Albanese Govt shrugs off blistering Keating attack on subs deal

A scathing assessment by former Labor prime minister Paul Keating of the AUKUS nuclear submarines deal has not shaken the Albanese Government’s confidence in the security arrangement, the defence minister says.

Former PM Paul Keating addresses the National Press Club about the AUKUS deal on Wednesday. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Former PM Paul Keating addresses the National Press Club about the AUKUS deal on Wednesday. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced details of Australia’s submarine pact with the United States and United Kingdom – part of the AUKUS security alliance – on Tuesday.

But at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Keating branded the AUKUS subs deal as a Labor government’s “worst decision” in more than a century, saying it risked ceding Australian sovereignty to US control.

As part of the security announcement aimed at countering China’s rise in the Pacific, Australia will buy US Virginia-class nuclear submarines and then gear up to build nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades at a cost of up to $368 million.

Keating also fired shots at senior federal government ministers including Defence Minister Richard Marles, and issued withering assessments of US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Marles said Keating remained a revered figure within the Labor Party and that no matter what the former prime minister said about him,  Albanese or Foreign Minister Penny Wong, the government would not say a bad word about Keating.

“The Hawke-Keating government was the great peacetime, reformist, long-term government in our history,” he said.

“It’s a government that finished in 1996 (and) our responsibility is to be governing the country in the national interest in 2023.”

Marles said the government had worked hard to stabilise Australia’s diplomatic relations with China.

“We want to have a productive relationship with China, but we do observe that we are seeing the biggest conventional military build-up in the world today since the end of the Second World War,” he said.

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the former prime minister’s comments showed there was division within the Labor Party over AUKUS.

“I think it is incumbent upon Richard Marles and others … to rebuke the unhinged comments of Mr Keating,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

“(The government) should be taking the advice of the military and intelligence chiefs as opposed to Paul Keating.”

-with AAP

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