The ALP Victorian state conference and AUKUS

Jun 21, 2023
US Australia and Great Britain flags paint over on chess king. AUKUS defence pact.

An attempt by certain Labor affiliated left-wing unions to put a motion critical of AUKUS at the recent ALP Victorian State Conference was deferred by factional bosses even before it was put. That it was deferred tells us as much about the hierarchy ignoring the rank and file of the party as it does about the massive folly that is AUKUS.

On the weekend of 17-18 of June the Victorian branch of the ALP held its state conference attended by over six hundred delegates, the first one since 2019. Previous conferences had been postponed because of COVID, but also because of federal intervention as a response to branch stacking. Tension had already been built up because some left-wing unions had announced they would ask for a vote against AUKUS, being just the latest of other prominent ALP members and past ministers who have come out strongly against it.

The Age, the AFR and the Guardian began reporting on this four days before the conference began, speculating on who would control the factions and what would happen to the AUKUS motion which had the potential to embarrass the Prime Minister. Even before the conference began Mr Albanese had declared that AUKUS would go ahead, rendering any debate pointless given that there is much support for AUKUS in the federal parliamentary ALP. And rank and file members can be ignored–at least in the short term.

Phillip Coorey had already reported on June 14 that two weeks earlier the Queensland branch of the ALP, at its state conference, had “refused to support a motion congratulating the Albanese government “for investing in the AUKUS agreement”.”

Given that there has been considerable disquiet expressed about the AUKUS decision as a threat to Australian sovereignty and a departure from traditional Labor policy to seek rapprochement as opposed to aggression, it is hardly surprising that some elements of the rank and file expressed their anger about the decision to go with AUKUS. And this especially when it had been essentially imposed upon the party from above, and when prominent former ALP luminaries led by Paul Keating and Bob Carr had decisively spoken out against it.

As Phillip Coorey wrote in the AFR on 18/6, “The motion expressed disappointment with, or criticised, all aspects of the AUKUS deal between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, including its quick embrace by Labor in opposition when Scott Morrison announced it. The motion demanded “federal Labor caucus to be more politically diverse and avoid being swept along by the interests and priorities of America’s corporate, political, and military elites”.

Indeed, as Royce Millar and Broede Carmody reported in the Age three days (15/6) before the conference, “AMWU Victorian secretary Tony Mavromatis said he expected his motion would win strong support from the conference floor.” “We will push ahead with our motion, no matter who is at the conference, including prime ministers,” he said. “The AUKUS deal is a terrible arrangement for Australia. It lets down Australian workers, apprentices and trainees and Australian manufacturing. We should not be getting into nuclear.”

In other words, he was expressing the criticisms that have already been made in so many other forums, yet only mutely in most of the main stream media.

Yet in Melbourne the factional leaders got together and voted to defer this motion until the forthcoming Labor National Conference in Brisbane. No doubt there will be sufficient support for the Prime Minister to defeat any such motion going forth, and even if it did go forth would this be enough for the government to withdraw from AUKUS?

If the internal pressure continues building against what is such an obvious foreign affairs folly, one which has so much negative impact on internal spending by the government on social housing, climate change mitigation, education and so forth, will the decision to go with it be reversed? I fear this is unlikely as Mr. Albanese seems to be adopting the practice of his LNP predecessors, never to back down because it will make him look weak in the eyes of the public. Implicitly, this will also be justified by the party hierarchy’s belief that this is what the Australian population wants, irrespective of how little the opposite arguments have been advanced to them.

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