The Sydney Anti-AUKUS Coalition hosted a forum last Wednesday evening which discussed the government’s commitment to militarisation and ways to revive an anti-war movement that stands in opposition to the building of nuclear relationships with other countries.
The Sydney Anti-AUKUS Coalition is an activist group formed in the wake of last year’s AUKUS announcement, rejecting the Australian government acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines and the AUKUS pact.
USyd Chinese history lecturer David Brophy described the Labor Party as one that ostensibly represents social democracy in Australia, and has stood in lockstep with the Liberals in this term towards confrontation, “AUKUS is the intensification of an Australian strategy to shore up American dominance in Asia in the face of China’s rising influence.”
Similarly, NSW Greens Senator-elect David Shoebridge described AUKUS as an alliance that binds Australia to military procurement for years, and has Australian taxpayers subsidising the “US and UK military industrial complex” without knowing the full cost that this would have on the economy. Recent cost estimates by the Australian Strategy Policy Institute have indicated that AUKUS will likely be around $170 billion, which Shoebridge compared to as equivalent to the cost of “fixing the national debt crisis eight times over”.
AUKUS intends to have eight submarines constructed by the US nuclear industry which would fuel a “binary discussion in the Asia Pacific region” where people would be directed to “choose a side between the US or China”, Shoebridge said. He called for the immediate removal of Australia from the US plan to threaten China and instead redistribute the funds to domestic priorities driven by economic and social insecurity.
Organiser for Anakbayan Sydney, a left-wing activist group dedicated to mobilising Filipino youth, Patricia Arcilla, spoke on the long history of militarism between Australia and the Philippines.
“The military is so embedded in the relationship with the Philippines and Australia that when Typhoon Hayan swept across the archipelago in 2013, Australia didn’t send aid workers; they sent the military,” Arcilla said.
Chinese student activist and NTEU member Wendy* condemned the government’s prioritisation of war over education where tertiary expenditure came to $40.2 billion during 2020-21 according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, a fraction of the projected $170 billion to fund the nuclear industry.
Wendy argued that the policy is contributing to widespread anti-Chinese sentiment.
“There is a fine line between being against the government and being against its people; a line that is repeatedly crossed in the current political climate,” they said.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney Branch Secretary Paul Keating cited the MUA’s motto of “peace, unity in struggle and socialism”, and argued that the fight for working class interests necessitates civil disobedience.
Keating said that MUA branches in Sydney, Newcastle and Port Kembla would not tolerate attempts to bring nuclear subs into their ports and would bring a fightback to the streets through organised protests and strikes if necessary.
Shoebridge called upon the need to not be quiet on the question of Australian militarisation and the potential ramifications of the future AUKUS promises; an arms race and battle between rival geopolitical interests.
“This campaign can be won by applying a blowtorch to the AUKUS agreement in parliament and in the community, and building a grassroots movement in opposition to the nuclear arms deal,” he said.
*Denotes a pseudonym used to protect the source’s identity.