Several thousand people marched down Port Kembla’s main street in a defiant May Day protest against Labor’s proposal that the port become a possible base for its AUKUS nuclear submarines.
Organised by The South Coast Labour Council, the protest was backed by Wollongong Against War and Nukes (WAWAN), and union and student contingents from Sydney.
Unions NSW and a Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) from Sydney supported the protest. A convoy from Wollongong station to Port Kembla included cars emblazoned with signs opposing the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal and turning Port Kembla into a nuclear base.
Alexander Brown, from WAWAN, told the crowd: “The $368 billion bill for a fleet of second-hand nuclear subs is a gift to the warmongers. The money is to be ripped out of the budget for social services, health care, education, the NDIS and climate action.
“Let’s pressure the Labor government to tear up the AUKUS agreement. We are already making some ground with the government announcing that a final decision on the base port for the nuclear submarines will be delayed until after the next election.
“We are building for peace in the Illawarra. We need a multitude of people to join us, and we need all those who believe in a better future to come together and fight against these nuclear subs,” Brown said.
NSW Greens Senator David Shoebridge said: “They have picked the wrong town to try to base their nuclear subs. Port Kembla is a union town with a long history of anti-war struggle, going back to the 1930s.
“But we don’t want nuclear submarines based anywhere in this country. The government just marches off to Washington to do what they’re told.
“They are trying to kill off an amazing future for Port Kembla as a green and renewables' hub. We need to unite to stop this insanity," Shoebridge said.
Allen Hicks, NSW/ACT and national secretary of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), said: “We are not going to allow the government to kill off Port Kembla as a renewables' centre by basing nuclear submarines here.
“The ETU has had a strong anti-nuclear policy, since after World War II. We are opposed to uranium mining, the dumping of nuclear waste, and all forms of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. The [Anthony] Albanese government had better be ready for a hell of a fight if they go ahead with the nuclear submarines plan.
“A nuclear subs base will never be built anywhere in Australia with ETU labour!” Hicks declared.
Other speakers were Gem Romuld from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; Ron Watt, a long-time local Port Kembla resident and unionist; Thomas Mayo, First Nations activist promoting the Voice to Parliament; Elizabeth Scott from the NSW Teachers’ Federation and a representative of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association.
“They want to conscript our region into their war machine but we will not have a bar of it. It is not going to happen. Not in this town, not in any town!”, South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said.
While Labor had since gone quiet on the base location, he said the campaign had to continue to organise. “What we've got to do now is grow this [movement]. History will record May 6 as the first big one for feet on the streets. But this is just the start. We all want to stop this because it is bad for us, it's bad for future generations and it's also bad for jobs in this town.”
A concert featuring, among others, Maurie Mulheron and Pat Craigie and the Illawarra Union Singers followed the march.