Stepping back from the brink

FREMANTLE federal Labor MP Josh Wilson hit national news when his party grappled with its support for the AUKUS deal, a legacy inherited from the Morrison government. Mr Wilson was one of the figureheads for the party’s left faction, which tried to convince the party to ditch AUKUS, but his efforts fell short as prime minister Anthony Albanese placated delegates at the party’s national conference.  This was Mr Wilson’s speech at the conference.

I’m not convinced the acquisition of nuclear-propelled submarines through the AUKUS arrangement is in Australia’s national interest.

We all know the AUKUS decision was initially reached out of the ashes of the Morrison government’s mismanagement of our future submarine project and that decision was taken through a characteristically poor process.

I wholeheartedly support the reengagement of Australia in building cooperation, peace, security, and shared sustainable prosperity in our region, through the leadership of the Albanese Labor government. 


The strong emphasis on diplomacy and development assistance has already shown the substantial merit of that approach after these core areas of our external affairs were harmfully and scandalously neglected by the coalition. And that work is being led to great effect by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

But in my view, the decision to acquire nuclear propelled submarines is not justified and involves too many risks to the maintenance of our future submarine capability; to the proper balance of our Defence budget allocations; and to our sovereign manufacturing capacity. 

In addition, it involves the sharing of weapons grade nuclear technology, in a novel arrangement that carries non-proliferation and safeguard integrity risks, disturbs the regional status quo and commits Australia to take on decommissioning and nuclear waste storage challenges that have not been met by anyone, anywhere.

These are matters of legitimate concern in parts of the Australian community, including among Labor members and branches, and within the labour movement I acknowledge the other speakers who have made contributions to that effect in this debate.

Delegates, Australian Labor has a history of applying scrutiny and critical judgment to military and defence matters in the national interest when too few are prepared to do the same. 


The Morrison government’s decision to acquire nuclear propelled submarines was never made subject to that form of appropriately rigorous process.

The fact we’re having this debate openly and respectfully at our national conference shows that Australian Labor will continue to honour and protect the quality assurance mechanism that lies at the heart of a healthy democracy, namely contestability.

We must continue to bring that kind of searching and sometimes difficult debate to these matters, which more than some other topics, frankly, require greater scrutiny rather than less and should never, ever be advanced on the basis that they are the decision-making preserve of some defence and security establishment.

As it has been rightly said, and as we should always remember: to a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Deterrence is a valid strategic concept and submarines certainly have a deterrent value, but deterrence is not a one-word justification for any and every defence acquisition and anyone who thinks the intention to extend the scope of one’s threat capacity only serves to reduce the potential for conflict has not looked very closely at the history of conflict.


And with the greatest respect to delegate Conroy, the suggestion that anyone who questions a particular defence and security decision or acquisition is in the game of appeasement, and the suggestion that anyone who supports any particular defence decision or acquisition is in the game of strength is ridiculous.

Delegates, I’m grateful to be part of the process that worked constructively to find as much common ground as possible with respect to the Statement in Detail that we consider right now. 

That is testament to the principal and responsible leadership of a Labor government led by Anthony Albanese.

I respect that others genuinely believe that acquiring nuclear propelled submarines is to Australia’s significant advantage. As it stands, and until persuaded otherwise, I just don’t share that view and for all those reasons I support delegate Wright’s version of the Statement in Detail.

Leave a Reply