Richard Marles and the betrayal of Australian sovereignty

Feb 28, 2023
Australia and United States flags together relations textile cloth fabric texture

It’s clear that Australian sovereignty is being seriously, perhaps fatally, imperilled by the policies of successive Australian governments populated by Australians with divided loyalties. 

Defence Minister Richard Marles’ address to parliament on February 9, entitled ‘Securing Our Sovereignty’, deserves a close reading.

It was delivered at a time when, in the minister’s own words, “it has never been more important to guard, reinforce and enhance our sovereignty”.

However, it’s clear that this vaunted sovereignty is being seriously, perhaps fatally, imperilled by the policies of successive Australian governments.

DM Marles defines sovereignty as “…the capacity of a people, through their government, to determine their own circumstances and to act of their own accord, free from any coercive influence”.

More specifically, he states that any “defence capability…which is not at the absolute discretion of the country which operates it does nothing to enhance sovereignty.”

True enough, but this is where the situation becomes rather confused. Recent treaties and agreements which have enhanced the “interoperability” of Australian and US forces, as well as allowing the “rotation” of military forces and materiel through Australian territory, have explicitly ceded both Australian control over those forces and materiel, and rendered opaque what might ultimately comprise these elements.

The 2014 Force Posture Agreement Article VII explicitly states that, “The prepositioned materiel of United States Forces, and Agreed Facilities and Areas designated for storage of such prepositioned materiel shall be for the exclusive use of United States Forces, and full title to all such equipment, supplies, and materiel remains with the United States. United States Forces shall have exclusive control over the access to, use of, and disposition of such prepositioned materiel.”

Therefore, in plain language, Australia has no control over access, use, or further disposition of US weapons or equipment stationed on Australian soil. This is a death sentence for our sovereignty, because it means America can attack a third country from these shores without the agreement or even knowledge of the Australian government, yet we will have become a target and will perforce suffer the retaliatory consequences, possibly even nuclear.

Marles states that a “defence capability…which is not at the absolute discretion of the country which operates it does nothing to enhance sovereignty”, implying he is referring to Australia. But this is a sleight of hand, because the significant defence capabilities in question will not be operated by Australia in any case, thanks to the FPA, and therefore can’t enhance our sovereignty, by his own fraught definition.

He reinforces this tendentious reasoning by implying that Australia is in the situation of having a “…high-end capability – the use of which is at the complete discretion of [our] country, [and which] contributes greatly to the capacity of [our] people to determine their circumstances and therefore contributes greatly to national sovereignty.”

The problem of course is that we have nothing like “complete discretion” in the use of US weapons and forces positioned on our soil. In fact we have no control, and it seems quite probable that no Australian knows whether or not, at any given moment, nuclear weapons are “prepositioned” in this country. Naturally, any enemy would assume the worst and act accordingly.

Yet Marles is implying that we have somehow enhanced our own sovereignty by allowing foreign military forces and weapons into our country, over which we will have no control, as agreed in the FPA treaty.

Thus the above considerations make laughable Marles’ conclusion that “our partnerships build our national capability and security…and are anchored in Australian sovereignty”, and that “our cooperation with…our US ally, is managed through robust policy frameworks and principles that maintain and protect our sovereignty”. Sadly, however, the continuous repetition of a falsehood doesn’t make it any truer.

A further related fantasy in this regard is Marles’ assertion that “a fundamental principle underpinning these activities is the longstanding bipartisan policy of having no foreign bases on Australian sovereign territory.”

What else is a foreign base other than an area of land on which a foreign power positions forces and materiel over which it exercises sole and unfettered control, including the further disposition of that materiel?

Marles’ collusion in the fiction that “partner activities occur on a rotational basis, within Australian facilities or as a part of jointly operated facilities” is patently untrue, and demonstrably so, by reference to the FPA provisions.

His further claim that “our US alliance fundamentally strengthens, rather than diminishes, our sovereignty” is explicitly denied by the treaty law that is the FPA, and is a brazen misrepresentation of the truth.

Finally, some attention must be devoted to unmasking yet another pervasive and corrosive fiction, that of “our long-standing and bipartisan policy of ‘full knowledge and concurrence’”.

According to the Defence Minister, “‘full knowledge’ means Australia has a full and detailed understanding of any capability or activity with a presence on Australian territory, or making use of Australian assets”.

Clearly, as a matter of logic, this contradicts the Australian government’s compliance with the US policy of ‘refusal to confirm or deny’ the existence of nuclear weapons being carried by warships or planes arriving in Australia. One can’t “know” if one is kept in the dark. As such, “full knowledge” is a bald-faced deception.

According to Marles, “‘Concurrence’ means that Australia approves of the presence of a capability or function in Australia, in support of mutually-agreed goals”. Again, quite clearly, if ‘knowledge’ is absent then ‘concurrence’ is irrelevant. One can’t approve of something if one is unaware of its existence.

Defence Minister Marles is apparently a nice chap, intelligent and well educated, who’s clearly very enthusiastic about the possibility of enhancing our sovereignty by becoming further enmeshed in desperate US planning for a coming war with China.

As such, it’s hard to know how to account for the quite glaring contradictions between his public reassurances and the provisions specified in the treaties and agreements with the USA to which we are bound.

Shuttling between the possibilities of his being either seriously deluded or wilfully deceptive, one is at a profound loss to explain the manifest inconsistencies between Marles’ unreasonably optimistic faith in our once-great-and-powerful friend and the black-and-white reality of the ink on those pages which have signed away our sovereignty, and quite possibly a relatively peaceful and prosperous future.

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