‘A profound change’: AUKUS debate looms for Labor’s rank and file
Australia is to acquire and build nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS deal. Photo: AAP/TND
At this week’s ALP national conference, delegates will vote on a proposal to remove an expression of support for the AUKUS security pact in Labor’s platform.
Some 400 party members will attend the conference, which will be in Brisbane and run from Thursday to Saturday.
One of two motions expected to be put to the conference stops short of rebuking AUKUS but would instead amend the party’s draft platform on defence by removing an explicit endorsement.
“Our self-reliant defence policy will be enhanced by strong bilateral and multilateral defence relationships, including AUKUS,” the platform currently reads.
The proposed amendment would delete the words “including AUKUS”.
Under the deal, Australia will acquire and build nuclear-powered submarines from America and the UK.
Five federal electorate councils have passed motions either expressing reservations about AUKUS or calling for it to be reviewed or delayed, according to a tally kept by Labor Against War, a party activist group.
A spokesman for the group, Marcus Strom, said the conference motion was a significant step, noting earlier reports that it would not be on the agenda.
“Forcing AUKUS to be debated is a victory for the rank and file,” he said. “The first of many, we expect, as we campaign against it.”
Members of the Labor Left will comprise a majority of delegates.
But they are not expected to vote as a unified bloc on either defence policy or a vote to elect party executive members.
Supporters of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong, both of the Left, are not expected to back the AUKUS amendment.
It will be brought by NSW MP Anthony D’Adam, from a grouping once known as the “soft” Left and historically a rival to Mr Albanese’s support base.
ALP president Wayne Swan said last week he expected a conference debate on AUKUS in keeping with Labor tradition.
“National defence has always loomed large in our national conferences,” he said.
But the former Treasurer predicted most delegates would support the Prime Minister’s position.
“Our position in the region has changed so dramatically in the last decade or so [that it] has brought about a profound change […in] our defence stance and orientation,” he said.
Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy held a briefing for party members on AUKUS via Zoom on Monday night.
Mr Marles described AUKUS as a “difficult call” but said it had been the right decision, one person on the call said.
AUKUS also includes a second phase for sharing advanced defence technology.
US representatives are pushing for export controls to be eased so Australia can access these technologies more quickly, such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
In October, Mr Albanese will be received at a state dinner in Washington.
Other issues on the agenda in Brisbane include a push from the Australian Workers Union for Australia to play a more significant role in processing critical minerals, such as lithium and cobalt, essential to developing renewable technologies.
The union argues that a tax on raw exports would encourage processing in Australia.
The United Workers Union will move to rein in the controversial and generous stage-three personal income tax cuts for high-income earners due to come in after next year’s federal budget.