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Friday, 22 January 2021 11:42

WILPF Australia Webinar


Reflections of Bishop Philip Huggins    


Dag Hammarskjold, wonderful former UN Secretary-General, said that the whole point of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other UN human rights legislation and monitoring, was so people could live without fear.

This Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which comes into force today, is, likewise , so people can live without fear - this fear of nuclear annihilation.

It is a wonderful step on a journey still to be completed.

We strive for a world in which none live in fear and none manipulate or create fears.

“Perfect love casts out fear” ( I John 4:18).

Gifted with life as one human family on this beautiful planet, the wisdom of all major world religions encourages us to live lovingly, with compassion- never doing to others what we would not want done to ourselves. Not under any circumstances.

No one wants to suffer like the poor souls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today therefore, the wisdom of the ages prevails, to a degree.


This achievement is in a global context in which trust is low and there is still much fear.

The achievement of the TPNW is precarious unless and until we build greater trust between the people of this one planet- a more loving, compassionate understanding of each other.

One lethal weapon system may otherwise just be replaced by another.

That’s the history.

For example, when the "Ban the Bomb" movement stopped tests in the atmosphere, testing just went underground, even under beautiful Pacific Ocean atolls .

After a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was negotiated (and Australia then was a creative, persuasive middle power of influence at the UN Conference on Disarmament), the Nuclear Weapon States still found ways to "modernise" and expand their nuclear arsenal.

On it goes. While we celebrate this achievement, we know the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) is struggling to contain the vertical and horizontal spread of nuclear weapons.

Unless the fears and hates are addressed, what will stop nations like Iran and N Korea proceeding, as last week's media suggest?

We pray the TPNW helps re-strengthen the NNPT but relationships must become healthier or threatened nations and nations with narcissistic leaders will keep seeking nuclear weapons.


Our response to the pandemic is a model:

*Follow the science and the best medical advice;

*Co operate together;

*Recognise this is an emergency.

Thankfully, in Australia there has been enough trust in each other’s good will and sufficiently clear policy with relevant sanctions, to contain the pandemic, so far.

Every major issue facing the human family requires the same approach, including the prevention of climate change and the prevention of nuclear war.

*The consequences of a nuclear war would be disastrous for the human family and for a planet already suffering climate change and a loss of biodiversity;

*We need to cooperate to prevent this by eliminating nuclear weapons;

*This is an emergency - control of the weapons are in the hands of fallible beings. 


1. QUALITY OF LEADERS. We can’t continue to elect political leaders who are intentionally or ineptly divisive. That is, leaders who feed off and fuel fears of an 'Us' versus 'Them' nature. I was at the UN Special Sessions on Disarmament in New York, mid 1980’s. Then it was Presidents Reagan and Breshnev of the USA and USSR, speaking out of their negative perceptions as super- power rivals. Forty years on we hear and see the same negative, fearful, hateful stereotypes with new super powers adding to the disquieting noise. We hope and pray the faithful, decent elderly President Biden can shift this. He might put on his desk the picture of President Putin at Midnight Mass in Holy Trinity Moscow where Russian St Sergius is buried under Rublev’s beautiful icon of the Holy Trinity. It was Sergius the saintly wood cutter who had us remember that “the contemplation of God dissolves all enmity”.

2. HISTORY MATTERS. Where trust is low, for historic reasons, we have to start with the little steps that are available to us so as to build trust incrementally. Each potential decision needs to be examined: Will this build trust? Is it truthful, kind and does it foster the beauty that gives peace to others?

3. THERE WILL CONTINUE TO BE RESISTANCES. There will be resistances for a time. Both from those so habituated to an “Us” versus “Them”, that they cannot or will not imagine a better future. But also from those with a vested interest  in perpetuating enmities…

4. TRUST-BUILDING CAN SEEM FRAGILE BUT IT IS NOT. Through the pandemic, here in Australia, we have seen how the goodwill and common decency, built up over generations, has facilitated the necessary level of cooperation in an emergency. There is this wonderful reservoir of social capital. Divisive, hate-filled groups have, so far, got little traction here. 

5. AUSTRALIA’S POTENTIAL, GIVEN HOW WE EMBODY THE DIVERSITY OF THE HUMAN FAMILY. That’s why Australia has such an important leadership role now, congruent with the fact of ICAN’ s international leadership today. Australia's relative social cohesion and our multifaith and multicultural character helps us see through the differences to our common humanity. Parents and grandparents  of every culture just want their young ones to be safe, living without fear.


With other faithful souls, my personal involvement in Disarmament Policy and Advocacy has continued alongside years of work with refugees who have had to flee their homeland because of war, violence and abysmal leadership. Many speak of the sustaining peace of the divine amidst their turmoil. Peace is a divine gift and, with it, comes our calling to be peace-makers. "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called the children of God”. (Matthew 5:9).

Blessed are those who have brought the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to this point. It gives great hope for a safer future. Now we must all consolidate this achievement with our best peace- making together.

With prayers of gratitude for all involved today,

Bishop Philip Huggins.

President, National Council of Churches in Australia; Director, Centre for Ecumenical Studies, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.


BIO note from Bishop Philip Huggins

I have been involved in the pursuit of Nuclear Disarmament since our children were very young. I was guided to see then that good parenting involved, not only attention to their safety and well-being at home, but also attention to global risk factors, especially the risk posed by the existence of nuclear weapons.

As a consequence, I was an NGO representative at the 1980’s UN Special Session on Disarmament in New York and thereafter have had many national and international involvements in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

Poignantly, vividly, I recall, for example, Japanese people in white presenting a petition signed by a million plus to the then UN Secretary-General, pleading from the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I recall the slow, patient negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament; the steps forward and backwards as regards the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty; the better days after ‘glasnost’; the recent undermining and demolishing of disarmament measures in the Trump years; the continuing risk of both further horizontal and verticle proliferation of nuclear weapons...

Now I have grandchildren and the same drive, like every other loving parent and grandparent on the planet, to ensure they are safe.

Accordingly, as an Anglican Bishop and as current President of the NCCA we persist with our advocacy, understanding that peace is both a divine gift and also is our task as peacemakers.

On January 22 we have a moment of celebration. It will be a time of encouragement and renewal for the day we hope and pray to see  - when there is a nuclear- free world!

Bishop Philip Huggins 

NCCA President.

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