ACTU, NSW Teachers Federation question AUKUS nuclear submarines

March 30, 2023
the money for nuclear subs could instead be spent on public health and education
The money set aside for nuclear subs could instead be spent on public health and education. Photo: Sydney Anti-Aukus Coalition

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) President Michele O’Neil was asked about the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal after her national press club speech on March 28, which focused on a national Energy Transition Authority.

O’Neil said the ACTU would be bringing its affiliates together “over the coming months” and it would be seeking “more detail from the government as well”.

However, she added that the ACTU had “a longstanding policy of opposition to nuclear power, nuclear waste and proliferation”.

“We also have a longstanding policy position that supports a nuclear-free defence policy,” she was reported as saying in The Guardian on March 28.

“These are not positions that have been developed in the last weeks and months. They are decades long and our position hasn’t changed.”

The New South Wales Teachers’ Federation (NSWTF) adopted an anti-militarism statement at its March 18 meeting, reaffirming its “opposition to militarism and belief that war should never be used to resolve international conflict”.

“Federation opposes AUKUS and joins the growing chorus of concern that the AUKUS security pact Australia signed with the USA and the UK compromises the pursuit of an independent foreign policy and has the potential to drag Australia once again into foreign conflict and war.

“Recent alarmist, war mongering commentary, deployed in an attempt to bolster unsubstantiated predictions of an inevitable war with China, is of deep concern.”

It said reports that Port Kembla is being “considered as the site for a nuclear submarine base is of deep concern for our public education communities”.

“While governments appear ever ready to commit huge amounts of public revenue on military expenditure there remains a serious underfunding of public pre-schools, public schools, TAFE and higher education, and other areas of the public sector,” the statement said.

“A massive transference of public wealth to private armament manufacturers will constrain public expenditure in all government portfolios for decades to come.”

It quoted former NSWTF President Sam Lewis’ address to the 1951 annual conference in which he said: “The greatest single factor on the world scale causing inflation and leading to the undermining of the living and cultural standards of the people is enormous expenditure on production of armaments.

“Teachers are concerned very deeply with conservation: conservation of natural resources, conservation of human resources. They are the agents in the battle against material and moral erosion, against the scorching of human flesh and the searing of the human spirit.”

NSWTF affirmed its commitment to “work with the anti-war, peace and broader union movement to expose and oppose the threat inherent in this rise in militarism”.

A report and recommendation will be presented to its annual conference on July 23.

Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John used his appearance on the ABC’s Q&A on March 27 to argue against AUKUS, saying he didn’t think it should be Australia’s role to “try to convince” the US not to “start another reckless, endless war”.

“Vietnam, we followed you there,” he said to another panelist, former US Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer. “Afghanistan, we followed you there, while you spent 20 years and trillions of dollars to replace the Taliban with the Taliban.”

“The AUKUS pact is not the only way forward,” Steele-John said on Twitter. “I don’t want to see us enter into an agreement that binds the Australian community to the United States and the UK and all of their foreign policy decisions for the next 30 years.”

Meanwhile, Coalition spokesperson Andrew Hastie’s enthusiastic AUKUS speech to federal parliament on March 22 provided some of the bipartisan rationale for the $368 billion spend.

AUKUS, he said, is a “multigenerational nation-building project” and the Virginia class submarines and “our future SSN-AUKUS” would “give us a formidable capability edge”, including “clandestine insertion and extraction options if the need arises”.

Hastie enthused that AUKUS’ “special operations” capability “will complement the over $250 million investment into Campbell Barracks”, decided by the Coalition, including the upgrade of an “operations centre” into “one of the biggest top-secret facilities in this country”.

Hastie said AUKUS was “only possible” because of the Coalition’s push to lift “defence” spending to 2% of GDP. He said this “rebuilt the confidence of our allies that we were a partner who takes defence seriously and who could be trusted with the sensitive nuclear technology transfer that is at the heart of AUKUS”.

He urged MPs to maintain “a very tight weave with our American friends” because “our Virginia-class submarines are still pending congressional approval” and “our strategic adversaries know this and will seek to undermine this goodwill and this relationship”.

“We support AUKUS, come hell or high water,” Hastie concluded, as if there was any doubt.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.