An attack by former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating on a landmark military deal has not shaken government confidence in the security deal, the defense minister says.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced details of Australia’s submarine pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, part of the AUKUS security alliance, on Tuesday.
But at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Keating delivered a scathing assessment of AUKUS, calling it Australia’s worst international decision since World War I conscription policy.
As part of the security agreement, Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines over the next three decades.
But Keating condemned the $368 billion price tag and questioned Australia’s sovereignty within the deal.
He has also fired on senior federal government ministers, including Defense Minister Richard Marles, and issued withering assessments of US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The landmark military deal is largely seen as a deal to combat China’s growing influence, but Keating said it was unnecessary.
Marles said that Keating remained a revered figure within the Labor Party.
He told ABC 7.30 that no matter what the former prime minister said about him, Albanese or Foreign Minister Penny Wong, the government would not say a bad word about Keating.
“The Hawke-Keating government was the great reform, long-term, peacetime government in our history,” he said.
“It is a government that ended in 1996 (and) our responsibility is to be governing the country in the national interest by 2023.”
Marles said the government had worked hard to stabilize Australia’s diplomatic relations with China.
“We want to have a productive relationship with China, but we note that we are seeing the largest conventional military buildup in the world today since the end of World War II,” he said.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton said the former prime minister’s comments showed there was division within the Labor Party over AUKUS.
“I think it is incumbent on Richard Marles and others … to rebuke Mr Keating’s crazy comments,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“(The government) should follow the advice of the military and intelligence chiefs instead of Paul Keating.”