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ABSTAINED – Matters of Urgency — Regional Security

Sue Lines

The Senate will now consider the proposal from Senator Birmingham:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Senate to recognise that AUKUS expresses Australia's ambition for enduring peace and prosperity in our region, and to reject criticism from former Prime Minister Pa ul Keating that it is the worst deal in our history.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

The proposal is supported. With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clocks in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

Simon Birmingham

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Senate to recognise that AUKUS expresses Australia's ambition for enduring peace and prosperity in our region, and to reject criticism from former Prime Minister Paul Kea ting that it is the worst deal in our history.

I move this motion noting that this is a matter of, indeed, utmost importance for this parliament and for the nation in terms of the operation of the AUKUS agreement and its impact upon the defence of Australia.

One of the most frequent criticisms of politics is that of so-called 'short-termism', the view that governments take decisions focused too much on the next election cycle in the near or short term rather than using longer-term perspective. In this case, what we have very clearly is long-term decision-making for Australia in our national interest, guiding the type of defence strategy and defence industry strategy that our country needs to see us through the decades ahead. Those of us on this side are very proud to have been the authors and architects of the AUKUS agreement. We acknowledge and give credit to the other side for having delivered on the process that we put in place—the 18-month Nuclear Powered Submarine Task Force process—and ensuring that, within that, we are taking the steps forward under AUKUS, and that it is delivering a long-term strategic plan for Australia's defence capability, contributing to a long-term strategic plan for our Defence industrial capability and helping to strengthen our alliances and partnerships with key nations with whom we share an interest in the preservation of shared values and support for the international rules based order.

The AUKUS agreement and Australia's pursuit of enhanced military capabilities is unquestionably about underpinning the stability, peace and prosperity of our region across the Indo-Pacific. It is intended to make a contribution to the defence of Australia and to the defence of Australian interests. Our interests are served by upholding the international rules based order that has underpinned stability and peace across the world, in the main, since the Second World War era. Our interests as Australians are based upon preserving respect for those laws and rules that enable open shipping lanes, freedom of navigation and overflight, and, of course, for our access throughout our region, along with that of every other partner nation within our region.

AUKUS was possible as an agreement because the coalition made Australia a credible partner and ensured that we made the difficult decisions that had to be made. We made Australia a credible partner by restoring Australia's investment in our defence budgets. When we came to office in 2013, Australia's defence spending had dropped to 1.56 per cent of GDP—the lowest level since the pre World War II era. We restored that to two per cent of GDP, notwithstanding the pressures of balancing the budget pre-COVID and the competing priorities. We had an eye firmly focused on the long-term interests of Australia and made the decision to make sure we prioritised that restoration. We made the investment decisions to establish a continuous shipbuilding strategy, also ensuring Australia was a credible partner for nations like the United States and the United Kingdom to work with on a program such as AUKUS.

We also made the difficult decisions to switch to nuclear powered submarines. That was one of the biggest and most difficult decisions that a government could make, given the program that was already underway in terms of conventionally powered—diesel powered—submarines and the challenge of the technology and ambition associated with nuclear powered submarines. We made that decision because of changed strategic circumstances and changes in technology and the detectability of submarines and in the operation of their powering. It's clear that only a coalition government was capable of making and able to make that decision. While those opposite in government have delivered on what we did, it is clear from the remarks of Mr Keating, Mr Garrett and former Senator Cameron that Labor could never have led such a decision. We did lead such a decision. We're proud to have done so. We continue to give bipartisan support, because we want to see it succeed.

Raff Ciccone

Last week, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, along with the US President, Joe Biden, and the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced the most significant investment in Australia's national security in our country's history.

We will be building eight next-generation nuclear powered submarines here in Australia, in the state of South Australia, in Adelaide. But it will be a whole-of-nation effort, requiring workers in every state and territory. It will create around 20,000 direct jobs, and, with construction beginning this decade, we will train more engineers, more scientists, more technicians, more submariners, more administrators and more tradespeople. At its peak, building and sustaining nuclear powered submarines in Australia will create up to 8½ thousand direct jobs in the industrial workforce alone. With hundreds of thousands of components, nuclear powered submarines will present a unique opportunity for Australian companies to contribute not only to the construction and sustainment of Australia's new fleet but to the supply chains of partner nations. Australia's scientific, education and training institutions will also play a central role. Australians have already commenced training and working on UK and US nuclear powered submarines, and in UK and US facilities. This will mean that Australia has a trained and experienced sovereign workforce for the arrival of Australia's Virginia class submarines from as soon as the early 2030s.

The cost of this endeavour is estimated to be between $268 billion and $368 billion, making it the largest investment in defence ever undertaken by Australia, and it's something that I think we should be very proud of. Some people may see that figure and wonder if this investment is really necessary, but the short answer is: yes, it is necessary. We are in a situation where we have the fastest and most significant naval build-up that we have ever seen at our back door, in the Indo-Pacific. As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said last week, we would be condemned by history if we did not take our changing strategic circumstances seriously and take steps to improve our defence capability. But the Australian Greens seem like they want to disregard protecting our sovereignty and protecting our people, who we are elected to look after.

While I don't think it is at all improper for people to ask questions about how the government is spending money, it's important to call out the irresponsible commentary that seeks to downplay the change in strategic circumstances that we find ourselves in. The lines that are coming out from some that AUKUS is somehow unnecessary or even provocative are complete nonsense. We should be very, very clear: Australia and our allies are not the provocateurs here. We are not seeking to change the status quo. We are not seeking to undermine the international rules based order. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for every international actor, and, when these actors commit to unprecedented military spending and naval build-up, it is incumbent upon Australia to respond.

We are increasing our defence capability by deepening our cooperation with our close allies, by working together so that we can design, build and deploy defence assets greater than the sum of our individual nation's knowledge and capability. It will complement the Albanese government's wider agenda to revitalise Australia's manufacturing, ensuring that we are a country that makes things here, including identifying defence capability as a priority funding area for the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.

Australia's defence industry and workforce will be vital partners in the AUKUS submarine program over the next four decades and beyond, delivering critical defence capability and supporting an industrial and skills expansion of national economic significance. So, while I think almost all Australians would agree it's deeply unfortunate that we live in a world where these steps are necessary, we should also recognise the increased cooperation between ourselves and our closest partners as a good thing.

Jordon Steele-John

STEELE-JOHN () (): The AUKUS political deal being debated today—dreamt up by Scott Morrison and by Boris Johnson, of all people, and sanctified by President Joe Biden—is, of course, a tremendous waste of public funds. It sees Australia go all in to the tune of $368 billion on the purchase of eight nuclear powered submarines that won't be delivered until I'm 60-odd. And, for this, the Australian people will get the privilege of becoming a nuclear waste dump for the refuse of these machines and will see their public money subsidise British and US defence manufacturers. It is a waste of public funds. It puts us at risk.

But, this afternoon, what I want to comment upon is this. It is one of the most catastrophic foreign policy decisions an Australian government has ever entered into, and it fundamentally undermines our ability to be considered as independent actors in our region. This deal forever shackles us to the United States of America. It removes the question in the minds of any of our regional neighbours as to whether, when the United States says, 'Jump,' we answer, 'How high, and would you like a backflip, sir?' I find it to be outrageous in the extreme and hypocritical in no end that both parties have spent this week criticising Paul Keating—a man with more right to comment on these things than most people in here—for his observations, yet you all have remained silent in relation to John Winston Howard, a man who should be before the Hague for his involvement in the war in Iraq.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 5:08 PM on 2023-03-20
Senator Pocock's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 40
Total number of "no" votes: 12
Total number of abstentions: 24

Adapted from information made available by