21 March 2023

Albanese cops friendly fire as Keating lets rip over AUKUS and China — but was he right?

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Laura Tingle and Paul Keating at the National Press Club

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating and National Press Club President Laura Tingle during yesterday’s press Club address. Photo: Screenshot.

“Once I leave, I leave. I am not going to speak to the man on the bridge and I am not going to spit on the deck,” former British Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin reportedly promised about his future conduct shortly before he retired in 1937.

No doubt after his address to the National Press Club yesterday, many in the Labor Party and Defence would be wishing Paul Keating had adopted a similar mantra.

Mr Keating was there to talk about Tuesday morning’s announcement by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and British PM Rishi Sunak of the “optimal path” the AUKUS construct would take for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

He didn’t hold back, telling National Press Club President and ABC chief political correspondent Laura Tingle that the AUKUS announcement was “the worst international decision by an Australian Labor Government since Billy Hughes sought to introduce conscription in World War I”.

READ MORE AUKUS leaders reveal Australian nuclear submarine plans

He said that, over the past century, he felt Labor has “mostly got it right”. He cited the example of the party “knocking Hughes off” over conscription and that Labor Prime Minister John Curtin had got it right in “knocking Churchill off” in 1942 over the British PM’s plan to keep Australian troops in Burma instead of bringing them back to Papua New Guinea.

He also said Labor leader Arthur Calwell had “got it right” when he opposed Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War in 1965 and that Labor leader Simon Crean “got it right” when he said Australia should not send troops to the Iraq War in 2002.

“So, Labor has had a knockout set of ‘rights’ against the Coalition,” he said. “But this one is where we break that winning streak!”

Mr Keating said China was not a threat to Australia and that it was a distortion and an untruth that China has ever “implied they would threaten or said it explicitly”.

“What ‘threatens us’ means is an invasion of Australia,” he explained.

“It doesn’t mean firing a few missiles off the coast like the Japanese did in 1943, firing a few things into the eastern suburbs of Sydney. It means an invasion. All great battles are fought on land. They’re fought as invasions.”

Warfare historians and students may disagree with his last argument, and point to the Battles of Midway in World War II, Jutland in World War I, Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05, and Trafalgar in 1805 – all of which were momentous sea battles that changed the course of wars – as clear counterpoints.

Keating at the National Press Club

Mr Keating makes a point during his National Press Club address. Photo: Screenshot.

Mr Keating cited Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1943, Napoléon’s European forays in the early 1800s, and the more recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia as examples of land wars and drew a somewhat tenuous parallel with the current geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific.

“The only way China could threaten Australia, or attack it, is on land,” he said. “That is, they bring an armada of troop ships with a massive army to occupy us.

“But, this is not possible for the Chinese to do because you would need an armada of troop ships,” he added.

“And they’d need to come 13 days of steaming 8,000 km [between] Shanghai and Brisbane, say, in which case, we would just sink them all. The moment they leave their port, they’re visible.”

READ ALSO National security first and foremost, PM tells Australia and its neighbours

While he quite rightly said a surprise large-scale amphibious invasion over great distances is “impossible today” because of continuous satellite coverage, his hypothesis may be viewed as being somewhat naïve and one-dimensional.

What he missed, conveniently or otherwise, is the fact that, in the modern age, major powers that possess intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines and surface vessels with long-range land and maritime-attack missiles can threaten other nations without one soldier ever needing to land or wade ashore on foreign soil.

Similarly, many powers possess the capabilities to cripple an adversary through the use of tactics in that ‘grey zone’ that exists outside of direct warfare, instead employing capabilities such as large-scale cyber attacks against critical infrastructure, or as Australia has seen in recent years, trade sanctions that can decimate key industries almost overnight.

While there are many valid arguments that there may be better ways for Australia to spend $368 billion, Mr Keating’s naivety towards China’s, or rather, the Chinese Communist Party’s rising power and threat to democracy in our region is unarguable.

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It irks me that my taxes have to pay for this fruitloop’s lifestyle of French clock collecting

If Keating understood history he would recognise himself as the Neville Chamberlain of our time. The lesson from WW2 is that to discourage the aggressive territorial and military ambitions of a meglamaniac, the democracies have to be united, armed and most importantly resolute, standing up to provocations to discourage more. Meek appeasement of an expansionist military power, led by a ruthless dictator is self-defeating, dangerous and naive. Beijing has its useful idiot.

HiddenDragon7:24 pm 16 Mar 23

As much as anything, yesterday’s Press Club performance by Paul Keating was a reminder of the still potent influence (in style and substance) on Keating of his hero/mentor Jack Lang – the better part of half a century after Lang’s death.

