Foreign Minister Penny Wong has expressed her firm support for Labor’s commitment to the AUKUS submarine fleet, stating that it is crucial in deterring China or any potential conflicts. The Albanese government recently obtained approval from the Labor Party to invest $368 billion in building eight nuclear-powered submarines, despite internal debates.
Speaking at the Labor National Conference, Defence Minister Richard Marles emphasized the necessity of this investment to keep up with China’s advancements in the region. Minister Wong echoed these sentiments, stating that the AUKUS fleet would ensure that no country would ever see conflict as worthwhile.
She emphasized the changing strategic balance in the region and the need for Australia to adapt its approach. Wong stressed the importance of maintaining a strategic balance with other countries and ensuring both deterrence and reassurance.
Marles justified the program, noting that China’s military buildup is the largest since the end of World War II. He argued that Australia’s obligation is to navigate through this changing world and emphasized the increase in China’s nuclear-powered submarines from six in 2000 to an expected 21 by the end of the decade.
However, there were divisions among attendees at the Labor conference. Some expressed concerns about militarization at ports and the environmental impact of nuclear-powered submarines. Fremantle MP Josh Wilson broke ranks to voice his disapproval, stating that deterrence should not be the sole justification for defense acquisitions.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese delivered a speech following the debate, urging Labor delegates to accept the reality of the world and the importance of nuclear-powered submarines in Australia’s future. He described the AUKUS agreement as an act of pragmatism to strengthen Australia’s position globally.