is modelled on similar legislation enacted in Belgium and Costa Rica. The final vote on whether the bill should proceed to committee stage for further scrutiny was tied at 60:60 and so the bill was rejected. Following the vote it emerged that the Maori Party, which was supporting the bill, was only able to cast two of its three votes due its co-leader Pita Sharples not being present in the chamber. Thus the bill was rejected by just one vote.
Phil Twyford MP sums up after the end of a noisy debate on his draft DU bill.
The National Party, which leads a minority government, had made its position clear prior to the debate. MPs contacted by campaigners had responded with a joint line claiming that there was insufficient evidence of harm to act. Supporters of the bill argued that there is sufficient evidence of potential harm, that DU use is a significant burden for states recovering from conflict and that the epidemiological studies called for by opponents are incredibly hard to undertake in post-conflict environments. They argued compellingly for New Zealand to adopt a precautionary approach – as they would if DU contamination was present on their own soil.
During the debate, Phil Twyford linked the proposed DU ban with New Zealand’s strong record on other inhumane weapons: "We legislated to ban cluster bombs and land mines in exactly the same way as a growing movement of countries that say these weapons are inhumane - they should not be used and should be banned."
However, throughout the debate the National MPs stuck to their line and even derided Twyford for presenting a bill that was “of no relevance to New Zealanders”. Labour MPs hit back by accusing the National MPs of irresponsible politicking, with a particularly strong response from Maryan Street MP.
The bill had attracted support from the Green and New Zealand First parties. Green MP Gareth Hughes praised Twyford for the initiative and also highlighted that nuclear free New Zealand has been used as a transhipment point for Australian yellowcake uranium bound for the US. It is perhaps notable that Australia’s agreement with the US over uranium exports forbids its end use in nuclear weapons and depleted uranium weapons.
Richard Prosser MP of the New Zealand First party also supported the bill and argued strongly that DU’s use is unacceptable in contemporary conflict. Prosser previously worked on designing anti-tank weapons for the defence industry.
ICBUW and its partners in New Zealand are of course disappointed with the outcome and will now consider how best to proceed. “The result is extremely disappointing, particularly with the vote being so close,” said an ICBUW spokesperson. “We were somewhat taken aback by the attitude of the National MPs present in the debate, which to many international observers could be seen as irresponsible, given the considerable concern these weapons elicit – not least in Iraq. New Zealand has demonstrated impressive leadership on arms control issues in the past, it is reassuring that this spirit is still present in at least some sections of the parliament.”
ICBUW would like to thank its partners in New Zealand and the parties, politicians and members of the public who supported Phil Twyford’s bill.
NZ Herald: Uranium weapons deal rejected after one MP down
Stream the debates via the parliament website