Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023



The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:46): I rise today to speak about the AUKUS deal or, indeed, what we know about the AUKUS deal. We do know that $368 billion has been plunged into something that seems incredibly secretive.

There is no doubt that all of us in this place have heard of the AUKUS deal and are aware of the new tripartite deal between Australia, the UK and the United States for the acquisition of up to eight nuclear-powered submarines. As part of this plan, taxpayers will be now pouring substantial funds into exploding America's shipbuilding capacity, understood to be some $3 billion in the first four years, and that we will have the first Australian-built nuclear-powered submarines, fitted with vertical launch systems to fire cruise missiles and they will, possibly, enter service in the early 2040s.

I have to say, watching the response unfold last week with the former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, and the former environment minister, Peter Garrett, I think they are both on the money. Former Prime Minister Keating has openly criticised both current Prime Minister Albanese and the foreign minister, Penny Wong, in his appearance on the National Press Club on 15 March last week. He has been quoted as saying:

I don't think I suffer from relevance deprivation, but I do suffer concern for Australia as it most unwisely proceeds down this singular and dangerous path… [This is] the worst deal in all history.

These are strong words from a former Prime Minister. While he has been dismissed by many in the Labor Party, I will also point to the former environment minister, Peter Garrett, who does distance himself from some of the commentary made by Paul Keating. I have to say, I do refer to the four-page statement made by Peter Garrett recently titled 'AUKUS stinks, and that's an understatement' to all members of this place and the other place. Mr Garrett quite rightly states:

Where were the scientific reports, assessments and risk analyses that should precede and inform a decision of this size? Has Defence ever delivered a major construction or weapons delivery program on time and on budget? Not once in living memory.

Ask any Australian how they would spend this amount of public money to make Australia a fairer, safer, kinder nation and I doubt the answer would be nuclear subs.

As many experts have noted, expecting three nations to effectively co-ordinate and deliver a project of this magnitude and over such a long time period is epic wishful thinking, and flies in the face of any relevant past experience.

AUKUS does stink, and that is an understatement. I commend former Labor MPs who have started to voice their concerns—the concerns echoing the confusion and the concern of many Australians, who are wondering how we have signed our future away for this $368 billion deal without a public debate, without proper due process.

In fact in the dead of night, overnight, we saw Labor fall into lockstep with Scott Morrison to become a small target in a federal election campaign and then crickets in terms of a proper conversation. We can see, as people like Doug Cameron speak out, as the Prime Minister's own sub-branches move motions with their concern about this deal, that not only have the Australian public not had a conversation about AUKUS, the Australian Labor Party are yet to actually all be singing from the same hymn sheet on this.

I commend the member for Fremantle, who was the first sitting Labor federal MP to come out and express his concerns: Labor backbencher Josh Wilson, the federal member for Fremantle, who has gone on record this week speaking out against the AUKUS pact, fearing it might undermine Australia's commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. I am a cynic, but I know that that came because his electorate was doorknocked by concerned members of the public over the last weekend.

The people have started to raise quite valid concerns about why we are sinking this money into subs when we should actually be securing a prosperous future for us all.