16 March 2023

Will subs deal sink Labor's social agenda? Albo needs to be straight with voters about full cost

| Ian Bushnell
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An artist’s impression of the SSN-AUKUS submarine design. Image: UK MoD.

Thank God for Paul Keating.

He may have a tendency to overreach more often these days, but he still has a turn of phrase with a rapier edge that makes people sit up and take notice.

Whether you consider him an apologist for the Chinese state or an elder statesman still willing to call out what he sees as idiocy, Keating, in his National Press Club appearance this week, threw a bomb into the bipartisan love-in on the $368 billion (so precise that number ) AUKUS nuclear submarine deal.

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

You don’t have to agree with all Keating said or accept whether he has got all his facts right to start wondering just what the full cost of this deal will be and what impact it will have on the Albanese Government’s and its successors’ agendas.

Already caught in a fiscal straitjacket, this Labor government will now have to factor in this deal and watch the social policy aspirations that should be the hallmark of a progressive government recede towards the horizon.

We have a housing and healthcare crisis that can only be fixed by serious Commonwealth money.

We need to urgently transition to a carbon-free economy.

The country has major infrastructure demands and bottlenecks, including big transport ideas like high-speed rail.

Our maligned public schools and universities need to be properly funded and restored to legitimacy after a decade of being run down.

READ MORE Deep-diving the ‘momentous’, ‘eye-wateringly expensive’ AUKUS submarine deal

In short, there is a lot for government to do.

But now, how much of this project will suck energy from government, other sectors of the economy and higher education?

Where will all the workers come from to not just build the subs but also support the local nuclear industry required to support them?

Will it be the basis for a hi-tech revolution or distort industry and education goals?

Then there are the question marks over a nuclear industry, not least of which is the disposal of radioactive waste.

Unfortunately, it will only encourage the proponents for a fully blown nuclear industry, including power stations.

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There may be universal agreement among Australia’s security establishment about this decision, enmeshed as it is in the US strategic outlook and its goal of containing Chinese power, but the government should not take the Australian public for granted.

It needs to explain in detail why this deal is the right one and answer the multitude of questions it poses.

Many will give short shrift to China’s outrage at the decision and its talk of nuclear proliferation and an arms race after its ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’, trade wars and systematic development of its own formidable war machine, although it is still outgunned by the US.

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Its bellicose stance since the rise of Xi has contributed to the situation, mistaking military might for greatness.

The context of Russia’s war on Ukraine also weighs heavily, and no one can doubt that these are anxious times.

But it does seem that, once again, security and defence agendas have pushed aside the hopes of those wanting a fairer society.

It is not the legacy that the many who voted for this government expected it to leave.

If nothing else, Keating has empowered the public to ask questions and put the government on notice that it will have to justify its decision.

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HiddenDragon8:20 pm 19 Mar 23

One way or another, Albanese and those who follow him as PM (whether Labor or Liberal) will have to deliver most of the “social agenda”, even if some marginal bits of it get reclassified as “non-core” promises.

If Labor don’t deliver, the Greens will make even greater gains in areas which have hitherto been reliable for Labor (including Albanese’s own seat) to the point that Labor will only be able to form government with a coalition agreement with the Greens akin to that between the Liberals and the Nationals. There would also be the prospect of another split in the Labor Party.

If future LNP governments don’t deliver, they won’t last long and will struggle to get into power at all unless they make very convincing promises when in opposition.

The costs of the submarine component of the AUKUS agreement will most likely be met with a tax take which is a bit higher than it otherwise would have been, and greater means testing and user pays contributions for federally funded benefits and services.

The same approach would be necessary for any plausible alternative to the AUKUS submarines – the “peace dividend”, which we used to hear quite a bit about in the early post Cold War era (i.e. Keating’s time as PM and following years), has evaporated.

We need to deal with existing problems in our society that have been ignored for too long, rather than ignoring them to buy the most expensive and impractical types of subs that we could.

The amount of money spent on the security and defence of our nation due to fear is not good value when we ignore internal risks that pose immediate threats that are not being addressed.

