It has been ongoing since the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap was opened in 1970. Since the 2014 Force Posture Agreement escalated US military presence in Australia, with ever-growing interoperability between the forces of both nations, the debate has grown.
AUKUS is a part of the US military build-up against China — supposedly the aggressor. In fact, the AUKUS deal involves the establishment of joint US-British submarine presence by 2027 in a bid to contain China. Australia is set to blindly follow, as it has since the Korean war.
Australia is increasingly becoming a US vassal state, with the constant presence of Marines, access to local bases (which it can control at times) and the submarine deal allows for billions of dollars to go to the US and British shipbuilding.
Albanese and US President Joe Biden released a statement on May 20 which aims to further deepen the military alliance: among other measures, the White House wants to categorise Australia as a US domestic source for military production.
Biden plans to ask US Congress “to add Australia as a ‘domestic source’ within the meaning of Title III of the US Defense Production Act of 1950”. This would streamline tech collaboration, accelerate the AUKUS deal and provide the US with access to Australia’s minerals.
It adds that this should speed up Japan’s involvement in local force posture initiatives including that Tokyo will also have a permanent military presence.
Title III “Expansion of Productive Capacity and Supply” provides the US president with a range of financial measures to establish purchase commitments that will “improve, expand, and maintain domestic production capabilities needed to support national defense and homeland security procurement requirements”.
The May briefing adds that it aims to prioritise “improving information sharing and technology cooperation mechanisms required to advance our defence and security collaboration, including through AUKUS”.
But under the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations regime, which aims to restrict and control export of its capabilities, any information a foreign entity shares with it becomes US property and is subject to export restrictions, even to the country of origin, unless the White House permits it.
Albanese has agreed to establish a new Australia-based NASA ground station, under the Artemis Accords, which will allow for “the controlled transfer of sensitive US launch technology and data while protecting US technology”.
The intent is to ensure Australia can provide the US military with access to critical minerals, including lithium. Currently, Australia mines 53% of the world’s supply of lithium. Now Australia wants to erode China’s dominance in refining the mineral.
After it is refined here, China adds further refinement for technological use. The New York Times on May 23 said the Albanese government is deliberately attempting to break Beijing’s processing role and do it here to sell it on to allies like the US.
The final refinement process makes lithium useable in batteries and defence capabilities. Under recent US law, Australian companies can obtain loans, or subsidies, to develop their capabilities: this will have a significant knock-on effect on the Chinese economy.
The federal government wants to produce 20% of the world’s refined lithium here by 2027, a move that would further strain the relationship with Beijing.
Australia has two lithium refining plants: the largest is a joint venture between US chemical maker Albemarle and Australian mining company Mineral Resources. It is also opening a path for more US and European investment in the local industry.
Cutting the supply of lithium to China will be a major source of tension. Resources minister Madeleine King said of the deal signed between the US and Australia at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, it is designed to “closer technological collaboration” and “strengthen AUKUS implementation”.
The classification of Australia as a “domestic source” within Title III of the Defense Production Act should sound alarm bells.
[A longer version of this article was first published by Sydney Criminal Lawyers.]