Anti-cluster bomb campaigners have reacted furiously to revelations that the federal government secretly worked with the US to weaken a key international treaty to ban the notorious weapons.
The reaction came as the Future Fund confirmed that this year it dumped its investments in 10 munitions companies ahead of the ratification of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Leaked US diplomatic cables show Kevin Rudd's government was privately prepared to pull out of international negotiations for a global ban of the weapons if this threatened ties with US forces.
As The Age reported earlier this year, an article was inserted in the treaty as a result of the US-influenced lobbying. Legislation to enact the treaty domestically now contains loopholes that could allow Australian troops to participate in attacks using the bombs, and allow the US to store them on Australian soil. The legislation is expected to be passed by Parliament soon.
"It gets worse. Not only did the Australian government despicably and secretively act to water down the convention during the negotiation process - but now our own legislation to ratify that convention contains serious loopholes which further weaken Australia's commitment,'' Cluster Munitions Coalition founder John Rodstead said.
''The legislation allows Australian troops to actively assist in the use of cluster bombs by non-signatory allies, doing everything short of pulling the trigger, like locating targets for attack, refuelling planes carrying clusters, directing attacks on to a target, and providing cover while cluster bombs are used.''
The leaked US cables show that in 2007, Mr Rudd's newly elected government immediately told the US it was prepared to withdraw from the negotiations if key ''red line'' issues were not addressed - especially the inclusion of a loophole to allow signatories to the convention to co-operate with military forces still using cluster bombs.
The US diplomatic reports show Australia secretly lobbied Asian countries - including Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam - on the issue, and Canberra sought advice from Washington on which African countries engaged in military co-operation with the US might be recruited to vote with Australia on key parts of the treaty text.
"There is something distasteful, if not positively perverse, about our government secretly lobbying countries such as Vietnam, which have suffered so heavily with the legacy of these weapons, on behalf of a nation that continues to regard cluster bombs as legitimate weapons,'' said Matthew Zagor of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.
Greens senator Scott Ludlum called for amendments to the proposed cluster munitions bill to strengthen Australia's stand against the weapons.