Down-payments on our own destruction

Jun 7, 2024
The concept of radioactivity and atomic energy. The flag of Australia has a symbol for radioactivity.

Australians used to be scared off voting Labor by Coalition predictions of debt, deficit, and disaster. Labor used to shame Liberals and Nationals with promises of spending to end child poverty, close the indigenous gap, and create a clever country. All that was before AUKUS.

Now, fiscal rectitude and value for taxpayers’ money are forgotten. Anything goes, as long as it’s for ‘defence’ – that is, military – purposes.

On top of the $368 billion nominal cost of the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines, the Morrison government incurred an obligation to pay France $4 billion to get out of buying its Attack class conventional submarines, a contract about which President Macron famously knew he was lied to by Morrison. To bridge the time-lag to delivery of American or British boats (which may never happen) the six Australian-built Collins class submarines have to be rehabilitated, with a 50 percent cost blowout to the tune of $6 billion – a billion per copy ‒ to pay for a further two to three-year delay.

As former submariner and senator Rex Patrick reports, ‘submarine sustainment’ cost $410 million a year from 2009 to 2012. It now costs $769 million to keep the Collins Class submarines at sea, yet three of the boats are in dry dock while the operational status of those in the water is unclear. Patrick adds that an ‘independent assurance activity’ on the three-year Collins life extension done by a retired senior US Navy official found the program to be risky.

The risks could include Australia’s shortage of submariners and engineers. Equally risky is delivery of eight nuclear-powered submarines by 2040. British shipyards at BAE Shipyards at Barrow-in-Furness, and American manufacturers General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Connecticut and Newport News Shipbuilding have more orders from their own governments than they can meet, let alone capacity to supply other countries. Australia has not enough submariners or other troops: we now seek military people from Five Nations countries and elsewhere.

The US nonetheless keeps delivering its anti-China war-talk, amplified enthusiastically to Australians by most columnists in the mainstream media. At the recent Shangri-la Dialogue, Americans confirmed that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is their main focus. Forget Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Palestine, they implied, the real enemy of the US is China. Increase your defence spending, they tell their NATO and ANZUS allies, and join us in defending democracy and civilisation in East Asia. For Australia, that means not only handing over more money, but more territory for US bases on land and sea, and for nuclear waste. Both could be here for a very long time.

AUKUS is the Trojan Horse that, thanks to Morrison and Albanese, is already delivering Trident missiles, B52 bombers, and thousands of US military people to Northern and Western Australia. We don’t know if the bombers are armed with nuclear weapons, and Foreign Minister Penny Wong accepts that we will not be told. Nor will Australians know what the US decides to do with them. A nuclear or conventional attack launched from Australia against China makes our territory, not America’s, an immediate target.

Yet that appears to be what US military people want, and some predict that it will happen in a very few years. Some Australians like former Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezullo, former head of ASPI Peter Jennings, and the Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan anticipate it not with dread but apparent enthusiasm, demanding even more spending on weapons for ‘deterrence’ in case our American allies should weaken. Australians respond to recent surveys ambiguously, with low regard for China and declining trust in the US, yet still unable to acknowledge – as Malcolm Fraser did ten years ago – that it is the American alliance that since 1945 has endangered more than defended us.

The US hegemonic project uses its military industry everywhere to wage wars, destroy countries, and move on. Now, Australia could be next. Australians in growing numbers are joining civil society groups seeking to end our expensive participation in America’s endless, losing wars, and our own destruction. They point to the defence deficit that, in the next budget, will make it even harder for young people to pay for somewhere to live; that will erode Labor’s affordable homes project; and cut its delivery of transmission lines for green electricity. They see Australia lagging behind countries in our region with their fast trains, public transport, and sophisticated infrastructure.

Many Australians set the extravagant and unlimited sums being spent on AUKUS against Australia’s over-crowded, under-resourced public schools, compared with their over-funded ‘private’ counterparts. They see stressed hospital emergency departments, and dedicated but exploited medical staff. They compare the amounts intended for ‘defence’ ‒ killing people elsewhere ‒ with what’s available in Australia for child care, disability, mental, and aged care, as well as responding to another pandemic. They ask about what US military installations and nuclear waste will add to the environmental damage we have already done to this country. They compare the prospect of a losing war against China with Australia’s future as a non-aligned, cooperative member of this region. It speaks for itself: now is our last chance to decide.

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