The principal focus of ASNO's work is on international and domestic action to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons. Thus, ASNO's work relates directly to international and national security. ASNO performs domestic regulatory functions to ensure that Australia complies with its treaty commitments and that the public is protected through the application of high standards of safeguards and physical protection to nuclear materials and facilities. ASNO also works to strengthen the effectiveness of relevant treaty regimes through the application of specialist knowledge to complex policy problems in technical areas, including treaty verification and compliance.

The Non-Proliferation Legislation Amendment Act 2003 enabled the offices of the national authority for safeguards, the national authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the national authority for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) to be formally consolidated under a common title, named the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO). The legislation also enabled the titles of each of the directors of the three national authorities to be combined as the Director General ASNO.

Nuclear Safeguards Functions

Entering into force in March 1970, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and considered to be one of the United Nations' most successful multilateral treaties. The NPT has become almost universal, with 191 Parties.1 India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan have never joined the NPT. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) purported to withdraw from the NPT in 2003.

Under the NPT, non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) agree not to receive, manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The five nuclear-weapons states (NWS) agree not to transfer nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and not in any way to assist, encourage or induce an NNWS to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 (Safeguards Act), which took effect on 31 March 1987, forms the legislative basis for ASNO's nuclear safeguards and security activities across Australia.

The Safeguards Act gives effect to Australia's obligations under:

  • the NPT
  • Australia's Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol with the IAEA
  • agreements between Australia and various countries (and Euratom) concerning transfers of nuclear items and cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy
  • the Amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and
  • the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT).

The Safeguards Act also establishes a system for control over nuclear material and associated items in Australia through requirements for permits for their possession and transport. Communication of information contained in sensitive nuclear technology is also controlled through the grant of authorities.

The functions of ASNO and the Director General ASNO are set out in Part IV of the Safeguards Act and include:

  • ensuring the effective operation of the Australian safeguards system
  • ensuring the physical protection and security of nuclear material and items in Australia
  • carrying out Australia's obligations under Australia's safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol with the IAEA
  • carrying out Australia's obligations under Australia's nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries and Euratom
  • operating Australia's bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements and monitoring compliance with the provisions of these agreements
  • undertaking, coordinating and facilitating research and development in relation to safeguards and
  • advising the Minister for Foreign Affairs on matters relating to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and the international safeguards system.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Functions

Article IV of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) provides that its verification regime shall be capable of meeting the requirements of the Treaty when it enters into force. This has required a substantial program of preparation in advance of the Treaty's entry into force.

To make the necessary preparations, a Preparatory Commission (PrepCom) was established in 1997, made up of CTBT States Signatories and supported by a Provisional Technical Secretariat. The tasks of the PrepCom include the establishment and provisional operation of an International Monitoring System (IMS) comprising 337 facilities around the world and an International Data Centre in Vienna. The PrepCom must also establish a capability to conduct an on-site inspection if concerns are raised about a possible nuclear explosion.

ASNO is Australia's designated national authority for the CTBT. This role is one of liaison and facilitation to ensure that the IMS is established efficiently and relevant domestic arrangements are in place.

ASNO makes a strong contribution on behalf of Australia to the overall work of the PrepCom to develop the CTBT verification regime. ASNO also assists DFAT with efforts to encourage ratification of the CTBT by countries that have not yet done so.

Key CTBT functions include:

  • national point of contact for liaison on CTBT implementation
  • establishing and maintaining legal, administrative and financial mechanisms to give effect to the CTBT in Australia
  • coordinating the operation of IMS facilities in Australia, and of measures to enable Australia to effectively monitor and analyse IMS and other CTBT verification data
  • contributing to the development of Treaty verification, through the PrepCom and its working groups; and
  • participating in development and implementation of Australian policy relevant to the CTBT.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Act 1998

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Act 1998 (CTBT Act) gives effect to Australia's obligations as a Party to the CTBT. It prohibits the causing of any nuclear explosion at any place within Australian jurisdiction or control and establishes a penalty of life imprisonment for an offence against this prohibition. The CTBT Act also prohibits Australian nationals from causing a nuclear explosion in any other place.

