Paul Keating is a fighter until the end. Today at the National Press Club he delivered prepared remarks lambasting the AUKUS pact and answered questions on the same subject.
Paul Keating has labelled the $368bn Aukus nuclear submarine plan as the “worst deal in all history” and “the worst international decision” by a Labor government since Billy Hughes tried to introduce conscription.
The former Labor prime minister launched an extraordinary broadside against the Albanese government at the National Press Club on Wednesday, blasting the “incompetence” of Labor backing the decision to sign up to Aukus while in opposition and when it had “no mandate” to do so.
Keating also singled out the defence and foreign affairs ministers, Richard Marles and Penny Wong, as “seriously unwise”, arguing Wong had run the “smallest of small-target” strategies by backing Liberal strategic policies to win government, allowing defence interests to trump diplomacy.
Keating is a noted dove towards China. He has previously labelled Taiwan “not a vital Australian interest” but rather a “civil matter” for China. China sees Taiwan, a self-governed democracy of 24 million people, as a wayward province and has not ruled out taking it by force.
On Wednesday Keating said China “is not the Soviet Union” because it is involved in international institutions and would “fall over themselves to have a proper relationship” with Australia, except that Australia has “manufactured a problem” through its increasing alignment with US.
Keating argued that China is “not going to attack us and have never threatened to attack us”, suggesting that the Aukus trilateral partnership is instead about preserving US “hegemony” in east Asia by seeking to contain China.
“What Anthony Albanese has done this week, he’s screwed into place the last shackle in the long chain which the Americans have laid out to contain China,” he said.
Keating said the “great sin” China had committed in the eyes of the west was developing its economy to equal the size of the US, suggesting the Americans “would have preferred” 20% of the world population remains in poverty.
He also mocked aligning with the UK, which he said is “looking around for suckers” to create “global Britain … after that fool [Boris] Johnson destroyed their place in Europe”.
Keating accused Albanese of “dropping the word ‘sovereignty’ into every sentence” about Aukus and warning this does not make it real.
When Scott Morrison approached Labor seeking bipartisan support for Aukus in 2021, Keating claimed the opposition was briefed at 4pm and agreed within 24 hours despite having “no mandate” from Labor members.
“How would you do this in 24 hours? You can only do it if you have no perceptive ability to understand the weight of the decisions you’re being asked to make,” he said. “It’s what other people call incompetence.”
When asked about apparent improvements in Australia’s relationship with China since the election, Keating labelled this view “naive”.
He warned that “no mealy mouthed talk of stabilisation … or the resort to soft language will disguise from the Chinese the extent and intent of the commitment to the United States hegemony”.