Keating’s clearly visceral hatred of the British governing elites (and not just over AUKUS) has strong echoes of Lang railing (complete with misguided anti-Semitism) against Otto Niemeyer in the early 1930s and it is difficult to ignore the parallels between Keating’s position on China with Lang campaigning against conscription while the forces of Imperial Japan were rampaging through southern and eastern Asia.

GREGORY FERGUSON9:44 pm 19 Mar 23

I applaud those who point to history to make sense of the present. It’s true a young Mr Keating had Jack Lang who was twice NSW Premier as an early mentor. You attribute Keating’s current style and substance to Jack Lang, although I think most people would agree Keating developed a style distinctively of his own. I call it rhetorical sarcasm with 44 gallons of truth.

With Jack Lang’s second term as NSW Premier, one should understand that the Great Depression was decimating the lower classes and unemployment was surging. Also, Lang had a significant majority and could draw crowds of 50-100,000 people to his rallies. He was also under attack from day one by the media, establishment figures in the judiciary and the self appointed elites of the day. His greatest sin was to advocate that there should be a freeze in interest payments or at the very least a cap at then current low interest rates for Australia’s first world war loans from Britain. He advocated using the saved payments to do public works and otherwise employ as many people as possible.

Remember Australia lost more people per capita than any other nation in WW1. It was devastating to the newly federated nation, yet Australia showed its loyalty to Britain over and over. We also sold our entire annual wool clip and wheat harvest to Britain in the war years and later discovered that Britain had onsold them to the US among others at a large profit.

Lang was set up to fail by the establishment, elites and the bankers. They preferred the Niemeye plan to cut wages between 30-40%, increase productivity and to stop Australians from ever expecting a decent and reasonable wage, home or life until the English banks were paid in full. It was a heartless and in retrospect failed economic strategy, austerity is a mostly discredited economic response these days. Lang is a smeared, discredited and largely forgotten Australian hero. And yes he was the first Australian elected political leader to be dismissed by the Crown’s representative (NSW Governor Sir Phillip Game). A full 42 years before Gough Whitlam.

I am pretty underwhelmed by your article quite frankly Andrew McLaughlin. I don’t know where to start with it. I have been following the AUKUS proposal since it was announced in 2021. I have read mostly everything I can on AUKUS including articles from the NY Times and Washington Post. I get the impression the Yanks think Australians are pretty dumb and backwards and the AUKUS agreement just confirms it. Your article condenses the PK interview down into small and puerile sound bites without giving an overview of the broader context of the interview. PK’s acidic and forthright position on issues has allowed the media and politicians to dismiss him as eccentric. Australia’s news outlets are small and concentrated but fishing around on the internet there has been some exceptional commentary from independent media sources. Most particularly on the foolhardiness and insanity of this AUKUS deal. This commentary is from some of Australia’s most highly knowledgeable and respected defence analysts and commentators. Of particular note coming out in the commentary is the incompetence of the Albanese government and particularly Penny Wong and Richard Marles in this whole process!
And you spelt Arthur Calwell’s name incorrectly, not Caldwell. He was Labor leader from 1960-1967. Arthur Calwell gave one of the parliament’s greatest speeches in which he declared the party’s opposition to the Vietnam War. This was a time when Labor had a spine!

Andrew McLaughlin3:45 pm 17 Mar 23

I’ll leave others to reflect on his and others’ political comments, and they have done so elsewhere on Riotact.
As an experienced defence journo, I focussed primarily on his strategic insights which, in some cases, missed the mark.
And while I did mention Keating’s positive thoughts about Calwell and other, thanks for the ‘Caldwell’ pickup. It has been fixed.

“Australia’s news outlets are small and concentrated but fishing around on the internet there has been some exceptional commentary from independent media sources.”

Yes, we’ve seen from your other links, you’ve searched around the internet for the left wing China shills that have regurgitated to you what you already thought about the issue. Are you going to link their anti-Semitic and Pro Russia commentary next as well?

Or should we link the significant body of the most knowledgeable defence, foreign policy experts and commentators saying the exact opposite to what you think as if it proves the points?

Keating clearly showed himself compromised on this issue by his complete inability to address legitimate questions around the threats from China’s expansionary moves and an unwillingness to criticise well documented human rights abuses.

The article highlights some of the other clear misses in Keating’s commentary that must call into question his objectivity on the issue.

I don’t think I can better Dr Mike Gilligan’s comments Andrew McLaughlin! Dr Gilligan is an Australian author, government strategist and has been a rocket scientist. He worked for 20 years in defence policy, evaluating military proposals for development. He also spent time in the Pentagon on military balances in Asia. Quite a résumé!


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