Michael Pascoe: Australian sovereignty at risk? Don’t be silly, Mr Dutton, we gave it away years ago

The stationing of US Marines in Darwin makes Australia a Chinese target, the letter's signatories insist.

The stationing of US Marines in Darwin makes Australia a Chinese target, the letter's signatories insist. Photo: AAP

It is close to laughable to hear Peter Dutton trot out the “Australia is going to stand up for our sovereignty” line when it has already been surrendered – and on a bipartisan basis.

An open letter to the Prime Minister by 41 prominent Australians highlights a 2014 agreement with the United States that cedes control of military operations from our territory and effectively amounts to the loss of sovereign authority over the government’s control of declaration of war.

Published by John Menadue’s public policy journal, Pearls and Irritations, the letter calls on the government to withdraw from the Force Posture Agreement (FPA) signed by the Abbott government and recently endorsed by Defence Minister Richard Marles.

The 41 signatories include several former ambassadors and diplomats, academics, military analysts, lawyers, peace activists, former senior public servants and Barry Jones, a minister in the Hawke government.

“The ever-unfolding FPA means Australia is periodically home to US Marines trained to fight in the first Island Chain off China,” the letter states.

“Darwin and Tindal will host US naval and air assets with nuclear-weapon capability. Soon a new facility able to receive US nuclear attack submarines will be announced, in either Brisbane, Newcastle or Wollongong.

‘Our security is undermined’

“Permitting such forces to reside on Australian territory will direct hostile intent to Australia and diminish the choices available to Australian governments. This will cause planning by regional States to alter, with counter measures directed against Australia, otherwise not entertained. Our security is undermined.”

The group believes the loss of sovereign authority extends to the governments control over declaration of war.

“If America decides to go to war with China, China would assume the US will employ its forces located here. China justifiably could attack Australia in response to US hostility anywhere.

“Our government could simply find itself at war with China. It may be deprived even of ability to cease war. Thereby, the FPA cedes supreme authority on one of our government’s most fundamental decisions: To wage war or not.

“We have already witnessed an example of this folly. Former defence minister Dutton most likely was influenced by knowledge of the FPA when announcing, in November 2021, that it would be ‘inconceivable’ for Australia not to join the US should Washington decide take action to defend Taiwan.”

The letter attacks Richard Marles’ “inability to discern when Australia’s sovereignty is compromised”.

”A security-minded government would display genuine sensitivity to infringed sovereignty. Marles’ speech does the opposite, resorting to cunning language, straw men and semantics to conceal reality.

“His claim that ‘A fundamental principle underpinning these activities is long-standing bipartisan policy of having no foreign bases on Australian territory’ presumably rests on some rarefied definition of a ‘base’.

“When everybody knows that US troops and weapons platforms are, and will be increasingly, located on Australian territory and be able to operate on, from and through Australia under foreign command and control.”

‘Trapped in an American war’

The letter says it is openly acknowledged that the US government has chosen to confront China militarily for its own geostrategic reasons, part of a broad strategy to suppress competition from China.

“That is a sovereign choice of the US. But Australia has no treaty obligations to join that conflict.”

Yet the FPA effectively surrenders Australia to that confrontation.

“As a friend of the US, Australia should be counselling for constructive initiatives with China. Concurrently, our government must recapture its sovereignty foregone in the Force Posture Agreement.

“Reducing the risk of Australia becoming trapped in an American war in Asia, again, requires the Australian government to give notice now to the United States that it wishes to withdraw from the FPA.”

At a time when the Labor government seems desperate to be as gung-ho as its predecessor and mainstream media have overwhelmingly swallowed the Sinophobia Kool Aid, the open letter is a rare expression of dissent from a highly qualified cross section of people with experience in and knowledge of the diplomacy and strategy involved.

The irony of Messrs Dutton and Marles competing to speak most loudly about protecting Australian sovereignty while actually surrendering it is lost beyond the relatively few who remain independent of government policy and defence and security industry self-interest.

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