PARTY TIME: COULD AUKUS BE THE CATALYST?
The Old Parties
The Australian Labor Party (ALP)was founded in the 1890s, before Federation. When Labor succeeded at the 1910 Federal election, it was the world’s first Labour Party majority government at national level. The Liberal Party was founded in 1944. The Liberals, in coalition with the Country Party (now called the National Party of Australia), were first elected to government in 1949 after which they remained in office for 23 years. The Coalition (LNP) has remained intact since 1946 apart from two brief periods in opposition.
The ALP and the LNP have been Australia’s two major political parties for more than 75 years. Now, younger and more informed voters are demanding “new politics” as we approach an end to an era in which political elites keep the ship of state on a “steady-as-she-goes trajectory” – that is “old politics”. There is next to nothing progressive about the old politics as demonstrated by the often regressive record of public policy, including in particular the AUKUS agreement which has left Australia more deeply entangled with US strategic priorities than ever. The Unites States now controls or has extensive access to an array of military assets on Australian soil, including high-tech bases in Western Australia, the port and air base of Darwin, the Tindal airbase and Pine Gap[i].
Prime Minister Albanese and Opposition Leader Dutton epitomise old politics[ii].
Friction Within the Labour Party
On 4 June 2023, the Queensland branch of the ALP rejected a motion congratulating the Albanese government for investing in AUKUS. The congratulatory motion was moved by the Australian Workers Union but it was defeated by 229 to 140 votes.
The Financial Review later reported that the Victorian branch of the ALP was also expected to condemn AUKUS at its branch meeting on 17/18 June pursuant to a motion critical of AUKUS which was expected to be moved by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. However, before the motion could be put to the conference, it was pulled by factional bosses and deferred for discussion at the National Conference to be held in August.
Growing opposition to AUKUS among labour’s rank-and-file points to a divide opening up in Australia between the political class and a growing number of voters. Bob Carr and Paul Keating have been the most senior internal critics of AUKUS. At an interview at the National Press Club in March 2023, Keating referred to AUKUS as “the worst international decision by an Australian Labor government”. Former foreign minister, Gareth Evans has joined the anti-AUKUS chorus. AUKUS is dangerous and absurd at every level including the prospect of damaging, if not destroying trade with China. As Alison Broinowski (President of AWPR, Australian War Powers Reform) has written, AUKUS is widely seen as undeliverable, unmaintainable, uncrewable, and unaffordable.
During the 2022 Federal election, voters punished the Liberals by voting for Teals and Greens in significant numbers. The Albanese government has only a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and it lacks a majority in the Senate. Young voters, women, educated and principled voters are demanding change, but the major parties are incapable of reforming themselves. AUKUS has become a rallying point for those who are tired of the old politics and are rising up to condemn the Albanese government’s flawed commitment to AUKUS. This is going to hurt the government at the next election when more voters are likely to vote Teal or Green, or for other independents, and it could lead to a minority Labor government, hopefully spelling the end of AUKUS.
It is difficult to recall a time in Australia which was more propitious than now for the launch of a new Australian Political Party, a Party which reflects the needs and wishes of young voters, intelligent and aware thinkers, and most importantly, a party which does not play “follow my leader”, either to its powerful ally on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, or to the former prime minister who secretly negotiated the AUKUS deal.
Australia’s next Federal election is almost two years away. Can Australia identify a potential leader who is willing, enthusiastic and able to step up. Someone who is young, smart, and independent thinking, with the leadership qualities to “storm the Bastille”. Most importantly, someone who represents New Politics, a conviction politician who understands and has the courage to address Australia’s pressing strategic and international challenges. A leader who would loosen the shackles binding Australia to an alliance which is less and less in this country’s national interests.
Leadership – Courage and Conviction
IT CAN BE DONE. Emmanuel Macron unexpectedly launched his En Marche (On the Move) campaign in 2017 winning 66% of the vote in the run-off election against Marin Le Pen. Both Jacinda Ardern (now Dame Ardern) and Macron became leaders of their respective nations in 2017. Ardern was 37 years old when she became Prime Minister, while Macron was 39 when he became President of France.
What they shared was a willingness to press for policy positions which were not always popular, but which they believed to be in the best interest of the nation. Each has demonstrated the courage to do what they believed to be right. Ardern was globally admired for her compassion following her extraordinary response to the Christchurch killings. On the other hand, Macron is brash, confident and willing to take on unpopular challenges.
In the aftermath of the Christchurch Mosque shootings, Ardern rapidly introduced strict gun laws (described by The New Yorker as something that Americans might find unthinkable) and she led New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic for which she won world-wide praise. In October 2020 she led the Labour Party to a landslide victory. Then, in January 2023, after six years in office, she announced her resignation as leader. She had remained true to her convictions throughout. Only days ago, her successor as Prime Minister, 44-year-old Chris Hipkins openly disagreed with US President Biden’s remark, characterising Chinese President Xi Jinping as a dictator. Hipkins added that “The form of government that China has is a matter for the Chinese people.” It appears that he too will prove to be a fearless leader.
Macron is clearly willing to make the tough calls. When he recently introduced reforms to raise the French retirement age from 62 to 64, he faced widespread and often violent protests. He responded, “Is it a pleasure to do this reform? This reform is not a luxury or a pleasure, it is necessary for the country.” Macron was willing to be unpopular for what he believed to be in the greater interest of the nation.
Disengaging from America’s War Planning is No Longer an Option
In a thoughtful and deeply perceptive paper, Mike Scrafton spells out how difficult and challenging it would be for Australia to separate from America’s strategic policies and to disengage from American war-planning. As he says, “To do so would be the most difficult policy challenge Canberra has ever attempted.” Scrafton concludes that although many Australians would feel vulnerable and exposed following an alliance breakup, “It would take a courageous government to do that. But it is in Australia’s national interest.”[iii]
Making this change in no longer a mere choice – it is utterly essential. As Bob Carr has written, “In case of war between America and China (including Australia tagging along), America and China would maim each other so badly that both would be struggling to hold their societies together, with tent cities for millions under radioactive clouds and economies wiped out”.[iv]
“AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM” – HEAR THE OTHER SIDE!
[i] Joseph Camilleri – AUKUS Part of Strategy to Preserve US Regional Dominance, Asia Times, 23 June 2023 [ii] Allan Patience – The Generational Divide in Australian Politics is Widening, Pearls & Irritations 17 June 2023 [iii] Mike Scrafton – The Courage to End the Alliance, Pearls & Irritations 23 June 2023 [iv] Bob Carr served as Premier of New South Wales and as Australian Foreign Minister.