Marcus Strom: AUKUS is a mad, bad and dangerous war policy

Aug 10, 2023
Making speech from behind a pulpit with national flag on background - Australia

Anthony Albanese likes to think of himself as a Bob Hawke unifying type. But if he keeps dragging us along this war path, he will be remembered as our Tony Blair.

We hear a lot about how AUKUS is going to be about getting the balance right, rebalancing the region as China expands. And yes, China has its interests, and is building a military in the region and that is also to be concerned about. But I wonder about balance. And we’ve just been reminded again the stories from Guam and from Okinawa. There are 343 US bases in East Asia alone. Now, I don’t know how eight nuclear submarines adds to the balance in the region.

AUKUS is a policy of empire. And empire means violence. And I am amazed having worked in Canberra until recently at the blithe, consequence-free approach that our political leaders seem take to this. It’s “just the price of doing business on the world stage” is how it’s presented.

This is not what the Labor Party should be fighting for.

Alongside the obscene violence of joint war games happening in Australia at the moment, we’ve had the AUSMIN meeting between leading Australian ministers and US ministers. I read this in the press yesterday about what AUSMIN means. “Australia is now being asked to pull more of its weight in the alliance, play a bigger role in helping stabilise the regional balance of power and be integrated as a base of operations into US force projections into the region or into US war planning for a possible conflict with China in Asia.”

That’s from the very radical editorial column of the Australian Financial Review. Also from the Australian Financial Review today, “The AUSMIN talks over the weekend continue the trend since the late 1990s of tying Australia more tightly into both American grand strategy and war planning in Asia. The permanent American military presence on Australian soil is now at a scale unprecedented since the Second World War.”

They are preparing us for war.

That is why I could no longer work for this government. Up until February I was press secretary to Ed Husic, and the AUKUS policy is one of the main reasons I resigned from that position.

As I said to somebody coming in, “The secret to never being disillusioned with the Labor Party is never be illusioned with the Labor Party.” But the Labor Party, despite its many flaws, does have a tradition of opposing some unjust wars. This was pointed out by Paul Keating at a recent National Press Club speech he gave.

Labor was against the Vietnam War, eventually; Labor did stand against the second Iraq War. Although Bob Hawke did support the first Iraq war. So there’s a chequered history.

I’m going to talk about Tom Uren. Tom Uren many of you will know was a lone voice to start with against the Vietnam War in the Labor Party.

Keating pointed out that the ALP opposed Vietnam. But that’s not always how it was. Tom Uren points out in an interview he gave in 1996, that he and Jim Cairns, who went on to become treasurer, moved a motion to Labor caucus in 1965 opposing US bombing of North Vietnam. They lost that vote.

The left then of the Labor Party voted against it. But seven years later Gough Whitlam on a wave of anti-war sentiment took power and one of the first acts was to bring the remaining Australian troops home from Vietnam.

So we can fight back and we can make change. While Tom Uren started as a lone voice, on AUKUS in the Labor Party, I can say we are not alone. Already people like Paul Keating, Bob Carr, Carmen Lawrence, Doug Cameron, Peter Garrett are speaking out against the insanity of this policy.

War is a deadly business. It can’t be treated as a gambit against wedge politics from the opposition, but that is how it’s being treated.

The war in Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people, left millions displaced, sparked regional destabilisation, engendered the ISIS calamity. A war with China would make Iraq look like a tea party; it would threaten nuclear catastrophe. This is what we’re facing with AUKUS.

It is also a threat to Australian sovereignty. AUSMIN and the military interoperability it is producing, means that there will be US soldiers enmeshed with Australian forces on a continual basis.

And this Australian government, this Labor government, is now allowing the rotation of B-52s through the Tindal base in the Northern Territory. Now, those planes carry nuclear weapons. They neither confirm nor deny. Australia’s quite relaxed at that policy. But we know that makes Australia a nuclear target.

It makes Australia not just a target and a victim, but an aggressor in the region; a host to war machines that could slaughter millions of people. We have to say, “No” to that.

I’m reminded of something Henry Kissinger said, “Being an enemy of the United States is very dangerous. Being a friend is fatal.”

Simon Crean was Labor leader when the Iraq war happened, and he bravely stood against the war drums. When Simon Crean died recently, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said, “History has vindicated Simon’s judgment, but at the time his stance was deeply counter to the prevailing political and media climate.”

We are again looking for such courage in a Labor leader.

Instead, we have meekly inherited a Scott Morrison policy. When I speak at Labor Party meetings I say, “If we’d lost the last election, and Scott Morrison was pursuing this policy, you’d all be up in arms. You’d all be screaming about the injustice of it, the war mongering of it. Just because our guy’s doing it doesn’t mean you should shut up.”

And that’s what Labor Against War is about. We can’t sit silently on this. We only formed only a few months ago. Already, we are working branch by branch, moving motions, winning many, losing some, making alliances with the Maritime Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Construction Union. Unions New South Wales has a policy opposed to AUKUS.

The South Coast Labor Council, which is facing having a nuclear submarine base in Port Kembla, has stood up and said, “No”.

Branch by branch anti-war activists are passing resolutions. We’ve now going into National Conference. We are hoping we can force at least a bit of a debate onto that conference. To not even discuss this would be an absolute travesty of Labor Party democracy.

We’re not expecting to win at the first hurdle, but neither did Tom Uren. This is a long campaign to win the Labor Party from being a war party to being a peace party.

Assurances count for nothing. The danger we face in a multi-decade, multibillion-dollar program is we don’t know who will be prime minister in ten years, five years. We don’t know who’s going to be in the White House at the end of next year. And yet we are going to be lumbered with a nuclear alliance with two fading Anglo powers on the other side of the world.

Our future is with our brothers and sisters in the Pacific and in Asia.

AUKUS is a mad, bad and dangerous war policy. And to borrow from the French, we don’t just think this, we know this. As an aside, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the chutzpah of Macron speaking in the Pacific, complaining about the ‘new imperialism’ recently.

Anthony Albanese likes to think of himself as a Bob Hawke unifying type. But if he keeps dragging us along this war path, he will be remembered as our Tony Blair.

Believe it or not, the ALP is meant to be a democratic socialist party. Read it, it’s in the rules.

It’s meant to fight for a better world. But we should no longer be satisfied for fighting for Chifley’s Light on the Hill. This is a labour of Sisyphus, a goal that we never reach. It is time to bring the light down into the shadows, to enlighten the world, to bring hope to today, not tomorrow.

Capitalism is a war system. We have to oppose capitalism to stop war.

Hope is rising. We will make a difference. Use that anger that you felt to really get active. We are rebuilding a peace movement, an anti-war movement.

I look here today; we need to double, triple our numbers. At our last Labor Against War meeting in Sydney, we had somebody there in their 80s telling us about how they fought against the Vietnam War. And there were people in the room in their school uniforms. Now that is a sign for hope that we can raise our voices fight a really bad policy.

And we have to win this because the alternative is cataclysmic.


These are extracts from a speech by Marcus Strom at a public meeting organised by IPAN at the ANU, Canberra, 1 August 2023

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