An attack by former Labor prime minister Paul Keating on a landmark military deal has not shaken the government’s confidence in the security arrangement, the defence minister says.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced details of Australia’s submarine pact with the US and Britain – part of the AUKUS security alliance – on Tuesday.
But at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Mr Keating issued a scathing assessment of AUKUS, labelling it Australia’s worst international decision since the conscription policy during World War I.
As part of the security arrangement Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades.
But Mr Keating condemned the $368 billion price tag and questioned Australia’s sovereignty within the arrangement.
He also fired shots at senior federal government ministers including Defence Minister Richard Marles, and issued withering assessments of US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The landmark military deal is largely seen as an arrangement to combat China’s rising influence, but Mr Keating said it was unnecessary.
Mr Marles said Mr Keating remained a revered figure within the Labor Party.
He told ABC’s 7.30 that no matter what the former prime minister said about him, Mr Albanese or Foreign Minister Penny Wong, the government would not say a bad word about Mr 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.”
Mr 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.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Mr Keating’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.”
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