Nobel Peace Ride: Cyclists carry medal to Canberra, urging end to nuclear weapons

A group of cyclists have set off from Melbourne, bound for Canberra to deliver a message to Australia’s new Foreign Minister on banning nuclear weapons.

A group of cyclists have begun a 900 kilometre journey to Canberra to urge Australia to sign the nuclear ban treaty.

A group of cyclists have begun a 900 kilometre journey to Canberra to urge Australia to sign the nuclear ban treaty. Source: Supplied

Twenty cyclists have begun a 900km journey to Canberra from Melbourne.

In their hands will be precious cargo: Australia's first Nobel Peace Prize.

Gem Romuld holding the Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to ICAN.

The medal was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2017 in recognition of their work on the adoption of the global treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said at the time that the group had been recognised "for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons".

Gem Romuld, ICAN's Australian director, said the group's work remains unfinished.

The route of the 900-kilometre bike trek.
Source: Ride With GPS

“An overarching purpose is to urge our government to sign on the nuclear weapons ban treaty,” she said.

“Sixty countries have so far signed on...And many financial institutions are starting to exclude nuclear weapons producers from their investments.

“This is the first treaty to clearly outlaw nuclear weapons, and to set out a clear pathway for their total elimination. And it is absolutely vital that Australia get behind this.”

Leading the Nobel Peace Ride, Ms Romuld said the journey gave a nod to ICAN's origin story.

“We’re heading out from the steps of Parliament House where ICAN was launched 10 years ago," she said.

A conversation between campaigners in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Carlton in 2006 planted the seed for what would later become a global movement.

The group officially launched at Victoria's parliament house in 2007 before expanding to a coalition of 468 grassroots non-governmental groups working towards a UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The dream was achieved in July 2017 when a legally-binding treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons was adopted in a vote by 122 nations, but Australia was not among them.

Ms Romuld said with a new Foreign Minister in the form of Marise Payne, there is renewed hope Australia could join the ranks of nations who have signed the treaty.

(L-R) Rose and Karina Lester, ICAN Founder Dimity Hawkins, ICAN Chair Richard Tanter and ICAN Outreach Coordinator Gem Romuld in Melbourne in 2017.
Source: AAP

“Now the treaty has been finalised and countries are signing on, it's continuing to grow in strength. So it's not just a symbolic gesture, and some nice words from the UN. This treaty is starting to bite. And it is starting to have an effect around the world.

“We think the current position will change. There are quite a lot of Labor parliamentarians that have pledged their support for Australia to sign and ratify this treaty.

“Seventy-three per cent of federal Labor parliamentarians have pledged to work for this goal. So if it is not this current government then we look forward to a future Labor government finding and ratifying the treaty.”

Sixty nations have signed the treaty since 20 September 2017, with 14 of those countries also ratifying it.

The treaty comes into force 90 days after the list of ratified countries reaches 50.

United States, United Kingdom and France have refused to be part of the treaty and "do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it".

US ally Australia boycotted the conference to negotiate the treaty in 2017 and has consistently stated that nuclear weapons possessed by a select few is a legitimate source of security and deterrence.

Ms Romuld said there is growing support for the opposing view, with a growing nations signing the treaty, including a number in the Asia-Pacific region like New Zealand, Indonesia and 10 Pacific island countries.

ICAN activists during a protest against investments in nuclear weapons in Melbourne.
Source: ICAN

“If you're talking about the nuclear option, then you're talking about being comfortable with the potential use of nuclear weapons; and we know that any use of nuclear weapons will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences,” Ms Romuld said.

“Whether that is on purpose, or accidental, there is no acceptable use for nuclear weapons. And there is no legitimate place for these weapons in any country's hands.”

And even though some headway has been made on the global diplomatic front, with the high-profile meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un this year on June 12, campaigners are concerned the issue could be enlivened from dormancy at any moment.

“The status quo is not stable. And it is unlikely to persist this way indefinitely,” Ms Romuld said.

ICAN's Dimity Hawkins, Tim Wright and Tilman Ruff at the Victorian Trades Hall Council in Carlton in 2017.
Source: AAP

“Global events turn so quickly, and we may be faced with a very real threat of nuclear weapons being used again. And we just cannot risk that.”

The group will arrive in Canberra on September 20 after stopping in Benalla, Albury/Wodonga, Gundagai and Yass.

That date marks one year since the treaty was open for countries to sign on.

Work is underway to secure a meeting with Minister Payne, in addition to the scheduled event with speakers, federal Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese and independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

Published 2 September 2018 at 12:02pm
By Biwa Kwan