Port Kembla no place for a nuclear subs base, say local campaigners

Activists in Wollongong are organising against plans for nearby Port Kembla to host the East Coast base for the AUKUS nuclear submarines. Solidarity spoke to Alexander Brown from Wollongong Against War and Nukes about local opposition and how unions have dedicated this year’s May Day march to opposing the plan

The cost is around $10 billion for an East Coast submarine base. The Treasurer says they can’t afford the $24 billion required to increase Centrelink payments above poverty levels and yet they can afford to spend $10 billion on a war base. And that’s a small part of the overall $368 billion dollars for AUKUS. It’s a gross waste of money.

The strategic justification for it doesn’t make any sense. That’s being picked apart even within the Labor Party by people like Paul Keating and Bob Carr. We’re now seeing current sitting MPs start to express criticism. The submarines may arrive in between ten to 30 years, when their supporters in ASPI and the Sydney Morning Herald say we’re about to have war with China in the next three years. If so the subs are not going to be much use.

More importantly, it’s a ridiculous approach to peace making in the region to say we will arm ourselves to the teeth and that will deter China. China and its regime have many problems but they’re not a military threat to Australia now and they’re unlikely to be in the future. And if these subs are supposed to be to defend shipping, we are shipping most of our exports to China anyway, so who are we defending it against?

We need to build people-to-people solidarity with ordinary people in China to ensure peace and democracy in the whole region—not get drawn into a US provocation and starting a regional arms race.

What kind of actions have you taken to build opposition?

When Scott Morrison suggested that Port Kembla could be a site for an East Coast submarine base there was a protest called by the Student Association at Wollongong University, and different groups and individuals including unions and local councillors came to that.

We started organising a dedicated campaign group called Wollongong Against War and Nukes (WAWAN) and held a successful rally about a year ago to support the local council renewing the declaration of Wollongong as a nuclear free zone, which goes back to 1980.

We held a public meeting with former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and Electrical Trades Union official Ellen McNally.

We had a rally here two weeks ago, because some local business interests held a defence industry conference and want to build a war industry down here.

This year when the Labor government so fully endorsed continuing AUKUS, after I think many people hoped they might back away, it created shock.

Then there was also a report in the ABC that Port Kembla was firming up as the most likely location for the submarine base. So the campaign has really picked up in the last two months.

The local South Coast Labor Council endorsed a motion to oppose having a nuclear base here.

Unions like the maritime union have put a lot of work into trying to plan for a renewable energy industry here to survive the big shocks that are coming in terms of the decline of coal and steel. They’re interested in expanding offshore wind and potentially green steel through hydrogen.

WAWAN has a community meeting in Port Kembla on 29 April, and we are calling for everyone who can get there to come and support the South Coast May Day march on Saturday 6 May, which will include opposition to the nuclear base alongside the slogan of “Peace, Jobs and Justice”.

Wollongong and Port Kembla steel works have been hotbeds of militancy since the beginning of last century and that tradition continues. The Dalfram dispute in the 1930s saw waterside workers refuse to load pig iron bound for Japan, because they knew that it would be used to make bombs and bullets for the Japanese invasion of China. Pig iron exports to Japan more or less stopped after that struggle.

In the Vietnam War there was a strong movement here and in the 1980s the anti-nuclear movement was really big in Wollongong and the unions were a major part of that. A lot of people in Wollongong have seized the opportunity to say that fighting unionism needs to look beyond the workplace at the environment that workers are going to be living in and creating.

We are wasting money and resources on the defence industry when we could be spending that money on addressing climate change and jobs through a Green New Deal.

Unions back renewable energy jobs over nuclear subs

The South Coast Labour Council, which represents unions in and around Wollongong, is opposing the submarine base as a threat to alternative jobs in the area.

Port Kembla has been assessed as an ideal spot for offshore wind developments, due to wind conditions, grid connections and the working harbour. The area is one of the NSW government’s priority Renewable Energy Zones, with at least two companies already carrying out scoping work for multi-billion dollar offshore wind projects.

Even NSW Ports and the Port Kembla Chamber of Commerce have warned that the Outer Harbour site is needed for wind turbine assembly as well as a new container port, and should not be taken by defence. This is also the likely site for the submarine base. Even the two offshore wind projects already proposed would create thousands of jobs in construction as well as over 500 ongoing jobs.

March against the nuclear base in Port Kembla
12pm Saturday 6 May, Wentworth St, Port Kembla, more details here
Sign up for travel from Sydney here


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