Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stares down anti-AUKUS ‘ap…[ad_1]
In the most extensive debate Labor has had over its decision to fall in behind AUKUS, a tripartite security pact conceived by Scott Morrison that involves Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, Mr Albanese and his senior ministers said it was not a matter of ideology but keeping the peace.
“If you come to the position as I have, that Australia as an island continent needs submarines, then it is compulsory if you are serious about national security that you then analyse what is the best form of submarines for us to have,” an animated prime minister told the conference.
“And I have come to the position based upon advice and analysis that nuclear-powered submarines are what Australia needs in the future.”
He said AUKUS was “an act of clear-eyed pragmatism” that “works in our national interest and in the context of greater good”.
AUKUS faced opposition from left-aligned unions – the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, the Electrical Trades Union, and the Maritime Union of Australia – as well as rank-and-file members. They argued against the cost and the adoption of nuclear technology, and claimed it would sacrifice Australia’sovereignty to the US and heighten the risk of war with China.
To seize control of the debate, Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy attached a statement to the party platform making the case for AUKUS while offering assurances about jobs and broader nuclear issues.
The dissenters attempted to remove all references to “nuclear submarines” and any mention of AUKUS, but were defeated.
Nuclear Trojan horse
ETU national secretary Michael Wright said there was no solution to storing nuclear waste and AUKUS would be a Trojan horse for a full-blown nuclear industry in Australia, which the Coalition is already pushing.
“When the political wheel turns as it always does...this will be the wedge that the coalition uses to finally drive open a nuclear industry in Australia,” he said.
Mr Conroy, himself a Left factional powerbroker, angered the dissenters by labelling them appeasers.
“When Menzies was arguing for appeasement and tried to cut defence funding, John Curtin was the one who argued for a massive increase in investment in our Air Force and Navy to deter aggressors in our region,” he thundered.
“So delegates, do you want to be on the side of John Curtin or do you want to be on the side of Pig Iron Bob Menzies? Appeasement is conflict.”
His parliamentary colleague Josh Wilson, who holds the seat of Fremantle and spoke to oppose AUKUS, labelled this “ridiculous”, while Mr Wright was also unimpressed.
Former union boss, senator and Labor Left warhorse Doug Cameron, a founding national patron of Labor Against War, took issue with his protege, saying he expected more from him.
“I have known Pat for many years, employed him as a research officer at the AMWU due into his progressive views and capabilities,” he tweeted.
“Branding those of us who oppose AUKUS as engaging in appeasement is a cheap shot far removed from reality.”
Foreign Minister Penny Wong, also of the Left, impressed upon delegates her belief that AUKUS was an instrument of peace because the acquisition of nuclear submarines and all else it involves, were aimed at deterrence, not war.
“If any country thinks that they can dominate another, the risk of conflict increases,” she said. “We must ensure that no state ever concludes that the benefits of conflict outweigh the risks.
“All countries must also play their part in collective deterrence of aggression.
“By having strong defence capabilities of our own, and by working with partners investing in their own capabilities, we change the calculus for any potential aggressor.
“This is why we are committed to AUKUS.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said it was “an outrage” that Labor was split on national security, which he called “the most important issue for our country”.
“You’ve now got 40 local ALP branches who are rallying against the decision of AUKUS when we know that the acquisition of those latest nuclear-powered submarines is in our country’s best interests,” he said.
“It provides us the best ability to keep peace in our region and the fact that the Labor Party is split when it comes to national security is quite remarkable.”
He also questioned whether the jobs commitment mandated compulsory union membership.
“We don’t have compulsory union membership. We’re happy if people decide to join a union, but less than 10 per cent of Australians outside of the public service join a union, and this is obviously a sop to the union bosses,” he said.
“I think the US and the UK would be watching on bemused at the moment that the fundamentals of AUKUS are being sold out to the factional interests within the Labor Party.”
Although defeated, the AMWU welcomed the assurances given on jobs, nuclear proliferation and the storage of waste being restricted to Defence Department land with the permission of the local Indigenous people.
“The changes to Labor’s national platform are an excellent win for Australia’s shipbuilding workers and the communities that rely upon them,” said the national secretary of the AMWU, Steve Murphy.
“The amendments to Labor’s national platform ensure that Australia’s engagement in AUKUS does not lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or the creation of a civil nuclear power industry, both of which are matters of great concern to the Australian people.”
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