20 March 2023

 (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (16:33): 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 Keating 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.