This speech was given by a representative of the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church
The Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church has a proud history of promoting peace, opposing war, seeking the truth and serving humanity. This church was one of the cornerstones of the great peace movement that brought an end to our involvement in the immoral Vietnam War. We now join for an urgent discussion to form a new and powerful alliance of all peace-loving organisations and individuals to stand against the current move to war.
Daily we witness the insidious growth in anti-China rhetoric preparing people for war. It isn’t new, nor is it unprecedented. It follows a clear pattern that has been used for every war since World War Two, including Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a blatant mixture of propaganda: if we don’t stop them our democracy will be endangered; we must restore democracy over there; the domino theory; Western superiority.
What they didn’t tell us was the huge cost of these illegal wars in lives lost, infrastructure destroyed, the displacement of huge numbers of refugees, the long-term effects on those illegally bombed and murdered, the impacts on the young people sent to carry out this slaughter. Nor did they mention the profiteering and billions of dollars made by the military/industrial complex and private contractors from these unjust wars.
AUKUS alone is not the issue, albeit it is an important aspect. It is part of the drive to war and to wars that lead to impoverishment and slaughter. AUKUS is a symptom – a dangerous and costly symptom of the military/industrial complex worldwide.
The US has engaged in 46 military interventions from 1948–1991 and from 1992–2017 this increased fourfold to 188. The US also has 800 military bases in over 70 countries worldwide. We must not be drawn into future wars that serve no Australian interest. What we must ensure is an independent foreign policy.
Along with the threat of war, the impracticability of Australia taking on nuclear submarines needs examining. Currently Australia has no real nuclear capacity and no skilled workers who could build or maintain nuclear vessels. To build them here would require a nuclear industry. In the main, Australians have rejected the idea of nuclear energy. Whilst there has been pressure for vested interests to mine uranium, Australians have opposed nuclear power and waste on our shores. There is widespread community awareness of the nuclear accidents in Britain, the USA, Chernobyl in the Ukraine and, most recently, Fukushima in Japan. It is understood that plutonium as waste from nuclear power can easily translate to nuclear weapons.
Our near neighbours in Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia, along with those among the Pacific Islands, are not at all happy with the idea of AUKUS, or the introduction of an Australian fleet of nuclear submarines in the Pacific and India oceans. New Zealand has already notified Australia that nuclear submarines would not be at all welcome in their ports. Pacific Island leaders have spoken out about the threat of such vessels. These are the peoples with whom we should engage.
And further, there is no rationality in the idea that the hulls of submarines would be built in Australia and then towed to the USA for the installation of nuclear reactors before sailing them back to Australian waters. It is said that our offshore waters are reasonably shallow and, as such, the French smaller diesel-powered submarines were more suited. Is it that the proposed vessels are not meant for our offshore protection? Or is it that they are much more likely to be used to bolster an existing US fleet in deep waters as a barrier to Chinese vessels?
Among questions that have yet to be answered is the cost to the Australian taxpayers of penalties that may be claimed by the French with the cancellation of the contract (likely in the millions of dollars). All this money would be better spent on schools, hospitals, housing and training workers to enable the transition to equitable and sustainable jobs in climate safe industries.
Australia would be better developing stronger political links through equitable trade and aid, particularly by showing strong leadership on climate. Under the LNP, aid has been slashed to small nations at a time when they are threatened with the impact of rising sea levels due to global warming. Nuclear submarines are of particular concern to those islanders who suffered as a consequence of nuclear testing by France and the US in the Pacific and who still do to this day.
It was the mass organisation of people who brought our involvement in Vietnam to an end. and compelled the Australian government to withdraw. Today, in light of the dangers to world peace and prosperity, we need to rebuild anew such a movement that will oppose AUKUS and promote Australia as an example of commitment to the peaceful negotiation of differences and respect for other nations’ rights.
Like New Zealand, Australia should show independence and real concern for our neighbours rather than being seen to be a cringing vassal of the US.