Opposition grows to billions for AUKUS nuclear submarines

March 14, 2023
British SSN(R) concept design chosen for Australia's nuclear-powered submarine. Photo: Reddit/WarshipPorn

The reaction against Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s promise to spend $368 billion over 30 years has been swift.

Many are saying the real threat to people’s safety and security right now is the rising cost-of-living, climate and housing crises, not China.

Even conservatives, such as the United States Director of National Intelligence, have pointed out that China is not looking for a fight over Taiwan. Avril Haines, the US’ chief spy, told the House Intelligence committee on March 9: “It’s not our assessment that China wants to go to war.”

Some Australian defence analysts are also publicly wondering about Labor’s decision to embed Australia more deeply with the US and British war machines.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge described AUKUS on March 14 as a “reckless alliance, cooked up by the Morrison government and backed by Labor”, which “compromises Australia’s sovereignty”.

The push to “join the nuclear sub club” is “causing unrest with our regional allies and adds fire to a growing arms race.

“Second-hand Virginia class subs leave Australia totally reliant on US crews, docks and leadership to operate what are meant to be sovereign defence assets.”

Shoebridge said the Greens “will not cooperate” with the government to “force budget cuts on public services to pay for nuclear subs” and warned Labor to stop “mortgaging our future to stoke regional tensions.

“What should send a shiver down every Australians’ spine is that the $368 billion budget is just the ADF’s starting bid, because we know major defence projects routinely blow their budgets and timelines.”

Sam Wainwright, a national co-convener of the Socialist Alliance and active in the Walyalup Climate Action and Stop AUKUS WA, told Green Left the sums going to a new cold war were incredible and it must be stopped.

“In the space of a few days the estimated cost of this deranged plan has gone from $170 to $280 to $368 billion!

“We can’t possibly pour billions of dollars into a new cold war and meet the challenge of climate change. It’s one or the other. It really is that simple,” Wainwright said.

The activist said “out-of-control military spending” combined with “the push to confront China represents a desperate threat to our security and well being”.

He said Labor must urgently sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and “adopt an independent foreign policy based on peace and justice”.

John Quelch of the Independent and Peaceful Australian Network, Geelong, told Green Left that the massive spend exceeds Australia’s annual budget.

“For three quarters of $1 trillion, the government could instead purchase: 1480 brand new schools; 10 fully equipped hospitals and fully fund aged care packages for three years to help the elderly stay at active and at home instead of in nursing homes,” Quelch said.

According to a Lowy Institute poll, published last year, 51% said “Australia should stay neutral” in any war between US and China.

This is significant because it comes after years of propaganda against China from the former Coalition government and sections of the corporate media.

Alison Broinowski, spokesperson for Australians for War Powers Reform, said the AUKUS deal was “a serious failure of public policy” because “the public and parliament have been shut out of the decision-making process”.

The original AUKUS decision was made in secret, in 2021, by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a small number of ministers.

Along with the “mind boggling price tag for the submarines”, Broinowski said “serious questions” remain about how much control Australia will have over AUKUS.

“These concerns about sovereignty have been raised by two former prime ministers, large sections of the union movement, and multiple defence and security experts,” she said.

The military threats “have been wildly exaggerated seemingly to justify a massive defence build up”, she said.

Former PM Paul Keating, who supports the Australia-US military alliance, is strongly opposed to the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines, describing them as a provocation to China. He said, in 2021, the Coalition government was wrong to “[try] to find our security from Asia rather than in Asia” and he has maintained his criticism of Labor’s support for AUKUS.

Keating also joined the outrage after the Fairfax-Nine Network published their red scare propaganda on March 7.

The front-page stories on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age heard from five “experts” about how Australia would be at war with China within three years.

Keating has also publicly critiqued Labor’s position on China, which he believes is “at odds with its own geography”. Australia’s “challenge”, he said, “is to have the United States remain as a balancing and conciliatory power in Asia”.

Besides a number of unions opposing AUKUS, an inner-city branch of NSW Labor also voted unanimously on March 1 against it.

It said that given the US, British and Australia’s illegal invasion of Iraq 20 years ago, and “the historic role” of the Coalition partners in “global conflicts worldwide from Vietnam to Yemen, this military alliance plays no positive role in world affairs”.

“AUKUS undermines Australian sovereignty and our relations with our Asia-Pacific partners,” the resolution said.

“The proposed nuclear submarines are not only an obscene waste of money, but will irreversibly enmesh Australia into the nuclear weapons and nuclear waste industry.”

It said “the enforced interoperability, required by AUKUS and the submarines in particular, will mean permanent US and UK military involvement in Australia’s armed forces, further undermining Australian sovereignty”.

Australia “should refuse landing and berthing rights to any plane or vessel that is capable of being nuclear armed”, it said, and instead pursue “an independent, non-nuclear and non-aligned foreign policy that pursues disarmament and peace”.

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