Compare deaths due to international terrorism to deaths from domestic and local violence, road accidents, deaths from covid and other diseases / illnesses / injuries that are not well managed let alone prevented. We could reduce these now with good investments, whilst also addressing international threats through greater use of diplomacy and wise choices of equipment to be used where this fails.

Our security & defence organisations and their hangers-on have ballooned in size and budgets, whilst existing domestic problems are ignored so they worsen. Threat often come from within and are certainly facilitated by disadvantaged locals. Our best defence may be looking after people now.

Before the next election, Albanese will rollover to the Greens and can it. He has form

I have absolutely no doubt that $368b will turn out to be well over $500b over the life of AUKUS.

That is if Australia is still around to pay the debts Ian! If this AUKUS deal comes to war, which I think it will, our country has become a target and will have no chance against the might of China.
China is Australia’s most significant trading partner. Our exports to China amount to over $142 billion annually. Both countries celebrated their 50th anniversary of bilateral relations in 2022. Australia’s most recent conservative governments and a number of high-profile journalists have been doing their best to provoke China into war.
There is also Australia’s membership of QUAD dialogue and our military’s provocative participation in naval exercises in the Pacific. Kevin Rudd withdrew Australia’s membership in order to restore our country’s reputation in China and manage and preserve stability and responsibility throughout Asia and the Pacific.
The sad fact of this AUKUS deal is that Labor has given away our country’s sovereignty and voters will never again be able to trust a Labor government not to take us to war!

Is that you Paul K?

*groan* chewy14 you and your bias against lightrail shows no end, comment after comment whining about it. Is the light rail a weapon or for the community benefit? You can’t tell the difference between a military toy and public transport infrastructure?

Is the light rail for community benefit? Could have fooled me, it looks far more like a political toy being used as a vanity project for certain politicians.

Perhaps you should read the government’s own documents showing that only a fraction of the cost benefit ratio is related to public transport benefits, with the vast majority related to land development.

The whole point being that if you want to talk about the best use of public funds and alternatives, you shouldn’t be so selective as Bushnell is around the projects he applies that lens to. If you only want to worry about public expenditure on projects you disapprove of, then your opinion isnt very meaningful.

There are far cheaper ways to achieve the same public transport benefit that light rail delivers and plan for future capacity.

You can’t tell the difference?

GrumpyGrandpa6:48 pm 19 Mar 23

Hello esvy,
Politics aside, there are a significant number of people questions this sub contract, inc. Previous PMs Keating and Turnbull.
Locally, LR is both political and a North /South issue. There is a similarity however; it’s the cost of the project and whether it’s fit for purpose.
LR is NOT about public transport. In fact, as a form of public transport, it’s a poor option. Having recently travelled on an electric bus, it’s so much superior in that it isn’t restricted to a fixed line and it isn’t restricted to 70kph. Traffic light sequencing along Northbourne makes LR attractive, but projected travel times to Woden show LR to be significantly slower than the existing bus service.

LR isn’t about providing superior public transport, it’s about property development.

You speak as if anything you said justifies comparing it to a military weapon. Absurd.

You speak as if you’ve presented even the beginnings of an argument. Absurd indeed.

Perhaps have a think about how the community, our society and our country receive significant benefit from having well resourced defensive capability. And the strategic risks involved.

I’m quite happy for people to argue that the money being slated for submarines could have been more effectively spent, but you seem to be saying that we don’t need a military at all.

It is unlikely that we will have a rational debate or conversation on this matter. People will retreat to their respective ideological corners and never budge from their position. No matter how much information is provided the debate will be polarising. The disappointing article by Mr Bushnell is a prime example. Instead of applying rational analysis of the aim, stages, and purpose of the AUKUS program he launches into a poorly informed rant. The false dichotomy of guns or butter is the last resort of the poorly informed.

The AUKUS program is at its core a technology transfer program of which only one part is the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines. Over the next decade at least Australia will enjoy a significant uptake in a raft of technological advances of which nuclear technology is only one. If I was a young person today entering the work force the AUKUS program will deliver a lifetime of advanced learning and opportunity.

The program will consume about $3-5 BN a year in the first stages before it ramps up. A lot can and will happen before the major expenditure occurs. This will not erode welfare or education budgets or any other call on the public purse.

