Labor delegates to fire up over AUKUS submarines

Argument over AUKUS nuclear submarines and Palestinian statehood are expected to dominate the Labor Party national conference as delegates go head to head on ALP policy today and tomorrow.

Aug 18, 2023, updated Aug 18, 2023
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announces the AUKUS submarines deal with US President Joe Biden and UK PM Rishi Sunak in March 2023. Photo: AP/Evan Vucci

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announces the AUKUS submarines deal with US President Joe Biden and UK PM Rishi Sunak in March 2023. Photo: AP/Evan Vucci

Foreign Minister Penny Wong will lead Friday’s debate about recognising Palestine as a state, something which is already party policy but has no timeline attached.

Australian Palestine Advocacy Network vice president Nasser Mashni told Labor delegates recognition was “the least we can do”.

“Recognising Palestine uplifts the community and empowers them to take their place in this beautiful multicultural country and allows them to sit as equals with every other immigrant community,” he said on the sidelines of the national conference.

While successful motions moved by Labor delegates become binding party policy, it remains up to the parliamentary wing to determine how and when they are implemented.

The outcome of Friday’s AUKUS debate is less certain with unions and left-wing delegates pushing to strip mention of the pact from the policy platform.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signalled he could take part in the debate, and said he was not concerned by some party members speaking out against the deal.

“We’re a democratic party, and the difference between us and the Liberal Party is they hold conferences and no one focuses on anything they’re talking about because they’re essentially just fundraisers,” he said.

“The message of the conference is that we’re working for Australia, that what we’ve done is implement almost every one of the policies that we took to the election.”

Albanese said there would be no imminent announcement about the treatment of nuclear waste from future submarines.

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Defence Minister Richard Marles, who is attempting to counter dissent within the party, will introduce a 32-paragraph statement outlining how the pact fits with Labor’s values and will protect Australian interests.

His statement includes assurances about local jobs and manufacturing.

“Labor will uphold its proud history of championing practical disarmament efforts, its commitment to high non-proliferation standards and its enduring dedication to a world without nuclear weapons,” it reads.

Labor Against War national convenor Marcus Strom says the pact, which outlines a pathway to Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, goes against Labor’s traditional anti-nuclear stance.

The government is adamant the submarines are in line with non-proliferation restrictions and will not lead to a civil nuclear industry or weapons.

Marles’ statement is not an amendment to the party’s platform, something some unions and delegates are seeking.

It remains unclear what will make it to the floor as any debate on Friday needs to be decided by the agenda committee.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the prime minister wanted to shut down debate about nuclear power to avoid “a bloodbath on the floor of the conference” as he pushes for the government to consider a civil nuclear energy industry, which it has expressly ruled out.

-with AAP

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