Paul Keating savages AUKUS nuclear submarine deal as Labor's worst since conscription
Former prime minister Paul Keating has taken aim at Australia's AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal with the United States and the United Kingdom, calling it the "worst international decision" by a Labor government since conscription in World War I.
The former Labor leader also offered a scathing assessment of the government's most senior politicians, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Defence Minister Richard Marles, and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, dubbing Mr Marles and Senator Wong "seriously unwise ministers".
"This week, Anthony Albanese screwed into place the last shackle in the long chain the United States has laid out to contain China," Mr Keating said in a written statement issued before he addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday.
"No mealy-mouthed talk of 'stabilisation' in our China relationship or resort to softer or polite language will disguise from the Chinese the extent and intent of our commitment to United States's strategic hegemony in East Asia with all its deadly portents.
"History will be the judge of this project in the end. But I want my name clearly recorded among those who say it is a mistake. Who believes that, despite its enormous cost, it does not offer a solution to the challenge of great power competition in the region or to the security of the Australian people and its continent."
Mr Keating has been critical of the AUKUS defence pact since it was first struck between the three nations 18 months ago.
Mr Albanese met with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in California earlier this week, where they finalised a deal for Australia to buy and build nuclear-powered submarines, costing up to $368 billion over three decades.
Australia will eventually build British-designed nuclear-powered submarines with American combat systems.
Before that happens, Australia will buy at least three US nuclear-powered submarines early next decade — boats that might be second-hand and need US Congressional approval.
The Coalition has endorsed the deal.
"For $360 billion, we're going to get eight submarines. It must be the worst deal in all history," Mr Keating said.
The nuclear-powered submarines will replace Australia's ageing diesel-powered Collins Class submarines, which Mr Keating took credit at the National Press Club for acquiring with then-Labor defence minister Kim Beazley.
Mr Beazley, in an interview with the ABC's Afternoon Briefing, said he disagreed with Mr Keating's assessment that the AUKUS deal was the worst international decision by a Labor government since World War I.
"I don't agree with that - no. And I think it's a good decision that's been arrived at with detailed consideration," he said.
"I actually think we need these submarines. It's a question of their speed and the areas that they have to cover."
Australian, American and British officials have cited the growth of China's military as a key reason for Australia needing nuclear-powered submarines.
Mr Keating dismissed China's growing military as posing a threat to Australia.
"Let me say this: China has not threatened us," he said.
Mr Keating, who said he spoke for both Labor politicians and grassroots members who felt they could not speak out, said nothing short of a Chinese naval fleet heading for Australia should be considered a threat.
"We wouldn't need submarines to sink an armada, an armada of Chinese boats and troop ships," he told the press club.
"We'd just do it with planes and missiles."
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton described Mr Keating's comments as "unhinged".
Mr Marles, speaking before Mr Keating, insisted Australia had no choice but to adopt nuclear-powered submarines.
"Our national interest demands that we do this," he said.