Amendment of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Regulations 1997

In November 2019, the Conference of the States Parties (CSP) to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) considered two proposals, a joint proposal from the United States, Canada and The Netherlands and a proposal from the Russian Federation, to add additional chemicals to the CWC Schedule 1 Annex on Chemicals.

The CSP considered both proposals simultaneously, and both were adopted by consensus. This action represents the first time the Annex on Chemicals has been changed since the CWC entered into force in 1997. The decision to add four new classes of chemicals, was made in response to the use of Novichok chemical nerve agents in the United Kingdom in 2018. As Australia's National Authority for the implementation of the CWC, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) worked with partner agencies to ensure that changes made to the CWC are implemented fully through Australian regulations.

In 2018, there were two incidents of exposure in the United Kingdom to a chemical toxin that was later identified as a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok series.1 The first incident occurred on 4 March 2018, in Salisbury. Father and daughter, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, the first two victims, were hospitalised and treated along with two police officers who were incidentally exposed to the chemical toxin whilst investigating the Skripal's exposure. The second incident occurred on 30 June 2018 in the nearby village of Amesbury. In this incident, two UK nationals were exposed to the same type of chemical agent that had affected the Skripals months earlier. Chemical analysis of environmental and biomedical samples revealed that all those hospitalised during these incidents were exposed to the same type of chemical, a Novichok series chemical nerve agent. One victim died from the exposure.

These incidents represented the first time a chemical nerve agent had been used in Europe since the Second World War. Its use drew condemnation from governments around the world. The Novichok series of nerve agents had not previously been specifically listed in the Annex on Chemicals, but were covered under catch-all definitions within the CWC. In order to subject this class of chemicals to the CWC's verification regime, it was proposed that they be specifically included in the Annex on Chemicals.

In November 2019, the OPCW Conference of States Parties adopted the two proposals to include the Novichok class of chemicals in Schedule 1 of the CWC Annex on Chemicals.2 The OPCW announced the decisions in November and provided consolidated text of the amendments in December 2019 to enable States Parties to implement the changes, with effect on 7 June 2020.

ASNO engaged with industry and government stakeholders and determined that there was no current, or past, interest in producing, processing or consuming these chemicals in Australia and therefore no negative economic impact of implementing these changes within Australia. ASNO coordinated the amendment of Australia's Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Regulations 1997 and the changes entered into force on 7 June 2020.3 ASNO engaged with Australian Border Force which amended the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 to include the additional families of chemicals with entry into force on 7 June 2020.4 ASNO further engaged with the Department of Defence and verified that the ‘Defence Strategic Goods List' (DSGL) regulated the exportation of these chemicals.

Australia has a been a Party to the CWC since the CWC entered into force in 1997 and continues to support the OPCW in its role as the CWC's implementing body and its efforts to oversee the global endeavour to permanently and verifiably eliminate chemical weapons. ASNO, as Australia's National Authority for the implementation of the CWC, and with the assistance of DFAT and partner agencies, continues to ensure that the CWC is implemented fully through Australian legislation and regulations.

1 Incident in Salisbury, OPCW.

2 Conference of the States Parties Adopts Decisions to Amend Chemical Weapons Convention Annex, OPCW 2019.

3 Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Amendment (Annex on Chemicals) Regulations 2020, Federal Register of Legislation.

4 Australian Customs Notice No. 2020/23, Australian Border Force.