Former prime minister Paul Keating has launched an extraordinary series of attacks on reporters and his own Labor side of politics over Anthony Albanese’s $368billion AUKUS nuclear submarines plan.
During an appearance at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the famously acid-tongued ex-PM took particular relish in haranguing a reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald who was behind a series sounding the alarm about China last week.
Matthew Knott asked Mr Keating if his comments risked a rupture in the Labor party and whether he would aim his talent ‘for invective and criticism’ at China’s ruling Communist party over human rights abuses of the ethnic minority Uighurs or the pro-democracy Hong Kong activists.
‘Your paper is a disgrace,’ Mr Keating shot back.
‘After what you wrote … last week in that shocking presentation …. you should hang your head in shame.
Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating has lashed the Albanese government over the AUKUS defence pact
‘I’m surprised you even have the gall to stand up in public and ask such a question, frankly.
‘You ought to do the right thing and drum yourself out of Australian journalism.
‘I mean, that’s the most egregious, the worst, the most biased presentation … I mean, if I were you, mate, I would hide my face and never appear again.’
Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades under a fast-tracked plan to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific
The scathing spray was just one small part of Keating’s performance – which included swipes at Anthony Albanese, Richard Marles, Penny Wong, US President Joe Biden, intelligence agencies and virtually any reporter who dared ask him a question.
When Sky News journalist Olivia Caisley asked how he was so sure China was not a military threat to Australia, Mr Keating responded with withering scorn.
‘Because I’ve got a brain. Principally,’ he said.
What is AUKUS?
- AUKUS is a trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States aimed at deterring Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.
- Mr Albanese revealed on Tuesday up to $368billion will be spent on eight nuclear-powered submarines including three US Virginia-class nuclear submarines and a range of new SSN-AUKUS-class hybrid vessels.
- Australian submariners are already training in nuclear submarine technology in the US with the aim to eventually build the vessels on home soil by the 2040s.
‘And I can think. And I can read. And I read every day.
‘I mean, why would China want to threaten… What would be the point? They get the iron ore, the coal, the wheat.
‘What would be the point of China wanting to occupy Sydney and Melbourne? Militarily?’
‘And could they ever do it? Could they ever bring the numbers here? It would be an armada of troop ships to do it.
‘So you don’t need a briefing from the dopey security agencies that we have in Canberra to tell you that.
‘I mean, I know you’re trying to ask a question, but the question is so dumb, it’s hardly worth an answer.’
Mr Keating accused the Albanese government of accepting the $360 billion deal, which was negotiated by the by preceding Morrison government, in just 24 hours.
‘How would you do this in 24 hours?’ Mr Keaing asked.
‘You can only do it if you have no perceptive ability to understand the weight of the decisions you’re being asked to make.
‘It’s what other people call incompetence. I’ll call it maybe “trying”.’
Calling it the worst decision by a Labor government since World War I prime minister Billy Hughes supported conscription Mr Keating said the whole deal was based on the false notion that China poised a direct threat to Australia.
‘This is a distortion and it’s untrue,’ Mr Keating said of this idea.
‘The Chinese have never implied that they would threaten us or said it explicitly.’
Mr Keating ridiculed the notion that the submarines would protect Australia from a Chinese invasion.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during the signing of the AUKUS defence pact on Monday at a US naval base in San Diego.
‘The idea that we need American submarines to protect us, if we buy eight, three are at sea,’ he said.
‘Three are going to protect us from the might of China. Really! I mean, the rubbish of it. The rubbish.’
Mr Keating argued that all the deal did was pull Australia into the US strategic orbit to maintain their dominance of the Asia Pacific region but leaving the national interest in ‘deep doo-doo’.
‘What will happen is we’ll get sucked into the American control system,’ he said.
‘Essentially, we’ve turned the place out. In other words, we don’t run the place ourselves any more.’
Mr Keating said this was despite Mr Albanese continually repeating that Australian needed to protect its sovereignty
‘He thinks if he drops the word (sovereignty) into enough sentences in an hour, it will actually happen,’ Mr Keating said.
‘Our sovereignty is just being peeled away by all of this.’
Mr Keating also took aim at Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong saying the AUKUS deal was a failure of strategic thinking.
‘What’s happened is that the military have overtaken the foreign policy – as a consequence, we’re not using diplomacy,’ he said.
‘Running around the Pacific Islands with a lei around your neck handing out money, which is what Penny does, is not foreign policy. It’s a consular task.’
Mr Keating said the deal was in American and UK interests but not Australia’s and said when the three leaders attended a ceremony to mark its signing ‘only one is paying. Our bloke! Albo.’
‘The other two, you know, they’ve got the band playing, happy days are here again! You know, the American President (Joe Biden) can hardly keep three coherent sentences together. He was happy about it all.
‘(British Prime Minister) Rishi Sunak couldn’t believe it all.’