Cluster bombs are currently the subject of considerable humanitarian concern internationally because of their indiscriminate effect.
Every year, thousands of civilians, many of them children, are killed and maimed by any one of the hundreds of munitions (also known as “bomblets”) released by cluster bombs. Studies show that around 30 percent of all bomblets do not explode on impact, and therefore become de facto landmines. In such instances, bomblets can cause harm decades after the conflict has ended. Surely Australia would seek to ban the use of such weapons? The answer is a bit more complicated than you might expect. The Cluster Munitions Prohibition Bill (2010) seeks to do precisely that. If the legislation were passed, it would sign Australia up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of the weapons by member states.
With the final decision on the draft legislation having being deferred for some months now, this is not the place for me to again rehearse arguments based on either international humanitarian law, general treaty obligations, or the role of a middle-powers such as Australia in attempting to establish new “norms” of behavior. Rather, I seek here to highlight ways in which certain Australians will be needlessly faced with both implementation and moral dilemmas that will not be so easily resolved as presumed. These dilemmas relate to two significant loopholes identified in the Bill relating to “military interoperability” and “indirect investment.”