The CTBT Act requires the Australian Government to facilitate verification of compliance with CTBT provisions, including the obligation to arrange for the establishment and operation of Australian IMS stations and the provision of data from these. It provides the Government with the authority to establish IMS stations and to make provision for access to them for CTBT monitoring purposes. The CTBT Act makes provision for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to enter into arrangements with the CTBT Organization to facilitate cooperation in relation to monitoring stations under Australian control.

Article IV of the Treaty obliges States Parties to allow CTBT inspectors to inspect any place within their jurisdiction or control in an on-site inspection. The CTBT Act provides comprehensive powers for inspection arrangements, including the right for inspectors to gather information, to collect and remove samples, and to apply a range of monitoring and sensing techniques over a designated area. Access to locations by inspectors is by consent of the occupier of any premises, or by warrant issued by a magistrate.

The CTBT Act was assented to on 2 July 1998. On 11 June 2004, sections 3 to 9, 48 to 50, 62 to 65, 68 to 72, 74, 75 and 78; and Schedule 1 to the CTBT Act came into effect following proclamation by the Governor-General. Other provisions will come into effect with the entry into force of the CTBT. The proclaimed provisions were to:

  • create the offence of causing a nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion; and
  • provide a framework for the establishment and operation of IMS facilities in Australia, and a legal basis for the functioning of Australia's CTBT National Authority.

Chemical Weapons Convention Functions

The Convention on the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and their Destruction (or CWC) prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer and use of chemical weapons. Its verification regime is based on declarations by States Parties of facilities and activities dealing with particular chemicals, and on confirmation of compliance through on-site inspections.

ASNO acts as the primary liaison between domestic CWC stakeholders (such as declared chemical facilities), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the national authorities of other States Parties.

Through a system of permits and notifications under the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994 and the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956, ASNO gathers information from the chemical industry, traders, universities and research institutions to compile declarations that Australia must submit to the OPCW. ASNO has the right to conduct compliance inspections of relevant facilities in Australia, but such powers are exercised only in exceptional circumstances. ASNO conducts outreach activities, including site visits, to promote compliance and to check the accuracy of information provided by industry.

The OPCW conducts routine inspections of facilities listed in Australia's CWC declarations. ASNO facilitates these inspections to ensure Australia's obligations are met, and to protect the rights of facility operators.

ASNO promotes effective international implementation of the CWC, particularly in Australia's region. It works with the OPCW and other States Parties in the formulation of verification policy and by providing practical implementation assistance and advice.

Key CWC functions are:

  • Australia's point of contact for liaison on CWC implementation
  • identifying and gathering information on industrial chemical facilities and other activities required to be declared to the OPCW
  • preparing for and facilitating OPCW inspections in Australia
  • promoting awareness and effective implementation of the CWC, both domestically and internationally
  • providing technical and policy advice to Government and
  • administering and developing related regulatory and administrative mechanisms.

Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994

The Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994 (CWP Act) was enacted on 25 February 1994. Division 1 of Part 7 of the CWP Act (establishing Australia's national authority for the CWC, and the position of its Director), and sections 95, 96, 97, 99, 102, 103 and 104 were proclaimed on 15 February 1995. Other provisions of the CWP Act which expressly relied on the CWC came into effect on 29 April 1997 when the CWC entered into force. The final parts of the CWP Act, dealing with routine compliance inspections of Other Chemical Production Facilities, came into effect on 17 August 2000.

The CWP Act gives effect to Australia's obligations, responsibilities and rights as a State Party to the CWC. In particular, the CWP Act:

  • prohibits activities connected to the development, production or use of chemical weapons, including assisting anyone engaged in these activities, whether intentionally or recklessly – such offences are punishable by life imprisonment
  • establishes permit and notification systems to provide a legal framework for the mandatory provision of data to ASNO by facilities which produce or use chemicals as specified by the CWC, so that ASNO can lodge declarations with the OPCW
  • provides for routine inspections of declared facilities and challenge inspections of any facility or other place in Australia by OPCW inspectors to verify compliance with the CWC, and for inspections by ASNO to verify compliance with the CWP Act; and
  • provides for procedures should another State Party seek clarification concerning compliance with the CWC at any facility or other place or by any person in Australia.

Regulations under the CWP Act prescribe procedures and details of other arrangements under the CWP Act. In particular, the Regulations define conditions that are to be met by holders of permits issued under the CWP Act, and for granting privileges and immunities to OPCW inspectors when carrying out inspections in Australia.

