AUKUS is being promoted as the (very) expensive, but vital, answer to Australia’s defence needs for the next few decades.
Payments, infrastructure planning and training have begun. Up to eight long-range, nuclear-powered but conventionally-armed submarines — some to be built here — will be based on our West coast, and then the East. United States vessels will use these bases too.
Additional commitments include US B52 bomber and US combat unit training rotation through the Northern Territory; big new US storage, including weaponry, in Australia; and extensive integration and training of Australian personnel with US forces, all backed by enhanced intelligence-sharing, including at Pine Gap and North West Cape bases.
All of this is consistent with the Force Posture Agreement from Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s days, and regular rationalisations rolled out since (such as the ‘Defence Strategic Review’ of May last year).
The estimated $368 billion price tag sealed the deal: that’s $14,000 for each Australian.
The anti-AUKUS movement reckons that money could be much better spent: after relief from inflation, interest rates and the sheer rise in cost of living, there’s a myriad of social programs that have suffered a decline over 40 years of neoliberal government.
Where’s the egalitarian country we used to be? We have unmet housing needs, hospitals under stress and our public schools are under-resourced.
But that’s only the start: China is a supposed threat and — as in WWII — we’ve got to “face reality” and stick with “like-minded defenders of the rules-based international order” who have the tech know-how we need.
Does China, our biggest trading partner, actually threaten Australia?
Is this the sort of defence alliance we need, or should we lead with cooperative and diplomatic initiatives in our region that builds security too?
A cornered China will see US spy and submarine bases and airfields here as targets.
Under Australian defence establishment and US pressure, and seduced by his elevation to the “Anglo Club”, the one-time firebrand Anthony Albanese changed nothing about AUKUS.
Not only was he on a unity ticket with the Coalition, but there had been a complete absence of electoral, parliamentary, even caucus, debate on AUKUS.
Many argue these long-range subs may play a (minor) part in maintaining US strategic hegemony in the Asia-Pacific, notably around Taiwan. But they are not even designed to defend Australia.
Australia’s sovereignty is seriously compromised by AUKUS’ deep integration, planned with a capitalist US’ war-fighting preparations.
China has one foreign military base — in the Red Sea. Do you know how many hundreds the US has? Seven hundred and fifty in 80 countries and colonies around the world.
Even such scions of the conservative establishment as former foreign minister Alexander Downer question Australia’s technical capacity to build and maintain these subs.
What about the jobs? We oppose increasing Australia’s dependence on a war economy when our peace needs are manifest.
And this doesn’t even explore the (carefully avoided) questions for Labor over the nuclear issue! Their response? Excise Adelaide and Perth submarine zones from Australia’s nuclear security laws!
Right now, the government is covertly crab-walking the country to a new pro-nuclear stance — on security, maintenance and waste — which has been questioned including by credible, experienced former naval personnel and nuclear industry experts.
Several former Australian leaders, political and military, see this programs necessary future US approvals as a gamble, arguing that if a resources crunch comes, our interests will lose out.
British involvement in AUKUS seems minor, even tokenistic, but our future subs design is based on theirs.
Can we really look to the monarchist Britain, 70 years after it took up its colonial baggage and went home from “east of Suez”, as a defence partner?
Finally, there’s US democracy.
Let’s dispense with rhetoric: that battered 18th-century institution is distinctly at risk.
Traduced by four years of President Donald Trump’s presidency, which ended with his covert goading of the infamous January 6, 2020 insurrection at the Washington Capitol, we watch as two aged pensioners line up for a second go in the White House.
It is beyond bizarre that Australian Labor is deeper in cahoots with such a warmongering nation than was ever the case under the Liberals.
Would President Trump (Mark II) — who has proposed the US leaves NATO — endorse AUKUS? Even a well-lubricated “Outback Bill” at the Birdsville Cup wouldn’t back it.
Prudence alone demands we pause AUKUS, as the terms of its final provisions allow signatories to do.
That’s what we want.
Calm reflection would cancel AUKUS.
[Ken Blackman works with the Anti-AUKUS Victoria Coalition which is preparing for a rally at the State Library of Victoria, followed by a march on March 16.]