Albanese, Wong return fire at Keating but Garrett, unions back former PM

A brawl has erupted within Labor over the deal to acquire eight nuclear-powered submarines from the United States and United Kingdom, as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and senior cabinet ministers pushed back on Paul Keating’s strident criticisms of the AUKUS pact.

Albanese said his predecessor’s jibes did nothing “other than diminish him, frankly”, while Foreign Minister Penny Wong, whom Keating lambasted in an appearance at the National Press Club, said his views on China and other foreign policy questions “belong to another time”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, campaigning in Melbourne in the Aston by-election, dismissed Paul Keating’s criticism of the nuclear-powered submarine deal.

Joe Armao

But the former prime minister’s attack on the government struck a nerve in Labor ranks, as Rudd and Gillard era government cabinet minister Peter Garrett weighed into the debate to say the AUKUS deal “stinks” and two powerful blue-collar unions condemned the nuclear-powered project as a dangerous waste of money.

While Albanese’s cabinet did not comment in the wake of Keating’s press club appearance, by Thursday morning, the prime minister was leading the counter-offensive with a carefully worded rebuke.

“I think it is unfortunate that Mr Keating chose such a very strong personal statement against people,” Albanese told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell in his first interview since returning from a week-long trip to India and the United States.

“I don’t think that does anything other than diminish him, frankly. But that’s a decision that he’s made.”

Rebutting Keating’s claim that AUKUS represented “the worst deal in all history”, Albanese said the government’s decision to spend up to $368 billion on a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines over the next 30 years was a worthwhile investment to enhance Australia’s national security in a volatile era.

Albanese dismissed as “absurd” claims by Keating and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull that Australia was ceding sovereign control over its defence capabilities, pointing out the nation purchased military hardware including the F-35 joint strike fighter from overseas.

Wong also hit back at the Labor luminary, saying Australia could not “wish away” China’s rapid military build-up under Xi over recent years.

“Keating has his views, but in substance and in tone they belong to another time,” she said.

“We don’t face the region of 30 years ago. We don’t face a region that we hope we had. We face the region of today and we have to work to ensure the region we want for the future.”

But others echoed Keating’s criticisms of AUKUS. Peter Garrett, a veteran anti-nuclear campaigner who served as environment minister under Kevin Rudd, tweeted: “I don’t share Keating’s benign view of China, nor his disdain for Labor ministers, but he’s right. This deal stinks with massive cost, loss of independence, weakening nuke safeguards & more.”

Former Coalition prime ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull also entered the debate, with Abbott saying Keating was “seriously wrong” about the AUKUS submarine pact and modern China.

In an opinion piece for and , Abbott said Albanese and Marles had developed a “brilliant plan” to secure the world’s most advanced submarines far sooner than originally expected.

“It’s hard to fathom Keating’s contention that jointly developing a nuclear submarine with Britain and America is somehow a loss of sovereignty when developing a conventional one with the French was not,” Abbott writes.

Turnbull, by contrast, insisted it would have been better to acquire nuclear-powered submarines from France because they would be cheaper, arrive sooner and only use low enriched uranium. Turnbull questioned whether the UK was up to the task of being a long-term partner in the project given its “sick” economy was mired with “fundamental existential problems”.

Two unions whose members would be expected to get much of the work upgrading ports for the new submarines also swung in with their objections.

The Maritime Union of Australia said it fundamentally opposed the purchase of nuclear submarines.

Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett is not a fan of AUKUS.

Alex Ellinghausen

“We are talking about nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons in our ports, we are totally opposed to that. It is a risk to our workers and it is a huge waste of money,” Maritime Union deputy national secretary Warren Smith said.

“Our members in Port Kembla [the mooted home of an east coast submarine base] don’t want a base, no one down there will cop a base.”

A spokesman for the Electrical Trades Union confirmed his union also opposed the deal: “While the ETU respects the federal government’s obligation to strike security agreements that protect our national interest, electricians and engineers have a deep and long-standing health and safety concerns about nuclear technology and remain opposed to its use in Australia.”

Marcus Strom, a former media union president who once worked for this masthead, said he had quit his job as press secretary to Industry Minister Ed Husic after six months in part because of the AUKUS deal.

“Started out as a tactic to avoid second front on defence has landed us with #AUKUS f—up. Big part of why I couldn’t work for the govt,” he tweeted, adding “the fight inside the ALP to overturn AUKUS has just begun”.

Husic’s office declined to comment.

The Petersham branch of the Labor Party in Albanese’s seat passed a motion calling for the government to withdraw from the AUKUS coalition.

“AUKUS undermines Australian sovereignty and our relations with our Asia-Pacific neighbours. Australia should also abandon plans for a nuclear submarine fleet,” the motion read, in part.

One federal Labor MP, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely, said some party members in their branch were angered by the signing of the AUKUS deal and Keating’s comments would resonate with them.

“The Greens will try to weaponise this in inner-city seats; we should expect a full on attack at the next election,” they said.

Those seats could include the Melbourne seats of Wills and Macnamara and New South Wales seats such as Sydney and the north coast seat of Richmond.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton said Keating “speaks for an element of the Labor Party that would be horrified at this deal because of the nuclear element, because of the United States element, because they’re so far left”.

With Broede Carmody

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

Leave a Comment

Share to...