Australia's newly elected Abbott Government applied secret diplomatic pressure to undermine a New Zealand led push towards nuclear disarmament last year, newly released documents show.

Australian diplomats worked to counter nuclear disarmament moves on humanitarian grounds by 16 countries including New Zealand according to recently declassified ministerial submissions, cables and emails from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Following the election of Australia's Tony Abbott, New Zealand in October requested Australia endorse a 125 nation joint statement at the United Nations highlighting the humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons.

However Australia refused after taking exception to the statement's wording that it was in the interests of humanity that nuclear weapons were never used again "under any circumstances".


The New Zealand led campaign seeks to apply a similar international prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons as already exists for chemical and biological weapons.

But Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has been reported as saying that approach was counterproductive.

"The reality is that disarmament cannot be imposed this way", the Sydney Morning Herald reports her saying.

"Just pushing for as ban would divert attention from the sustained, practical steps needed for effective disarmament."

But the recently declassified documents reveal the Australian Government's main concern was that a nuclear weapons ban would "cut across" Australia's dependence on the US nuclear arsenal as a key part of its defence position.

An Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade department document endorsed by Ms Bishop last year says a nuclear weapons ban "conflicts with Australia's long standing position that, as long as a nuclear weapons threat exists, we rely on US nuclear forces to deter attack on Australia".

The documents cited by the Sydney Morning Herald show the Australian Government was frustrated when Japan decided to back the New Zealand led statement at the UN and indicate Washington reprimanded Tokyo over that decision.