ADDRESS TO THE 49TH ALP NATIONAL CONFERENCE | MOVING STATEMENT IN DETAIL: ENHANCING AUSTRALIA’S NATIONAL SECURITY
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This national conference is actually part of the bedrock of our nation.
The history of national conference, the history of our party, has been built on hard decisions.
Today, in the world, we are witnessing great power competition, and its progress is uncertain.
We are witnessing the global rules-based order, upon which we all completely depend, be placed under intense pressure – in Eastern Europe, but here in the Indo-Pacific.
And we are witnessing the single biggest conventional military build-up in the world since the end of the Second World War.
In the year 2000, China had six nuclear-powered submarines. By the end of this decade, they will have 21.
In the year 2000, China had 57 major warships. By the end of this decade, they will have 200.
Now these are not our decisions. These are not our choices.
But this is the world in which we live. And it is our unavoidable obligation to navigate our way through it.
And so our Government is planning to replace six diesel-electric submarines with eight conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines over the course of the next 30 years.
Given what we face, it is a modest step.
Our submarine capability today is provided by our six Collins class submarines.
Now, Australia will never have a million person army. We are a comparatively small Defence Force.
And so in that context, our submarines are easily the most important platform that we operate.
Because of what a single Collins class submarine can do, and the uncertainty of where it might be at any given moment, it provides a genuine question mark in any adversaries’ mind.
It provides pause for thought.
But in the future, diesel-electric submarines will become increasingly detectable.
And so if we want to have this capability in the future, then we simply have to take the step of nuclear propulsion.
Now, this is a hard decision. But it is a decision that we must make.
Delegates, the true reading of our country’s defence history is that in the most difficult moments, Australians looked to Labor.
On the eve of the First World War in 1913, it was the Fisher Labor Government which established the navy, perhaps the single biggest leap in our military capability that the country has ever taken.
It was John Curtin who properly understood the threat to our country in World War Two, who led us through those terrifying early months of 1942, who organised our national defences and made the decisions which gave Australia its independence.
And it was Gough Whitlam, a former Air Force navigator and veteran of World War Two, who unified our three services into a single Defence Force.
And in 1987, Defence Minister Beazley, who put in place the strategic posture for our Defence Force, which lasted for the next 36 years.
Now, the Liberals don’t remotely have that history with defence policy.
In truth, they are defence dilettantes.
It’s Labor, it has always been Labor, which is the true party of Australia’s national defence.
And delegates, once again in a difficult moment, Australians are looking to us.
Now, I get that the word ‘nuclear’ evokes a strong reaction. But we are not talking about nuclear weapons.
Indeed, under this arrangement, Australia will fulfil all our obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and we will be working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to do that.
And we will meet our obligations under the Treaty of Rarotonga, because we will never base nuclear weapons on our shores.
But we are talking about nuclear propulsion. And without it, we will not have in 2040 the same submarine capability Paul Keating gave us in the year 2000.
And if we take submarines off the table, we will never have left our country more exposed, and that will undermine the whole idea of Australian self-reliance, which is at the heart of our platform.
Delegates, this is a hard choice, but it is actually a clear choice.
Just imagine John Curtin, as an opponent and making his name opposing conscription in the First World War, being a proponent of a resolution for conscription through this national conference in 1943.
Every difficult decision that our country has taken and that Labor has taken has come with internal opposition.
Considered debate and difficult decisions, delegates, that is what we do.
And so, I encourage you to listen to this debate.
But delegates, understand this – there is no more Labor act that you can take than to support the Statement in Detail in the name of myself and Pat Conroy.
FRIDAY, 18 AUGUST 2023