Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating say Labor failing Australian sovereignty with AUKUS

Fromer prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating

The following by Catherine Murphy and Daniel Hurst (The Guardian 2 February 2023) raises the objections by former Australian prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating over the loss of Australian sovereignty due to the AUKUS submarine pact. It will operate under the control of the United States.

Malcolm Turnbull says the Albanese government has failed to answer fundamental questions about the Aukus nuclear submarine pact, including whether the arrangement with the US and Britain compromises Australian sovereignty.

Responding to a new signal from Anthony Albanese that Labor would have pursued the contentious agreement had he been in power at the time Scott Morrison landed the pact, the former prime minister said Australians were entitled to know the answer to basic questions, like whether we could operate our own military assets.

“Australians should reasonably expect that military capabilities acquired by their government should be sovereign capabilities,” Turnbull said on Thursday. “In all my time in government we understood a sovereign capability as being one that can be deployed, sustained and maintained by the Australian government in Australia.

Anthony Albanese says he would likely have signed up to Aukus if he had been PM at the time.

“So the question on US-built nuclear-powered submarines is simply this: can they be operated, sustained and maintained by Australia without the support or supervision of the US Navy?

“If the answer is that US Navy assistance will be required that would mean, in any normal understanding of the term, that they are not Australian sovereign capabilities but rather that sovereignty would be shared with the US.

“If that is the case then this acquisition will be a momentous change which has not been acknowledged let alone debated.”

Turnbull has been raising this risk since the Morrison government reached agreement on the submarine proposal with Joe Biden and the then British prime minister Boris Johnson.

The former Labor prime minister Paul Keating has articulated very similar concerns, which has been an ongoing point of friction between himself and the current government.

Last October Keating said: “Because they’re nuclear submarines, they cannot be fielded without the technical support of the United States.

“If there’s interoperability it means our sovereignty, our freedom of decision and movement, is simply subordinated to the United States. No self-respecting Australian should ever put their hand up for our sovereignty being so wilfully suborned in this way.”

During a separate outing at the National Press Club in 2021, the former PM blasted both major Australian political parties for backing Aukus, arguing the plan was all about hawkish national security advisers who “can’t wait to get the staplers back on to the Americans”.

Aukus was championed by Morrison, who had claimed in the run-up to the 2022 election that “only this government would have initiated” it. Labor endorsed the arrangement in opposition despite concern from several neighbours in the region, including Indonesia and Malaysia, that it would help fuel a regional arms race.

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