Rally initiated by the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network to oppose the AUKUS security pact,
(Matt Hrkac, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)
This article was published by Paul Karp at The Guardian on Mar 15 2023.
Former Labor PM blasts ‘incompetence’ of his party for backing nuclear submarine agreement with US and UK
‘Only one is paying. Our bloke’: Paul Keating attacks Labor leadership over Aukus deal – video
Paul Keating has labelled the $368bn Aukus nuclear submarine plan as the “worst deal in all history” and “the worst international decision” by a Labor government since Billy Hughes tried to introduce conscription.
The former Labor prime minister launched an extraordinary broadside against the Albanese government at the National Press Club on Wednesday, blasting the “incompetence” of Labor backing the decision to sign up to Aukus while in opposition and when it had “no mandate” to do so.
Keating also singled out the defence and foreign affairs ministers, Richard Marles and Penny Wong, as “seriously unwise”, arguing Wong had run the “smallest of small-target” strategies by backing Liberal strategic policies to win government, allowing defence interests to trump diplomacy.
Keating brushed aside human rights concerns about China by arguing there are “disputes about what the nature of the Chinese affront to the Uyghurs” is, in reference to documented abuses that the UN has said are likely to be “crimes against humanity”.
Keating is a noted dove towards China. He has previously labelled Taiwan “not a vital Australian interest” but rather a “civil matter” for China. China sees Taiwan, a self-governed democracy of 24 million people, as a wayward province and has not ruled out taking it by force.
On Wednesday Keating said China “is not the Soviet Union” because it is involved in international institutions and would “fall over themselves to have a proper relationship” with Australia, except that Australia has “manufactured a problem” through its increasing alignment with US.
Keating argued that China is “not going to attack us and have never threatened to attack us”, suggesting that the Aukus trilateral partnership is instead about preserving US “hegemony” in east Asia by seeking to contain China.
“What Anthony Albanese has done this week, he’s screwed into place the last shackle in the long chain which the Americans have laid out to contain China,” he said.
Keating said the “great sin” China had committed in the eyes of the west was developing its economy to equal the size of the US, suggesting the Americans “would have preferred” 20% of the world population remains in poverty.
He also mocked aligning with the UK, which he said is “looking around for suckers” to create “global Britain … after that fool [Boris] Johnson destroyed their place in Europe”.
The $368bn being spent to acquire as few as eight nuclear submarines – Virginia class and next-generation SSN-Aukus submarines – was the “worst deal in all history”, he said, because it could buy 40 to 50 conventional submarines instead.
Keating also revealed that France, which lost a contract for conventional Attack class submarines in favour of Aukus, had offered “a new deal” for the “newest French nuclear submarines”.
These would require only “5% enriched uranium, not 95%, weapons grade” and came with a “firm delivery date” of 2034 at “fixed prices”, he said. The French received “no response”, Keating claimed.
The French embassy in Canberra declined to comment on the submarine offer claims. Marles was also contacted for a response.
Keating spent 13 years on the board of the China Development Bank, including 10 as chairman, a role he left five years ago.
Keating said he received a $5,000 honorarium for the board role and has “no commercial interests in China whatsoever”.
He rejected any suggestion that a former Australian prime minister “would compromise his views” for sitting on an international board.
Keating last week described the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age’s coverage suggesting war with China was possible within three years as “the most egregious and provocative news presentation” in five decades.
In a tetchy performance on Wednesday, Keating refused to answer questions about another topic (superannuation) and repeatedly targeted journalists based on their outlet or previous publications about China.
Keating deflected a question about whether he would direct any invective at China for its treatment of Uyghurs and of Hong Kong by arguing that “[the Indian prime minister Narendra] Modi has the same sorts of problems as the Chinese have” but the media are a “soft touch on India”.
“What if the Chinese said – what about deaths in custody of Aboriginal people in your prison system? Wouldn’t that be a valid point for them?”
Keating accused Albanese of “dropping the word ‘sovereignty’ into every sentence” about Aukus and warning this does not make it real.
When Scott Morrison approached Labor seeking bipartisan support for Aukus in 2021, Keating claimed the opposition was briefed at 4pm and agreed within 24 hours despite having “no mandate” from Labor members.
“How would you do this in 24 hours? You can only do it if you have no perceptive ability to understand the weight of the decisions you’re being asked to make,” he said. “It’s what other people call incompetence.”
When asked about apparent improvements in Australia’s relationship with China since the election, Keating labelled this view “naive”.
He warned that “no mealy mouthed talk of stabilisation … or the resort to soft language will disguise from the Chinese the extent and intent of the commitment to the United States hegemony”.
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