The text of the CWC is reproduced in the Schedule to the CWP Act. The manner in which any powers are exercised under the CWP Act must be consistent with, and have regard to, Australia's obligations under the CWC.

Other Functions

South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty

The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) Treaty, (also known as the Treaty of Rarotonga) prohibits the manufacture, possession, stationing and testing of nuclear explosive devices, as well as research and development relating to manufacture or production of nuclear explosive devices, in any area for which the Signatory Parties are responsible. The SPNFZ Treaty also bans the dumping of radioactive waste at sea. Australia ratified the Treaty on 11 December 1986, which enabled its entry into force. The Treaty has 13 parties: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The SPNFZ Treaty has three protocols. Under Protocol 1, the US, UK and France are required to apply the basic provisions of the Treaty to their respective territories in the zone established by the Treaty. Under Protocol 2, the US, France, UK, Russia and China agree not to use or threaten to use nuclear explosive devices against any party to the Treaty or to each other's territories located within the zone. Under Protocol 3, the US, France, UK, Russia and China agree not to test nuclear explosive devices within the zone established by the Treaty. France and the UK have ratified all three protocols. Russia and China have ratified the protocols relevant to them, Protocols 2 and 3. The US is yet to ratify the SPNFZ Treaty protocols. However, these were submitted to the US Senate on 2 May 2011 for advice and consent as part of the process prior to ratification.

South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986

The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986 (SPNFZ Act) came into force in Australia on 11 December 1986 and gives effect to Australia's obligations, responsibilities and rights under the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (SPNFZ Treaty). The SPNFZ Act also establishes the framework for SPNFZ Treaty inspections. Inspectors appointed under the Safeguards Act are also inspectors for the purposes of the SPNFZ Act. These inspectors are to assist SPNFZ Treaty inspectors and authorised officers in carrying out SPNFZ Treaty inspections and to investigate possible breaches of the SPNFZ Act.

Operating Environment

Figure 3 : Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office's Operating Environment

Figure 3: Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office’s Operating Environment
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has responsibility for ASNO. 
ASNO administers legislation (regulatory activities), treaties (verification development, implementation and technical support); and policy (development and implementation). 
ASNO’s international stakeholders are the IAEA, OPCW, CTBTO PrepCom.
ASNO’s Bilateral Stakeholders are Australia’s bilateral nuclear cooperation partners, as well as other overseas counterparts. 
ASNO’s domestic stakeholders are DFAT including posts, Commonwealth agencies, ANSTO, DST Group, uranium industry, nuclear material users, chemical industry, R&D institutions, importers/exporters, CTBT facility operators, State and Territory governments, tertiary institutions and the general public.

Outcomes and Outputs Structure

Table 3: ASNO's Outcomes and Outputs Structure
Outcome 1 Australian and international security protected and advanced through activities which contribute to effective regimes against the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons
Output 1.1 Operation of Australia's national system of accounting for, and control of, nuclear material, items and facilities
Output 1.2 Protection of Australia's nuclear facilities, nuclear material and nuclear items against unauthorised access and sabotage, including Australia's uranium supplied overseas
Output 1.3 Nuclear material and associated items exported from Australia under bilateral agreements remain in exclusively peaceful use and obligations under nuclear cooperation agreements are effectively implemented
Output 1.4 Contribution to the development and effective implementation of international safeguards and the nuclear non-proliferation regime
Output 1.5 Regulation and reporting of Australian chemical activities in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, and strengthening international implementation of the Convention
Output 1.6 Development of verification systems and arrangements in support of Australia's commitments related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
Output 1.7 Contribution to the development and strengthening of other weapons of mass destruction non-proliferation regimes
Output 1.8 Provision of high-quality, timely, relevant and professional advice to Government
Outcome 2 Knowledge about Australian's efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction enhanced through public advocacy
Output 2.1 Provision of public information on the development, implementation and regulation of weapons of mass destruction, non-proliferation regimes, and Australia's role in these activities

Nuclear Disarmament Verification (NuDiVe) exercise (Credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich and Sascha Kreklau).

Nuclear Disarmament Verification (NuDiVe) exercise (Credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich and Sascha Kreklau).

1 According to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. This number includes the DPRK.