Senate debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty: 70th Anniversary

3:20 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] The government has brought this motion to the chamber today, a day after the last American force left Afghanistan and about a week from the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. They ask us today to unquestioningly endorse the American alliance and to recommit ourselves to a military relationship that we have had with the United States for 70 years. To do this would be politically easy. It is the united view of the major parties that a military relationship such as we currently have with the United States is a good thing for Australia. It's certainly a good thing for them. It's given them many opportunities to stand next to US military equipment, go on fancy visits overseas and meet with defence secretaries and secretaries of state, and feel like significant global actors. To do so, though, in the closing days of 20 years of conflict and war across the world unleashed by the 9/11 attacks, would be to do a great disservice to the Australian community and to those peoples and nations that were so savagely harmed in the aftermath of that event.

It is time, 20 years on, for us to speak the truth about exactly what happened in the aftermath of 9/11: that the United States entered into a blood-rage-induced, vengeful series of exercises whereby they set two nations ablaze and precipitated the loss of some 350,000 civilian lives. In a desperate attempt to reclaim what they felt was a bruised national honour and to reassert themselves in the new century, they took nations across the world to wage war in the Middle East based upon lies, and, when they were caught out on those lies, they invented new reasons for the maintenance of conflict and occupation.

At that critical moment 20 years ago, Australia's political leadership had a choice. They could either engage with the United States and seek to de-escalate the crisis unfolding in the aftermath of 9/11, seek to work with the international community to bring the individual perpetrators to justice, and maintain the so called global rules based order—which has been so much vaunted and celebrated during the course of this debate—or they could validate that period of vengeful blood rage, validate the conflicts that were carried out in the aftermath, participate in them, justify them and attempt to lend them moral support. That is the choice that they made. John Howard took us into Iraq and Afghanistan, and prime minister after prime minister kept us there because it was in their political interest to do so.

Today we are discussing the mechanism by which that decision was played out: the ANZUS treaty, which is 70 years old this year. As we do so, we also need to speak the truth about what that treaty is and where it comes from. There has been much said about ANZUS as a defence treaty that guarantees Australia a level of mutual protection. This is the myth of ANZUS—the treaty of the mind; the treaty that exists only when Australian diplomats and Australian politicians look at that piece of paper. The reality of the wording of the treaty is that it says no such thing; it offers no such guarantee. The wording of the treaty simply states that, if there should be some kind of shared moment of conflict or concern, the parties to the treaty will act with concern to each other. It gives no guarantee of any kind of mutual protection.

Below that, though, sits an even more insidious reality, which is the context in which it was conceived. This treaty was signed in 1951 and, upon its signing, the relevant Australian ambassador called it the beginning of a bulwark in the defence of freedom. In that context the meaning was clear. The meaning was: this will offer Australia protection against the enemies in its region. And the enemies were the people of the Asia-Pacific region. It was the beginning of a narrative of fear against the Asian people of the Asia-Pacific region, a legitimisation of the idea that there was something to fear from those across our sea borders. It saw us enter into that horrific conflict, the Vietnam war.

It used to be the case that the Labor Party understood the dangers of following along in the wake of the United States. It used to be the case that those like Gough Whitlam and Jim Cairns were on the streets with the community as they protested against these violent imperial wars. It is to be noted that Gough Whitlam removed Australian troops from Vietnam as one of his first acts as Prime Minister, yet, all of these years on, we see a Labor Party which has given up in relation to criticism of the United States. It is, in fact, now in lock-step with the Liberal Party, ready to go all the way with the USA once again. The uncritical, unflinching nature with which the Labor Party now positions itself in relation to the American alliance does a huge disservice to the community, and it fails to reflect all of those in our community who want peace, who saw through the lies of George Bush and the complicity of John Howard and understood that there were no WMDs in Iraq, that there was no need to knock over the government of an entire nation to try to bring to justice a single individual, who by then was most likely within the borders of Pakistan. The community has always understood that, when it comes to war, the No. 1 thing on the mind of a politician is how to get electoral benefit out of it.

The hard truth for the major parties is that, in the aftermath of 9/11, as America, in its blood haze, decided to line people up on the board to take out its anger, Australian politicians sought political opportunity to bind themselves closer to an ally which, in response, could deliver them many more opportunities to fancy weaponry, with which they would be able to have pictures taken, and an opportunity to secure their electoral base here in Australia. It is very telling that, in a moment of genuine global crisis, when Australia could have benefited greatly from the supply of something as simple as a vaccine, the special relationship was not strong enough to enable that to occur.

It has also been commented upon that we are now seeking to engage ourselves in the hosting of missiles in the Northern Territory. This is another example of how the major parties are so willing to allow Australia to be used as the United States' most significant and well-armed aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific—regardless of the views of the Northern Territory, which so wholeheartedly opposes it.


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