Labor’s announcement that it will buy or build up to 13 nuclear-powered submarines at a price of $368 billion is a horrifying step towards war with China.
The submarines are designed to operate for long stretches in the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait. They will be capable of launching cruise missiles at the Chinese mainland.
The decision also involves Labor declaring war on workers and Indigenous people here in Australia.
The cost of this huge step-up in military capability will mean less money for health, education, climate action and welfare.
Already, Opposition leader Peter Dutton has volunteered to support cuts to the NDIS to pay for the subs.
The conversation around scrapping the Stage 3 tax cuts has switched from boosting JobSeeker and funding better wages for care workers to paying for the nuclear program.
The announcement has generated anger among Labor supporters and unionists. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has savaged the plan, joined by former senator Doug Cameron and former minister Peter Garrett.
The Maritime Union of Australia and the Electrical Trades Union have both pledged opposition to the submarines, as has the Victorian Trades Hall Council. Petersham ALP branch, within the electorate of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has condemned the deal.
Albanese confirmed that the subs deal with the US and the UK, part of the AUKUS war alliance, will involve Australia storing highly enriched nuclear waste from the boats.
A future government will need to establish a dump for material that will remain dangerous for 125,000 years.
The AUKUS deal will see US nuclear-powered and armed submarines rotating through Perth and an east coast submarine base built, probably in Port Kembla. In the event of war, those cities would be targets.
The AUKUS pact and the decision in principle to buy nuclear-powered submarines was initiated by the Coalition under former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Labor could have cancelled the deal and walked away. But Albanese instead declared the submarine deal “a new dawn”. His government is fully committed to a massive arms race, including hypersonic and cruise missiles, HIMARS rockets, fighter jets and ships, and more.
Critics of the submarine deal across the political spectrum, including Keating (ALP), Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal) and David Shoebridge (Greens) argue that Australia is surrendering its sovereignty to its AUKUS partners.
But the initiative for buying nuclear-powered submarines did not come from either US President Joe Biden or UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Instead Morrison and the Australian military-intelligence community had to cajole the US over several years into allowing Australia access to nuclear technology.
Australia has been the dominant power in the region since the late 19th century, a sub-imperialist bully standing over the South Pacific and South East Asia.
But Australia’s rulers have always feared that their control and profits could come under threat.
So the strategy has been to draw a major imperialist power in as an ally and a guarantor—first Britain and then the US.
That is why Australia has volunteered so readily to join US wars, from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan—as a down payment on US support if Australia were to need it.
Our rulers are worried that the US might walk away from support from Australia. Successive governments have offered bases for US marines and B52 bombers in the Northern Territory, to draw the US closer into the region.
In the run-up to the submarines announcement The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald ran a disgusting series of articles warning of impending war with China.
Daily, we are warned of China’s influence and hostile intent—everything from TikTok to spying via CCTV.
The propaganda reflects concern among the US and its allies that it is losing influence to China. But China has one overseas military base while the US has 850.
Far from China threatening Australia, it is surrounded by rings of US military bases, from Darwin to the Philippines, from Guam to Okinawa.
The submarines decision is a reminder that we are living in a much more dangerous and unstable world, with rising imperialist tensions including war in Ukraine.
That’s why the Australian ruling class is doubling down on its own imperialist efforts. But war between the US and China would be a disaster for workers throughout the region.
Australian workers and students need to build a mass movement against the nuclear submarines.
We need to raise motions in our unions calling for the submarines plan to be scrapped.
And we need to reach out in solidarity with Chinese workers protesting against their government over health cuts, pay and working conditions.
The first step is to join the anti-war rallies on Saturday 18 March in Melbourne, Sunday 19 March in Adelaide and Monday 20 March in Canberra.
By David Glanz