One final fact – the entire US Navy creates 260,000 litres of nuclear waste annually. This fits into a small backyard swimming pool. Our tiny program will only create enough waste to fit into a bathtub. And if we expand our tiny nuclear program to meet the needs of the RAN then that will see the creation of entire new streams of education, technology, energy, and data. Pretty damn good in my book.

You underestimate people, as there are many intelligent people out there who will use information to make their judgements. Stunned that Albanese bragged about taking only 24 hours to make his decision, demonstrating that there was no independent analysis done. More likely a reliance on those with entrenched views pushing their own agendas.

It’s worth reading Rex Patrick’s views and Michael Pascoe’s, as well as those of Hugh White and Allan Behm to access well-informed and independent perspectives. When people consider a wide range of perspectives and think through the full implications of the issues, they tend to make intelligent decisions. With complex issues, it’s only the fools who don’t bother to do this.

I am glad you mentioned Allan Behm and Professor Hugh White. Both leaders in their fields who specialise in advising the government of the day on global strategic affairs, especially as they influence Australia and the Asia Pacific. Allan Behm was also senior advisor to Senator Penny Wong. They have both been very critical of this deal.
The AUKUS deal commits Australia to paying the US and UK governments $368b to take away our sovereignty. The deal commits Australia to backing the US in a conflict with China. A combination of US and UK submarine design and defence technology will contribute to the development of the fleets. Beginning this year, Australian military and civilian personnel will embed with the US and UK navies under American control. The US and UK will rotate their nuclear powered submarines through major Australian ports in order to ramp up training of our military. US nuclear powered submarines will increase their visits to Australian ports throughout the period of the agreement. From 2030 the US intends to sell Australia additional submarines if required.
AUKUS violates the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by allowing two nuclear weapons states to transfer tons of weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear weapon state. This provides a precedent for other nations to follow suit. The deal will fuel arms races and hurt peace and stability in our region. It will exempt Australia from international monitoring by the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Australia is not a signatory to the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons and has no plans to join.
The deal commits Australia to managing all of the radioactive waste generated by the submarines in Australia. There has been no discussions or decision on where the waste will be stored and disposed.
Australians should be alarmed!

Our parliament needs a few more Paul Keatings!
The sad fact of this AUKUS deal is that voters can never trust a Labor government again. Australians have been well and truly betrayed by the Australian Labor Party! This deal would have been strongly opposed by previous Labor leaders. Haven’t we learnt anything from history? Following the Yanks into unwinnable wars! Vietnam, the illegal invasion of Iraq based on lies from our Prime Minister and Afghanistan. When does it stop! Many of the horrors inflicted on these people are felt today and being played out in our courts.
This Albanese government has trashed 133 years of proud Labor history. The rot set in with Julia Gillard who slavishly followed the US.
Maybe the media should be taking a look at the financial interests of those ex-politicians and old white military men advocating for this agreement. Many have close ties to the the arms industry. Not only in Australia but in the US and UK. These people have been very prominent over the past few years advocating for this agreement and have been very noticeable in the media since the deal’s announcement!

Big concerns about the capacity of Albanese to make this decision. Poor conclusions are reached by those who lack information and confidence in the areas in which they make decisions, as they rely too heavily on those who demonstrate confidence in their views whilst pushing their own objectives.

The amount of government wasteful spending is enormous. And significant tax reform could easily bring in more revenue without increasing the taxation burden on the income of workers.

But yes, all governments need to make decisions about where best to spend revenue to meet policy goals.

Although I do have to laugh at the author’s worry that federal expenditure on Submarines might cripple the ALPs social spending agenda when he writes article after article in support of ALP expenditure on light rail at a local Canberra level.

Perhaps he should bring the same lens and concern to the local level first?

Guns or butter? Security or consumption? It’s an old economics dilemma debated since Roman times. Guns and butter is about the budget choices in government resource allocation to defense or social programs. Both are important to a nation’s security and economy. Depending on the global security environment, defense may have to take priority over social spending. In a perfect world we don’t need guns, but when there are expansionist dictators it is naive and foolish to make butter.

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